2017 will be pivotal for the Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins were assured back-to-back seasons without losing for the first time since the 1991 and 1992 seasons before their Week 17 showdown with the New York Giants. A Redskins win over the Giants would also have secured back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the aforementioned 1991 and 1992 seasons. These developments show that Washington has come a long way from the dysfunctional under-500 teams that have turned the franchise into a perennial NFL doormat.

Despite achieving these modest goals, the Redskins heading into 2017 still in transition mode, quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​played under the franchise tag prior to the 2016 season. He made a strong case for earning a long-term commitment. Washington’s deadline by setting a franchise record with 4,917 passing yards. Cousins’ case for a long-term deal didn’t help as he threw two costly interceptions during Washington’s uninspired 19-10 home loss to the Giants in Week 17. The loss denied the Redskins a spot. in the playoffs, disappointing the hometown Redskins fans. He also raised questions about Cousins’ ability to make decisive plays during critical moments.

Washington will also enter 2017 with new offensive and defensive coordinators. Matt Cavanaugh takes over as offensive coordinator from Sean McVay, who left Washington to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. McVay orchestrated the Redskins’ third-ranked offense in 2016, so it’s understandable if Cousins ​​and the offense fall back from their 2016 standard next season.

Washington’s defense struggled in 2016, ranking 28th in yards allowed. The Redskins promoted linebackers coach Greg Manusky to defensive coordinator, hoping to improve the unit. Manusky replaced Joe Barry, whose hiring raised some eyebrows considering that Barry was the defensive coordinator of the 2008 Detroit Lions winless team. Aside from defensive end Chris Baker, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and cornerback Josh Norman, the defense lacked true creators of play. Washington could have used its 2016 first-round pick on defensive linemen like Kenny Clark and Robert Nkemdiche. Instead, the Redskins selected wide receiver Josh Doctson, who played sparingly in his rookie year due to an Achilles tendon injury.

Washington head coach Jay Gruden could also be on the bench in 2017 if the Redskins finish badly. Gruden named running back Matt Jones as the starter before the season after the release of popular running back Alfred Morris. Jones rewarded Gruden’s confidence by failing three times in seven games and losing two of them. That brought Jones’ career total to eight fumbles, six of them recovered by rival teams. That earned Jones a permanent spot on the bench, as it was a healthy scratch for Washington’s last nine games in 2016.

The most important story of 2017 is without a doubt the contractual situation of Cousins. The 2017 NFL calendar year begins on March 1 and Redskins fans are no closer to knowing if Cousins ​​will be their long-term quarterback. Washington could put the franchise tag on Cousins ​​again, guaranteeing him a salary of around $ 24 million for 2017. That scenario doesn’t inspire much commitment from Washington, who is in a difficult position because free-agent quarterbacks will be a shortage. in the off-season. Washington could sign a long-term contract with Cousins, but the team’s general manager, Scot McCloughan, has not publicly expressed confidence in doing so. It’s unclear what else McCloughan needs to see, but this is a situation worth looking at.

Starting wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are also looking for big money deals. One (or both) of them could leave Washington to play elsewhere for more money. Garcon and Jackson have proven to be reliable targets for Cousins, as they both posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons this year. It would be ideal to give up Cousins ​​and both receivers, as Washington will have $ 66 million in cap space next season. McCloughan will have to use that cap space wisely, as he may need some of that money to acquire key defensive players through free agency or the draft.

But I digress. The general culture in Washington has changed and has been reflected in the improvement of the field product. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins handle Cousins’ contract, return to the playoffs, and win their first playoff game since the 2005 season.

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