Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Washington Redskins.
Football works in mysterious ways sometimes. A few days ago, the biggest question the Redskins had to address was whether or not to keep Kirk Cousins as their quarterback, and if not, who to replace him with.
Out of nowhere, they found an answer. In comes Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the Redskins did have to give up a third-round pick and a promising cornerback in Kendall Fuller to get him, it will at least fill the void and set a course for where they want the team to go in 2018.
Cousins will now hit free agency and get to choose which team he wants to play for. The Redskins gave Smith a four-year extension. It remains to be seen if it’s the best for all involved, but thankfully the situation wasn’t dragged out.
The problem is whether or not the Redskins have the pieces for Smith to succeed. Yes, he’s coming off his best season as a pro, but remember the pieces he had with KC. The NFL’s leading rusher in Kareem Hunt. A game-breaking receiver in Tyreek Hill. One of the best tight ends in the game in Travis Kelce. A mostly solid offensive line.
Can the Redskins match that? Well, their running back situation isn’t ideal. They don’t have a true #1 receiver like Hill. Jordan Reed is capable of matching Kelce’s talent, but he’s rarely healthy. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are dependable tackles, but the interior offensive line is a mess.
At least the team has a better all-around defense than the Chiefs, despite finishing dead last in the league against the run this season. With limited cap space and draft picks, head coach Jay Gruden and team president Bruce Allen will have to get creative this offseason if they want to bolster the talent around Smith.
It was a bold move to trade for Smith now. But how often have bold moves paid off the Redskins as of late? It’s been 12 years since they’ve won a postseason game after all. There are a lot of unknowns in play for them heading into 2018, and if they’re not careful, things could end in disaster.
Current number of draft picks: 6 (#13 in the first round)
Cap space: $28-36 million
Notable free agents
Kirk Cousins, QB: No need to dwell on Cousins. After two seasons of franchise tagging him, the Redskins have evidently decided that he’s not worth keeping long-term. He’ll now hit free agency as the top QB on the market.
Zach Brown, ILB: Brown had a breakout season in 2016 with the Buffalo Bills but surprisingly didn’t gain much traction in free agency. He took a one-year contract with the Redskins as a result. While he did slip a bit in pass coverage, he still led the team with 127 total tackles despite missing three games. It’s hard to find reliable linebackers in today’s NFL, so Brown should receive more looks this time around (in theory).
Terrelle Pryor, WR: A lot can change in one year. In his first full-time season at wideout after transitioning from QB, Pryor was outstanding, leading the Cleveland Browns in receiving and eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. However, like Brown, he didn’t attract much attention as a free agent, signing with the Redskins for one year.
Unlike Brown, Pryor took a turn for the worse. In just nine games and two starts, he caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a lone touchdown. He went on injured reserve to get ankle surgery in November. While playing through an injury may be the reason why he faltered so badly, it’s fair to wonder if Pryor can ever stay consistent. He has all the athletic ability in the world but has only been able to put everything together for one season.
Trent Murphy, OLB: Playing next to Ryan Kerrigan could cause any player to get overlooked, but Murphy deserves more accolades for his play. Well, at least for 2016. Despite not starting a game, he was second on the team in sacks with 9. He was expected to start alongside Kerrigan this year, but outside circumstances got in the way.
First, he got suspended for four games following a violation of the league’s PED policy. Then, before he could serve the penalty, he tore both his ACL and MCL during the preseason. While the injury should be healed up in time for opening day, Murphy will still have to miss the four games, and the Redskins may have other options to replace him.
Bashaud Breeland, CB: Fuller and Josh Norman got more acclaim from fans, but Breeland wasn’t far behind his cohorts. While he just one interception, he actually led the team in pass breakups with 19 and allowed just 3 touchdowns. In a crowded group of free agents at corners, Breeland could be a nice bargain for whoever signs him, including the Redskins.
WR: It’s amazing that Cousins was able to do as well as he did this season with such a depleted receiving corps. Jamison Crowder was solid as usual, but Josh Doctson still hasn’t fully lived up to his first-round pick status.
Additionally, Pryor was a bust as a free agent signing, and he’ll be headed back to the open market this offseason, along with Ryan Grant and Brian Quick. If the Redskins want Smith to succeed, they need to get him some more reliable targets.
CB: The secondary was very stable at corner during 2017. Things have changed recently. With Breeland headed to free agency and Fuller getting shipped to Kansas City, the Redskins will be left with just Norman, Quinton Dunbar (a restricted free agent) and Joshua Holsey on the roster. All three are talented, but the latter two are inexperienced, and there’s currently no depth to speak of.
DT: For most of 2017, the Redskins went with just the ineffective Ziggy Hood at nose tackle. Sure, they occasionally rotated their defensive ends into the position, and A.J. Francis looked okay when he was brought on late in the year, but it’s a glaring hole on an otherwise underrated defense. Maybe they’ll consider Da’Ron Payne or Vita Vea in the draft.
OLB: The pass rush relied heavily on a rotation at outside linebacker to great effect, notching 42 sacks as a team. However, while Kerrigan and Preston Smith will remain on the team, Murphy and Junior Galette are both free agents. Ryan Anderson, a rookie in 2017, will be around, but another pass rusher will be needed in case Murphy and Galette leave.
C: Starter Spencer Long is a free agent, but he’s regressed as a blocker during the past two years. Rookie Chase Roullier played about as well as Long in 2017, though that’s not saying much. Some competition for him could improve things.
ILB: The Redskins gave Mason Foster a contract extension last week, but the other primary starter, Brown, is still unsigned. While Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight had a number of bright spots in limited snaps this season, they’re fairly unproven.
G: Brandon Scherff made the Pro Bowl as the right guard for the Redskins this year, but left guard was a lot shakier. Opening day starter Shawn Lauvao will be a free agent, but he struggled mightily for most of the season. The various backups that filled in for him when he was injured weren’t much better.
RB: The Redskins were in the bottom five for rushing yards in the league during 2017, though that was mostly due to injuries. Still, despite having seven running backs under contract (and potentially two more), the outlook is pretty bleak.
Chris Thompson stands as the most talented, but he’s largely a pass catching back and will be coming off a fractured fibula. Robert Kelley began the year as the starter, but injuries forced him to give the job to rookie Samaje Perine midway through the season. Neither was very effective. The rest of the group is extremely inexperienced. Still, considering the other needs on the roster, a committee approach may have to be used again.
K: Dustin Hopkins will be hitting free agency following a pretty solid season where he only missed three field goals and one extra point.
Best player/building block
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB: In seven seasons with the Redskins, Kerrigan has never missed a game and has never dropped below 7.5 sacks in a single year. He’s as consistent as they come for pass rushers in the NFL, and 2017 was no different.
Kerrigan led the team in sacks with 13, pushing him 71.5 in his career. He also picked up 46 total tackles. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 85.6 as an edge defender, the highest he’s ever had. Few teams can point to a guy on their roster with as much steady production as Kerrigan.
D.J. Swearinger, S: Full disclosure: this was Fuller’s spot before he got traded. But Swearinger is just as deserving, and his emergence as a strong player at safety during the past two years hasn’t gotten enough attention.
Swearinger struggled to stay consistent on the field during his first two seasons with the Houston Texans. Off-the-field issues and conflicts with the coaching staff didn’t improve his situation, and he was eventually cut in the offseason in 2015. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave him a shot, but he didn’t even last a full season with them.
Then he turned things around. The Arizona Cardinals gave him a one-year prove-it deal in 2016, with Swearinger turning in a career-high in interceptions and pass breakups. The Redskins rewarded him with a three-year deal afterward, and he ended up outdoing those numbers.
He tied for the team lead in interceptions with 4, tied for second in pass breakups with 10 and finished second in total tackles with 79. Swearinger will turn 27 before the start of 2018 and looks to be in the prime of his career.
NFC East: New York Giants
NFC North: Chicago Bears
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers