Mike Fanelli | January 2nd, 2020
The 2019 season was one filled with frustration by the fans and a billion #FireBruceAllen replies on every tweet from the Redskins’ official twitter page. The team finished 3-13, the second-worst record in the league, only ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals. Jay Gruden was fired after the team started 0-5. The team had unrealistic expectations this season but Gruden needed to go as the team needed a major shakeup. It took until week nine for rookie Dwayne Haskins to take over as the starter at quarterback. He should have been starting the game after Gruden was fired. This season should have been about developing the future, yet it started off with expectations of competing for the playoffs.
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What Went Right
Not much went right for the Redskins this season. The best thing that happened was the team ending up with the number two pick in the 2020 draft. With the Bengals expected to take a quarterback (most likely Joe Burrow), the Redskins will see Chase Young fall into their laps. Edge rusher isn’t a big need or even a need at all but he’s the best player in the class at a critical position.
As the season went on, Haskins’ picked up his play. Before missing week 17 with an ankle injury, Haskins had put together two straight good games. Throwing for 394 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants before leaving midway through week 16 with the ankle injury. Assuming young offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell is retained, fans should feel optimistic about Haskins’ future.
Several young players had impressive seasons, led by rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin. Despite playing with three different quarterbacks during the year, McLaurin finished 27th among wide receivers in yards and second among rookies. McLaurin missed two games with injuries and had he played all 16 games, he would have finished with over 1,000 receiving yards and would have tied A.J. Brown as the top rookie and 21st overall among wide receivers. Fellow rookies Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims Jr. played well to close out the season, and all three will be key parts of the offense next season.
What Went Wrong
Plenty went wrong this season. After Gruden was fired, offensive line coach Bill Callahan took over as the head coach and defeated the Miami Dolphins 17-16 after Kenyan Drake dropped the game-winning two point conversion. That “win” ended up costing the Redskins the number one pick and potentially a huge bounty of picks from a quarterback needy team, like the Dolphins.
Case Keenum played too many games as the starter. While he was solid (most of the time) as the starter, the team should have been focused on developing Haskins. At times it appeared Callahan was more concerned with helping Adrian Peterson move his way up on the all-time rushing leaders board than winning games or developing Haskins.
Trent Williams held out till the trade deadline. He wants out of Washington because of how the team handled his scalp injury and cancer scare over the past few years. After not being traded at the deadline, Williams showed up but failed his physical and was placed on the NFI (non-football injury) list and his season was over before it began. To show how poorly the Redskins operate, reports were that the team refused to take calls about trading Williams till 48 hours before the deadline and then only Allen and Dan Snyder were working the phones at the deadline. Needless to say, that’s not how a well ran franchise works. Reports are Williams is considering returning to the Redskins in 2020 amid the recent front office and medical department changes.
Outlook for the Offseason
The offseason is not even a week old and the Redskins have already made major changes. Thanks to Redskins’ twitter (and his incompetence) Allen was fired on Monday. Despite early reports, Allen won’t just be removed from football operations but he has been kicked out of the building. Ron Rivera was officially announced as the new head coach. Ironically, Rivera was the only other coach besides Gruden fired midseason. Reports are former head coach Jack Del Rio will take over as the defensive coordinator and will call the plays. The team is also expected to switch to a base 4-3 defense after being a base 3-4 defense for the last several years.
Entering the offseason, the Redskins are in better shape than many would think. Alex Smith has publicly stated he wants to play again and there goes any chance of the Redskins removing his salary from their books. However, even with Smith’s $21.4 million dollar cap number, the team is projected to have $47.4 million dollars in cap space this spring before making any roster cuts.
The Team’s Free Agents
The Redskins don’t have a lot of critical free agents this spring. Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff is the only one who would be a candidate for the franchise tag but as of right now that doesn’t seem likely. The team will either reach a long term deal or let him test free agency. Other potential players the Redskins should look to re-sign are Ereck Flowers, who had the best year of his career sliding inside to left guard, Donald Penn, who filled in at left tackle for Williams all season long, as well as veterans Jon Bostic and Keenum.
Of these free agents, keeping Scherff and Flowers is the most critical. With a young quarterback, the Redskins need to keep him protected. If Williams won’t return and is traded, Penn should be re-signed for another year while the team figures out what to do long term at left tackle. Keenum is the perfect backup quarterback/mention for Haskins while Bostic played 91% of the snaps this season.
While the Redskins have plenty of cap space, there are several players the team could cut to open up more room. The most likely cut will be Josh Norman, saving the team $12.5 million dollars in cap space. Even though he had the best year of his career under Rivera in Carolina, that was four years ago and Norman has clearly lost a step. If he agrees to return at a cheaper number (maybe around $6-7 million dollars), I can see him sticking around for another year but short of that, he will be playing elsewhere in 2020.
Should Williams still want out of Washington, the Redskins will open up $12.8 million dollars by trading him, assuming they don’t take back any salary in a trade. Jordan Reed has played a total of 19 out of 48 possible games over the last three seasons, including zero in 2019. The Redskins can save $8.5 million dollars by cutting him and that will happen early on in the offseason. Peterson can be cut and save the team $2.3 million dollars but given his success and Derrius Guice‘s injury history, I expect him to be a Redskin in 2020.
Open Market Free Agents
With potentially up to $81 million dollars in cap space, the Redskins can be big spenders in free agency, but I expect them to be more aggressive with second and third tier players. There is a history of big contracts biting this team in the ass and success with bargain buy contracts. The two biggest spots the team should look to address in free agency is defensive back and a veteran receiver or tight end to pair with the rookies. If Williams is traded and Scherff leaves as a free agent, the offensive line becomes a big need the Redskins would have to address in free agency.
Some big name signings could include Amari Cooper, who isn’t likely to remain in Dallas as the Cowboys will use the franchise tag on Dak Prescott. Austin Hooper will likely be given the franchise tag by the Atlanta Falcons but if he hits the market, he should be the Redskins’ top target. If Hooper doesn’t hit the market, Eric Ebron would be a nice plan B. All three of these players would give Haskins a veteran who can consistently get open to pair with McLaurin and the rookies. Hooper should be the top target because young quarterbacks develop better with a tight end they can trust when the pocket collapses.
On defense, cornerbacks James Bradberry and Byron Jones would be excellent replacements as the CB1. Bradberry spent his entire career in Carolina with Rivera and could be one of several former Panther defenders joining the Redskins this summer. Meanwhile, the Cowboys won’t have the cap space to re-sign Jones and it would be great to hurt a division rival while improving your squad. Tre Boston is another Panther defensive back who could follow Rivera to Washington and would pair nicely with Landon Collins. Justin Simmons likely will get the franchise tag but if he is allowed to test the market, he is another name at safety the Redskins should target.
If the Redskins strike out on all of their bigger name free agents, some bargain buys include Demaryius Thomas and Jaron Brown at wide receiver. Both veterans have bounced around the league the last few years and have been mentors to younger receivers while still providing solid production. Tyler Eifert and Jacob Hollister would be solid and cheap replacements for Reed at tight end. Eifert played all 16 games for the first time in his career this season and had a solid year despite the Bengals’ struggles offensively. Hollister is a restricted free agent but showed promise when Will Dissly suffered a season-ending injury. If the Seattle Seahawks don’t put a high price on retaining Hollister, he could be a solid option for Haskins.
Former Redskins’ safety D.J. Swearinger was ran out of town towards the end of last season after he publicly criticized the coaching staff. The good news is everyone he criticized is gone and maybe he would welcome a return to Washington under new leadership and coaching. Another option would be Karl Joseph as the Oakland Raiders aren’t likely to re-sign him after spending a 2019 first-round pick on Johnathan Abrams. Joseph and Collins have similar styles of play but the Redskins lack a starter at free safety and depth at both safety spots.
Projecting the NFL Draft
After taking Haskins with the 15th pick in the first round last year, the Redskins traded away their 2019 and 2020 second-round picks to move back into the first round to select Montez Sweat. At the time many Redskin fans were on board with the move but in hindsight, the team would be better off keeping their second-round pick last year and holding onto the 34th overall pick this year, especially with Young landing in the Redskins lap this year. However, that’s the past so let’s take a look at what the Redskins could do with their two top 100 picks.
Round 1, Pick 2: Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
For anyone doing mock drafts, you can write this pick in pen. Outside of a last-minute trade where the Redskins get several picks from a quarterback needy team, they will select Young second overall to pair with Sweat and the veteran Ryan Kerrigan.
Round 3, Pick 66: Tight End
This far down the draft it’s hard to predict what players will be available but the Redskins need to find their next long term tight end. Unless they sign Hooper in free agency, the Redskins would be best off signing Ebron or Eifert to a short two-year deal and draft a tight end on day two with this pick. This would give Haskins a veteran to work with in 2020 while the rookie develops into the starter for the 2021 or 2022 season.
While the hiring of Rivera and firing of Allen is a great start to the offseason, Redskin fans need to temper expectations in 2020. This isn’t a one year turn around project and the team isn’t likely to make the playoffs next season. However, the team should be in the playoff picture till week 16 or 17 and a lot of the young guys should take a big step forward. If the Redskins can finish the year better than 8-8, that should be viewed as a success. Fans should be more concerned with the development of Haskins. With a big step in his development next season, the Redskins could very easily challenge for the NFC East division title in 2021.
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