We wrap up our trip through the NFC East with a stop in our nation’s capital, as the Washington Redskins continue to tread the fine line between retooling and rebuilding in an effort to return to the Playoffs for the first time since 2015. The 2018 Campaign could’ve been divided into two distinct halves: before and after Alex Smith suffered a gruesome season-ending broken leg, which will coincidentally also sideline him for the entirety of the upcoming season as well. The Redskins were 6-3 and leading the Division before Smith bit the dust, and lost five of their final six games down the stretch as Jay Gruden & Co. shuffled through a variety of Quarterbacks. Looking to break the cycle, Washington made the decision to select a Signal-Caller in the NFL Draft, settling upon Dwayne Haskins, who has a real shot at earning the starting gig come Week One. Have they found their savior? How much of an impact will he make in 2019? Will he have enough help to even do so? Read on, and find out…
Victims of Circumstance
If you had asked a Redskins Fan a year ago if they would have thought that their franchise would be starting over at Quarterback for a second consecutive season, then you probably would’ve been told off in no uncertain terms. However, that is exactly what is happening. After refusing to meet the contract demands of Kirk Cousins, Washington acquired Alex Smith (62.5%, 2,180 YDS, 5.88 NY/A, 10 TD, 5 INT, 53.8 QBR) from the Kansas City Chiefs via trade, immediately extending the veteran to a 4-Year, $94 Million deal ($71 Million Guaranteed). Of course, the Pro-Bowler lasted just ten games, before suffering a broken leg that initially was so serious that his career was thought to have been in doubt. Unfortunately, his Rehab hasn’t gone smoothly either; Smith will spend the whole 2019 Season on the Physically Unable to Perform List due to a Right Leg Infection originating from the surgery. Needless to say, this was about the worst possible news for a team that just made such a significant investment in a player, let alone a Quarterback. And it’s with that said, that the Skins’ plans shifted dramatically come the Draft, where they selected the aforementioned Haskins with the 15th Overall Pick, with the plans that he will become their franchise Quarterback for years to come. After a highly successful season with Ohio State in which he threw for a whopping Fifty Touchdowns, the local product out of Potomac, Maryland, appears to be a solid fit for Gruden’s variation of the West Coast Offense. With prototypical size to operate out of the Pocket, Haskins is smart and accurate, possessing the requisite tools to grow into the job. If he happens to develop slower than expected, Washington also signed Case Keenum (62.3%, 3,890 YDS, 5.90 NY/A, 18 TD, 15 INT, 47.9 QBR) to a one-year contract as a solid insurance policy; the oft-traveled veteran is on his fourth team in as many years, but has a wealth of starting experience, making Thirty-Nine Starts over the past three seasons with the Rams, Vikings, and Broncos respectively, leading Minnesota to the 2017 NFC Championship Game.
The Youth Movement
Though the Redskins remain largely a veteran group featuring the likes of All-Pro Left Tackle, Trent Williams (31 Years Old), future Hall of Fame Tailback, Adrian Peterson (34 Years Old), Pro-Bowl Edge-Rusher, Ryan Kerrigan (31 Years Old), and brash Cornerback, Josh Norman (32 Years Old), not to mention both Smith (35 Years Old) and Keenum (31 Years Old), their success in 2019 will ultimately be decided by a youth movement that is being conducted in the background. We outlined the impact that will likely be made once Haskins takes over at Quarterback, but there are a number of young, fresh faces that will need to play a large role moving forward if Washington indeed returns to the Postseason. First and foremost, their other First Round Pick, Montez Sweat (26th Overall), should make an immediate impact in a Defensive Front that is loaded with large, athletic Lineman, but in dire need of a rangy presence on the Edge to flank the aforementioned Kerrigan. Falling to the latter third of the First Round due to concerns over a heart condition, Sweat was a bonafide menace in his two years at Mississippi State, and was dominant at the Senior Bowl, with many scouts projecting him to be a Top-10 Pick. In the Third Round, they selected one of Haskins’ favorite targets, Terry McLaurin, out of Ohio State; the speedster was a big-play machine in college, averaging a whopping 20.0 Yards per Reception in his final season in Columbus. And while he wasn’t picked in this year’s Draft, last year’s Second Rounder, Derrius Guice returns with a clean bill of health after missing all of what should have been his Rookie Season with a torn ACL. The former LSU product was expected to be atop of the Depth Chart in the Backfield, but was lost in Training Camp, ultimately leading the club to sign Peterson. If each of these young players manage to establish themselves as fixtures in the Starting Lineup, then Washington will definitely be trending far closer to retooling rather than rebuilding.
On the Hot Seat
Every season there happens to be no shortage of Head Coaches occupying the proverbial Hot Seat, and 2019 is no different with a slew of names and faces under serious pressure to meet expectations and provide results. For all intents and purposes, you can add Jay Gruden’s name to that dubious list, for it’s a wonder that the 51-Year Old has managed to last as long as he has in the nation’s capital. In his five years with the Redskins, Gruden has gone a mediocre 35-44-1 (.444), though he did take them to an NFC East Championship in 2015. However, his tenure with Washington will likely be characterized by the rotating door that is the game’s most important position: Quarterback. This was the guy that convinced Ownership (aka Dan Snyder) to move on from the much maligned Robert Griffin, ultimately placing his faith in the arm of the unheralded Kirk Cousins, who over the course of three seasons clearly outperformed his Rookie Contract thanks in large part to the tutelage of Gruden. However, Management (again, Snyder) played hardball with Cousins and struck out, allowing the Pro-Bowler to leave last season in Free Agency after two years of playing on the Franchise Tag. Eventually, the aforementioned Smith would be brought in as his replacement, enjoying a brief run of success before that unfortunate injury. Now, after finishing the campaign with three different Starting Quarterbacks, the Coach gets to start over with a promising Rookie (Haskins). Seriously, if there’s one guy who could really stand to benefit from a little continuity under Center, it would be Jay Gruden. Of course, whether or not Ownership (ahem, Snyder), will give him the opportunity to do so are anyone’s guess. Going on his sixth season with the Burgundy & Gold, he’s already held the job longer than any of his five predecessors, with his resume’ falling somewhere in the middle of the pack; Mike Shanahan went 24-40 (.375) in four years, with a Division Title to his credit, while Joe Gibbs, in his second stint with the franchise went 30-34 (.469), with Playoff Appearances in 2005 and 2007. Generally, the excuse of developing a young Quarterback is enough to lengthen the proverbial leash, but in this day and age, that leash can turn into a noose rather quickly…
2019 Forecast: 8-8
It’s difficult to project just what is in store for the Washington Redskins, for there are so many variables that come into play. Haskins’ development is chief among them, for if he remains on schedule and wrestles the starting gig away from Keenum, then this is a team that should be able to provide him with a solid Supporting Cast made up of reliable veterans and promising young talents. However, if the Rookie Quarterback finds himself behind the curve, then it’s hard to see Keenum invoking his tenure with the Vikings and flourishing in the nation’s capital. With both Philadelphia and Dallas reloading within the Division, the schedule offers few advantages, meaning that Washington could very well endure another season in which they take their lumps. With that said, this team is certainly closer than many think, with brighter days not long on the horizon.