Redskins are preaching patience, but offseason looks more like stagnation

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/football-insider/wp/2018/04/09/red
Alex Smith is one big change to the Redskins’ roster this offseason. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Alex Smith is one big change to the Redskins’ roster this offseason. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post) By Kareem Copeland Kareem Copeland Reporter covering the Washington Redskins Email Bio Follow April 9

The record speaks for itself — the Washington Redskins are 64-95-1 in the last 10 seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. The organization has finished last in the NFC East six times in the past decade and in third place twice. The win total has dropped each of the last two years.

Coming off a 7-9 record in 2017 and with just one playoff appearance in five seasons, improving the roster would seem to be imperative, particularly for a franchise in which changes to coaching staffs and executives have often followed failure. But as the offseason continues, the Redskins’ approach to retooling the roster cannot be called aggressive, and the limited activity in free agency has some observers concerned the organization isn’t taking steps to address its shortcomings.

Safety D.J. Swearinger showed some frustration on Twitter this weekend by calling the team’s No. 32-ranked run defense “embarrassing” and questioned a common thought that a defensive back could be in play with the No. 13 overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft in a since-deleted tweet.

“It’s Only Logic To Get Help Where You Hurt Right Or Wrong?!?!? #FACTS,” Swearinger tweeted.

While no wins and losses will be registered before the season starts in September, the argument that the team has gained more talent than it has lost is difficult to make. And with the free agent market dwindling, that would seem to put increased emphasis on the upcoming draft and potentially increased reliance on unproven rookies to help demonstrate progress.

Team President Bruce Allen is entering his ninth year at the helm, and the organization has had two head coaches and six starting quarterbacks during that stretch. It also included the addition and termination of Scot McCloughan, fired as the team’s general manager after two seasons.

Allen said at the annual league meeting last month that there’s an urgency every day and said of the internal pressure, “The flame is hot.” That urgency, however, hasn’t manifested into a bevy of free agent additions.

Coach Jay Gruden channeled his inner Aaron Rodgers at the meetings when he, basically, asked people to relax, emphasizing the team’s core talent.

“I think we’re trying to do what we think as an organization is going to make our team better next year,” Gruden said. “We were able to play a lot of guys last year. There are a lot of guys on our roster that I feel good about it, a core group of guys on our team that I feel that can compete.

“Get those guys ready to go, continue their developmental process and add some key components in the draft and college free agents and then sprinkle in a few free agents here, from now until training camp, and I think we are ready to compete.”

The Redskins have been pleased with a number of young players, and those players will be counted on for similar, if not stronger, production in 2018. That group includes center Chase Roullier, safety Montae Nicholson, cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar and defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis. And the potential for outside help remains, even as the opening frenzy of free agency wanes.

Washington has made offers to other free agents but also stuck to its patient approach. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins visited Redskins Park but left without a deal and remain on the market. While the players ultimately could sign with Washington, the team has several spots to fill and multiple areas to improve.

The Redskins have lost seven players via free agency since the new league year started, including five they drafted and developed. That doesn’t include the trades of Su’a Cravens and Kendall Fuller or the decision to let Junior Galette walk.

The team signed three players — wide receiver Paul Richardson, cornerback Orlando Scandrick and linebacker Pernell McPhee — plus traded for quarterbacks Alex Smith and Kevin Hogan. It also re-signed linebacker Zach Brown, defensive lineman Phil Taylor, wide receiver Brian Quick and kicker Dustin Hopkins.

While the team’s patient approach may prevent it from overspending or offering a bad contract, the remaining free agent talent may not offer much of an upgrade. In general, the roster has gotten a little older with the additions but also now has more winning experience. The average age of the departures is 27.1 compared with 28.6 for the additions.

Using the grades of Pro Football Focus for comparisons, the Redskins haven’t exactly improved on paper, and it’s difficult to see any clear talent upgrades to a team that finished with a sub-.500 record last season.

While the Redskins have been quick to tout Smith as an upgrade over Kirk Cousins, and last season’s numbers fall in line with that assertion, over their past three seasons the two quarterbacks have been comparable. Cousins holds a slight edge in passing yards (4,392 average over the past three seasons, compared to 3,676 for Smith), passing touchdowns (27 to 20.3) and passer rating (97.6 to 97.1).

The biggest edge Smith has over Cousins comes in the wins department, as Allen has pointed out. But Smith was backed by a top-seven and top-three defense two of the past three seasons and a pair of No. 6-ranked rushing offenses. Meanwhile, Washington is coming off a season in which it ranked 27th in scoring defense (24.2 points per game) while logging only 90.5 yards per game on the ground on offense(28th in the league).

The thought is that Washington has upgraded at wide receiver by signing Richardson while losing Ryan Grant, 27, and Terrelle Pryor Sr., 28. Signed as a free agent in 2017, Pryor didn’t work out with just 20 catches in nine games before he was put on injured reserve. His Pro Football Focus grade ranked No. 99 in the league. Richardson, 25, was brought in to provide speed, but statistically his resume is similarly sparse.

Richardson’s career year in 2017 included 44 receptions for 703 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that earned him a five-year, $40 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. That was also the only season in which Richardson topped 300 yards and 30 catches. He was tied with Detroit’s Kenny Golladay for No. 72 on PFF’s scale last season.

At other positions — with departing players such as Bashaud Breeland and Trent Murphy countered by the additions of Scandrick and McPhee — the arguments for improvement are more tenuous. It’s there that Washington could lean more on its young, returning core.

Barring additional signings, it appears the Redskins’ biggest infusion of talent could come from the upcoming draft. Those players will join the core of a roster facing the challenge of not only matching what Washington’s 2017 team achieved, but building on it.

Read more:

Alliance of American Football knows a lot about Steve Spurrier, except that he coached the Redskins

Redskins add depth to QB room, bring former Gonzaga star Kevin Hogan home

Redskins need to bolster their secondary in the draft, but could wait for later rounds

Who should the Redskins draft?: Lamar Jackson vs. Derrius Guice

John Harbaugh thinks Ravens ‘got a steal’ in Robert Griffin III