NFC East: Washington Redskins

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Three thoughts on the Washington Redskins hosting Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, per the NFL Network’s Albert Breer:

  1. Well, no kidding. Any team picking in the top five should host any player projected to go in that range. It’s called due diligence. Even if you don’t think you’ll draft the player, it’s wise to meet with them. That way, you can add more information to your book on him in case he’s a free agent in a few years and you have interest. Good teams have lots of information on every player. Teams are allowed to have 30 players in for visits. Clearly they won’t be drafting all of them.
  2. The Redskins have said they would consider drafting Mariota at No. 5 – both coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan said so at the owners meetings. Listen, if it’s a ruse, then you have to keep it going. And if it’s legitimate interest, then you have to do your homework. Considering the team still has concerns/doubts/whatever about Robert Griffin III, it’s not hard to imagine the interest is real. For what it's worth, Scott Frost is Oregon's offensive coordinator; Redskins coach Jay Gruden was an offensive assistant in Tampa Bay when Frost played there in 2003. And Mariota worked with Gruden's brother Jon earlier this month for his series on ESPN. Good insight is available -- yes, the word is Jon Gruden likes him, but he clearly loves quarterbacks and once was a big fan of Kirk Cousins, too (might still be, I don't know). My own guess is that Mariota will be gone by the time Washington selects. If he’s that good, then someone will trade up to No. 2 to get him – or the quarterback-starved Tennessee Titans will take him. There was a lot of love for Mariota at the owners meetings, but we've entered the poker-playing stage of the draft, so who knows what teams really think.
  3. I have not yet studied Mariota (on the docket for this week), but I have seen him play and I do wonder how he’ll translate to the NFL. Half his highlights involve him running and there aren’t many games where you can get a great feel for how well he’d do in the NFL. Scouts and evaluators I’ve talked to do like him (several have said he’s better than Griffin, but if both were coming out now, the latter, in my mind, would have to go ahead of Mariota). But I don’t know that they love him. That spread system has not been conducive to grooming NFL quarterbacks, but like Griffin, Mariota has talent that should translate and give him a chance to succeed. At that point it’s about more factors than the system you played in college: smarts, leadership qualities, coaching, decisiveness, durability, etc.

PHOENIX -- Sometimes it was just a text, other times a phone call early in the morning. Jay Gruden’s former boss in Cincinnati would check in on him. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis just wanted to be supportive of his former offensive coordinator.

A year ago at the owners meetings, Lewis was asked if he had warned Gruden about the perils of coaching in Washington. Lewis said, “I didn’t get the chance.” Lewis also knows any first-year coach faces adjustments, and that was no different with Gruden. It didn’t matter that Gruden had been a head coach in other leagues, it’s just different in the NFL.

“That first year as a head coach, there’s those days that come around and you can’t wait for them to be over,” Lewis said. “They become fewer and fewer. ... He’s weathered the storm and now he’s going into Year 2, everyone knows each other better, the players have a better feel for him and him for them, and that’ll be good.”

There’s another factor Lewis said can make a difference for Gruden: general manager Scot McCloughan.

“[Gruden] is excited going forward,” Lewis said. “With the addition of Scot, they added a guy who has great experience. I know Jay’s excited to be working with Scot.”

But last season was tough for Gruden as the Redskins went 4-12 and once more dealt with an atmosphere they had hoped to tame.

“I thought Jay handled them well,” Lewis said. “But I don’t have time to judge someone else. All I was there for was to be supportive of him.”

The Washington Redskins' free-agent strategy resulted in several defensive upgrades as they landed a run-stopper in the middle, a quality starting corner and an end coming off his best season. This isn't about one signing that provides hope for the defense, it's about several. How good that makes them won't be known for six months. And this defense needed to be re-made so not all the work has been completed. We've all seen here how things that look good on paper don't translate to the field. Still, it's a good start for the Redskins and, for now, that's all we have to go on.

And when you go player by player, you see why:

[+] EnlargeTerrance Knighton
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiNew nose tackle Terrance Knighton can have a big impact on early downs, something the Redskins needed.

Nose tackle

In: Terrance Knighton

Out: Barry Cofield

Verdict: Better. Cofield's health hurt his play the past two years (not to mention sidelined him for eight games this season). It turns out he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum (which he has undergone) and might not be available for training camp. Had he returned, my guess is he would have played more end than nose as general manager Scot McCloughan looks for more size. But Knighton is one of the best nose tackles in the game and a true run-stuffer. Cofield had more quickness, but Knighton has girth and can anchor against double teams. He can have a big impact on early downs, something the Redskins needed. Knighton's arrival also means his best friend, Chris Baker, likely will be a backup end and nose tackle. Baker likely will still play a lot and having him as a reserve strengthens the depth. He can play both nose and end.

Defensive end

In: Stephen Paea

Out: Jarvis Jenkins

Verdict: Better. Jenkins never became the pass-rusher Washington hoped he would; he's athletic, but he lacked instincts and any sort of moves. Jenkins recognized this and it's why he's been training in Atlanta this offseason, but Paea already does what Jenkins hopes to do. Paea showed with Chicago last season that he could pressure the passer inside when asked to play vertical and not horizontal. His ability to get upfield on early downs should pair well with Knighton's ability to force runners wide. Jenkins improved against the run and was not the problem in that area. But Paea is better all-around.

Reserve defensive end

In: Ricky Jean Francois

Out: Stephen Bowen

Verdict: Better. It's not because Jean Francois is going to be a great player for Washington. But it's because Bowen had lost his ability to rush the passer because of damaged knees. A few years ago he was good in this role, but that time passed. Jean Francois is not a quality starter, but he can be a good reserve and evaluators say he fits well in Joe Barry's scheme (basing it on San Diego, which asked its ends to attack upfield).

Cornerback

In: Chris Culliver

Out: ?

Verdict: Better. It's only speculating at this point to know what the Redskins will do at the corner opposite Culliver. Will it be DeAngelo Hall (if he's healthy, you'd think that would be the case). So who's out? David Amerson? He's a former second-round pick who did not have the sophomore season I expected. He matured about the game -- much more insight from him last season -- but he made some of the same mistakes. Regardless, Culliver is better than Amerson or Bashaud Breeland. In the games I watched of his last season, Culliver was consistent -- and not often tested. I did not see coverage breakdowns or visibly botched assignments (there are always subtle mistakes, but the ones the Redskins made last season were glaring). The key with Culliver will be him maturing off the field, where he has had issues. It's not about having choir boys; it's about having players available.

Strong safety

In: Jeron Johnson

Out: Brandon Meriweather

Verdict: We'll see. I like the potential of what Johnson brings, but he's started just one game. How will he fare over 16 games? If he brings a physical style and just does his job, that will help. Meriweather, when available, was capable of playing well and he had some speed that allowed for some versatility in blitzes and coverages. But he'd also have the undisciplined breakdown that would prove costly. Oh, and the illegal hits. He was a definite mixed bag so it's not as if Johnson must replace a Pro Bowler. I like the signing -- I like former undrafted players who must fight to win a job each year. They add something when it comes to a mentality. And if the Redskins improve the rush it will help all in the secondary (we've heard this before). So it might be a very good signing; I don't think it's a bad one at all considering he was not expensive and, at the least, he provides depth and more special teams help.

The Redskins’ free-agency period has yielded something unusual: positive reviews. The players they’ve signed have improved their defensive line and secondary, both areas where they needed big help. The contracts seem reasonable as well, adding to the belief that they’re off to a good start. Yes, they need more help at other areas. But they also knew they couldn’t solve every issue in the first week of free agency.

It’s not as if the Redskins were careless last season, but they did sign some player who drew more questions than any of the ones they’ve signed this offseason. It’s hard to consider nose tackle Terrance Knighton, end Stephen Paea and corner Chris Culliver as anything but upgrades. And safety Jeron Johnson should provide a steady presence.

This is not to look back on last season as some sort of warning it might not work out. But it’s just a look back at what the perception was when the player signed and what it is now. And just know that the perception of the players they signed this offseason is better. There might be questions about them after the season – every player has flaws – but the signings were greeted with more applause than those made last offseason.

Here are the five higher-priced free agents they signed last season:

Guard Shawn Lauvao

At the time: Why did the Redskins make him a Day 1 priority signing after lackluster seasons in Cleveland? But some Browns coaches felt he would be a good fit in a zone-based system because of his ability to move. However, he was an inconsistent starter in Cleveland.

Now: He’s an inconsistent starter in Washington. The coaches say he graded out OK and that he was an improvement at left guard in pass protection over Kory Lichtensteiger. His run-blocking improved later in the season, but he clearly needs to play better overall.

Receiver Andre Roberts

At the time: A versatile receiver whose role decreased in Arizona as the Cardinals used Michael Floyd more and opted for a more run-based offense. He was signed to be a No. 2 receiver opposite Pierre Garcon and he also had return experience, something else the Redskins needed.

Now: Just a guy. He caught just 36 of the 71 passes thrown his way, by far the worst target percentage among those on the team. He was an ordinary returner and did not show a lot of burst. He turned out to be the No. 3 receiver after DeSean Jackson was signed.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher

At the time: Hatcher was coming off his best season and some wondered if he was a one-hit wonder and simply the product of how Dallas used him in 2013. However, the Redskins planned to use him in similar fashion as a pass-rusher, moving him inside in nickel packages. So he did not have to match his total of 11 sacks with Dallas; he just had to collapse the pocket and help the edge-rushers. My big concern with him was his age (turned 32 before the season), but figured the contract was, in essence, for two years and he could help during that time.

Now: Hatcher was a force when healthy, but his knees bothered him almost all season. He’ll be 33 when the season begins and is coming off knee problems. Not a good combination. But the Redskins have improved their depth – it appears – so they should be able to reduce his snaps and increase his effectiveness. If healthy, he and Paea could be the pocket-collapsers they've wanted for a few years.

Cornerback Tracy Porter

At the time: He was an oft-injured player coming off the one season in which he stayed healthy. The Redskins needed a slot corner and tried to sign Corey Graham. But considering Porter’s resume and the fact that he was coming off shoulder surgery, it was a keep-your-fingers-crossed move.

Now: An oft-injured player was oft-injured. The Redskins wanted to sign two corners in free agency, but have thus far added one. You need good corner depth and if everyone’s healthy they will have it, but if they can add another slot corner, it would be beneficial.

Receiver DeSean Jackson

At the time: He was not an unrestricted free agent; he was cut by the Eagles (in late March by the way; in other words, more moves can happen). But with so much swirling around why Chip Kelly would cut his most productive receiver, he was viewed as a risk. A week or two before he was available, one Redskins official did not sound all that high on Jackson. But the contract wasn’t bad, and nobody doubted Jackson’s on-field ability.

Now: Jackson was the Redskins' best offensive threat and was not a distraction at all. It’s not as if everything was rosy, but he produced and was one of the few players who did exactly what was expected.

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Taking a weekly look at various players who could tempt the Washington Redskins with the fifth overall pick in the draft, watching at least three or four of their games. As the draft gets closer, I’ll post these reports more frequently and take a look at other rounds as well.

Player: Vic Beasley

Position: Outside linebacker

School: Clemson

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 246 pounds

Projected round: First, likely top-10 selection.

What I like: A tremendous first step and excellent athleticism. Beasley cuts like a receiver or running back at times when trying to reach the quarterback – he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds and his 1.59 10-yard split was second-best among edge rushers. He appeared to be better when launching from a four-point stance. Sometimes he was a yard ahead of his teammates just after the snap. Beasley does not have a lot of moves, but what he does, he does well. He’s fast to the edge and will use his hands to turn the corner. He used a spin move on occasion – and probably should have used it more because it’s quick. Got a sack using that move vs. Oklahoma and used it to create pressure in other games. He rushes with an urgency, which should translate well in the NFL (sometimes rushers need to speed up their internal clock when going from college to pro). Causes tackles to occasionally lunge or get off-balance. He can quickly cut back inside. Did a good job vs. Florida State of not letting a double-team beat him on a rollout to his side. Got off the double team, jumped and deflected the pass attempt. An athletic play. His quickness makes it tough for tackles to stay with him when a quarterback extends a play; got some pressure that way vs. Ohio State. There’s not a lot of wasted movement or stutter steps. Lived in the backfield in some games. Did see him drive the Ohio State left tackle back by sticking his left hand into his chest and powering his legs, then getting around and tipping the pass. He does have some experience dropping into coverage; saw him reading the QB’s eyes on one drop.

What I didn’t like: His play against the run. Bad. Beasley is not an every-down linebacker at this point because he’d struggle against the run. Needs to get bigger (he did add weight this offseason and it didn’t change his speed; he also benched 225 pounds 35 times at the combine, so his upper-body strength is good) and stronger in the lower body so he can anchor and hold ground. He did not shed blocks easily against the run, either, whether from lack of desire or strength and he did lose contain on occasion (as on the game-winning touchdown in overtime vs. Florida State). Athletic, long-armed tackles in the NFL will provide him a test in the passing game, too. Tough for him to bull-rush anyone at this point, too. Did not like that Morgan Moses handled him quite well in 2013 (though it speaks highly of Moses). Moses’ long arms made it tough on Beasley, even when he tried to take him upfield and cut back in, he couldn’t get past him.

Why the Redskins could use him: They clearly want another pass-rusher, having pursued Pernell McPhee (to a degree) and maintaining interest in Brian Orakpo before he signed with Tennessee. They’ve improved, they hope, the interior pass rush with Stephen Paea to pair with Jason Hatcher, and they do have Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy on the outside.

How he fits: Well. He’d provide the Redskins with a quickness they lack outside. And, if used only on nickel and not worn down from playing the run, he could be a big threat later in games against tired tackles. Thanks to Murphy, Beasley would not have to play run downs (best guess: they’ll be in nickel 65-70 percent of the time). Clemson typically kept him outside (would sometimes line up inside), but he seems to have the ability to be used all over. With stunts and blitzes, he could be dangerous when the offense isn’t sure where he’s coming from.

Previous draft prospects

Redskins propose four rules changes

March, 18, 2015
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The Washington Redskins once again were among the busier teams submitting rules proposals. When NFL owners meet next week in Arizona, they'll consider four proposals submitted by the Redskins (there are a total of 23 rules proposals):

  1. Review all personal fouls. That includes penalties for roughing the passer or any unnecessary roughness penalties. The listed reason for this: competitive fairness and integrity of the game. My own guess is that the Redskins, like many teams, get tired of later in the week learning that a certain personal foul should not have been called. One note: On a conference call, Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the competition committee, said he did not want every play reviewable.
  2. Review any penalty that results in a first down. This is just a continuation of the previous rule, though with some obvious differences. This would enable teams to challenge a defensive holding penalty, pass interference or illegal use of the hands.
  3. Every team receives three challenges. As of now, the rule states that if a team wins two challenges, it receives a third. But this proposal would give every team three challenges regardless. Of course, the Redskins didn't exactly have a lot of luck with two challenges per game last season. Coach Jay Gruden challenged eight calls last season; he lost seven of them. And, for what it's worth, these are three of the 13 proposals that pertain to instant replay.
  4. Cutdowns and player limits. The Redskins want to eliminate the first round of cuts and keep all players until the final cuts. So instead of one date where they cut the roster to 75 and then another when they trim it to 53, they'll keep all 90 players until after the fourth preseason game. The reason? Player safety and development. This makes some sense. It's getting harder to get a great sense of players in practice because of the lack of hitting so you want to give them as many chances in a game as you can. Also, the thought is that after a few weeks of camp there are more injuries and this would allow for more bodies throughout camp.

The Redskins did not propose the craziest rule. That honor belongs to Indianapolis, which proposed that if a team opts for a two-point conversion and succeeds, they also would get to try a 50-yard field goal to receive one more point. If this somehow passes, then it would give teams a chance for nine points in one possession.

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The first thought is that it didn't make sense. The next thought is that it makes all the sense in the world. Colt McCoy returning to the Washington Redskins? The entire quarterback gang back together again at Redskins Park? Yes, it's happening.

McCoy agreed to a one-year deal with the Redskins, which ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported. Before the free-agency period started, I reported McCoy remained in contact with the Redskins and he did not view this as a bad situation. So his return is not surprising in the least.

Initially, I wondered if this marriage would continue. If the Redskins were going to have a quarterback competition, as coach Jay Gruden said, then it would be a two-person race -- in other words, one of the three would not compete for the job. There aren't enough reps to spread among three passers fighting to be the starter. (That doesn't mean the team will keep only two quarterbacks; it's just that if there was an open competition, the third would be . . . well, third). Would the Redskins bring back all three -- or would they draft someone late, a young guy to groom?

And I wondered if McCoy would want to return to this sort of situation. But it makes sense: He's playing with two quarterbacks who have a lot to prove. For McCoy, returning to Washington represents opportunity. Until Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins prove themselves for the long haul, then there will be chances for McCoy. Also, McCoy talked after suffering his neck injury in December about how much he felt in sync with the coaches when it came to this offense. It's why that injury crushed him. He lacks Griffin's pure talent, but the coaches like how McCoy manages the game and plays with poise.

For the Redskins, they get a quarterback who knows the offense and is excellent in the meeting room. People can dismiss that, but it matters; McCoy is smart and has a future in coaching if and when he's ready. McCoy showed he could win in a pinch (at Dallas) so he's a good short-term backup.

Washington originally signed him last year for the right role: as the No. 3 quarterback. But it was poor play by the other quarterbacks, not some undying love by the coaches, that elevated McCoy. Really, this goes back to Griffin: If the coaches were pleased with his play, then the other two wouldn't matter as much. If Griffin were a Pro Bowler, the reaction to McCoy would be: What depth! Instead, Griffin is not, so the reaction is different.

The other question is, what does this mean for the draft? There does seem to be interest in Marcus Mariota -- how real or how deep, I don't know. Considering that information came out a week ago (courtesy of ESPN's John Clayton) and that they were already in contact with McCoy about returning, I'm not sure this move means they won't draft Mariota. Not sure why it would: You'd have two good quarterbacks in Cousins and McCoy to mentor a young passer, figuring the team would then trade Griffin (which is what I would want if I were him).

After all, the Redskins now have three quarterbacks who aren't signed beyond this season. It would be good to know one of them will be with you going forward.

Of course, it could also mean that even if they like Mariota, they're not confident he'll still be around at No. 5, so go with the pull-a-name-out-of-a-hat-approach for another season. And hope that one of them gets it and can hold onto the job.

Redskins free agency update

March, 14, 2015
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The Washington Redskins didn’t make any splash moves, but they have been active in free agency – as expected. They’ve already added three new starters to their defense and will continue to look for more. When it’s all said and done, their defense could have not only a new coordinator in Joe Barry but also at least five new starters and possibly more.

Here are the moves that have been made, or what I know based on my reporting:

Remaining money

The Redskins have approximately $12 million to $17 million left in cap room based on various sites, including ESPN Stats & Information ($17 million). This number can be fluid.

Next up

[+] EnlargeJeron Johnson
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJeron Johnson has played mostly special teams in Seattle behind two solid starters at safety.
S Jeron Johnson: He arrives Sunday to visit with the Redskins (per the usual: dinner Sunday, meeting Monday). General manager Scot McCloughan was in Seattle when he made the team as an undrafted free agent. Good special-teamer with one career start playing behind two of the best safeties in football: Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. He backed up both players, but is listed as a strong safety.

Signed

DE Stephen Paea: Will play defensive end in their base defense and move inside on nickel downs. He’ll be the athletic rusher Jarvis Jenkins failed to be. We’re not talking double-digit sacks, but he will be more effective. If he records six or seven, it would be a big help.

NT Terrance Knighton: The run-stuffing nose tackle signed a one-year deal. Why only one year? No one has told me directly, but I was told before he arrived that he was seeking more money than Denver or even Oakland wanted to pay. Teams just won’t pay above a certain amount for two-down players. The $4 million contract would be double what he made in Denver, so it’s not a bad move for Knighton. If he has a good year, he can get another deal next season (yes, from Washington; so no need to keep asking about Danny Shelton, OK?).

CB Chris Culliver: Signed to a four-year deal Friday and will start. That, of course, leads to several questions. A good player with off-field concerns.

OT Tom Compton: Re-signed the right tackle to a one-year deal. The Redskins' right-tackle situation remains murky.

SS Duke Ihenacho: The exclusive-rights free agent re-signed on a one-year deal. Could add depth at strong safety and on special teams, but they absolutely still need a starter.

CB Justin Rogers: Re-signed Friday.

Visited


CB Perrish Cox: Reported this Friday, but he has two and possibly three other teams interested in him. Cox visited with Washington on Wednesday then headed to Cleveland on Thursday and Tennessee on Friday. One source said another team was interested in him. But the Redskins have told people they want to sign two corners this offseason. So even though they signed Culliver, that does not kill a potential deal. UPDATE: NFL Network reported that he agreed to a deal with Tennessee.

Person of interest

S Dashon Goldson: The Tampa Bay free safety isn't free yet, but several reports suggest he’ll either be cut or forced to take a pay cut. If he becomes free, I’d be surprised if the Redskins don’t have interest. He was one of Scot McCloughan’s better draft choices in San Francisco, a fourth-round choice who made two Pro Bowls. But Tampa Bay will view him as a poor free-agent signing. However, the Bucs made a mistake in overpaying another team’s safety and trying to fit him in a new scheme. The Redskins would not be overpaying him. What does the 30-year-old Goldson have left? The Redskins might find out.

S Ron Parker: I have not heard anything regarding him in several days, but they have expressed interest early in free agency. Chicago and the New York Giants seem to be more connected based on others' reporting, but don’t know that for sure. UPDATE: Multiple reports say he will re-sign with Kansas City.

WR Michael Crabtree: Yes, Crabtree. The Redskins have expressed interest in him, but a source says he’s leaning toward San Diego, so I wouldn’t anticipate anything happening here. The Washington Post's Mike Jones also was told that the interest in Crabtree at this time wasn't serious.

Taylor Mays: The last I'd been told, a few days ago, was that there was mutual interest but could not confirm any visit. But that's where mutual interest usually leads so we'll see.

Lost

LB Brian Orakpo: Signed a four-year contract with Tennessee. Here's what he had to say about leaving the Redskins.

WR Leonard Hankerson: Signed a one-year deal with Atlanta.

RB Roy Helu: Signed a four-year deal with Oakland.

Spurned

S Antrel Rolle: He told Sirius XM Radio that he chose Chicago over Washington.

RT Derek Newton: The Redskins contacted him during the legal tampering period, but he re-signed with Houston before free agency.

RT Jermey Parnell: The Redskins contacted him during the legal tampering and would have had an interest, but he agreed to a deal with Jacksonville before free agency.

CB Brandon Browner: Had a visit lined up for Thursday, but signed with New Orleans on Wednesday.
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The Redskins added a solid young cornerback, Chris Culliver, on Friday morning -- he signed a four-year deal worth up to $32 million. His cap hit this year will be a reasonable $5 million. But his signing does lead to some questions:

How good is he?

Culliver is a solid corner. At 6-foot-0 and 190 pounds, he has good size and speed. When I’ve asked around, no one has considered him a budding Pro Bowl candidate, but nobody has said he’s bad, either. One former NFL coach wasn’t impressed by his instincts. But for the most part, he can play. He did have a torn ACL in 2013, and you wonder how much that had an impact on him last season -- and if it will lead to improved play this season. You could do worse than Culliver; you could do better. But he's an improvement.

Who will start at corner?

Clearly, you don’t sign Culliver at this price and expect him to be a backup. He’s a starter. But that leaves the Redskins with three other corners who started here: David Amerson, Bashaud Breeland and DeAngelo Hall. All have question marks of their own. Amerson is coming off a tough season; Breeland played well for the most part but committed 12 penalties (two shy of the league high). And Hall is coming off a torn Achilles tendon -- will he even be ready? As the Redskins have discovered, you need good depth at corner.

Who will play the slot?

Culliver played in the nickel in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012, but he was usually on the outside, and that likely will be the case in Washington. Amerson is not a slot corner, but Breeland played inside at times last season (against Indianapolis, and he fared well). Hall struggled in the slot two years ago. The Redskins could sign corner Perrish Cox, Culliver’s teammate in San Francisco who visited Wednesday; he can play inside.

Are they done at corner?

I don’t think so. One source said the Redskins have told people they planned to sign two corners this offseason. They already met with Cox, but he also has visited Cleveland and is in Tennessee on Friday, with another unnamed team also interested. The Redskins wanted to bring in Brandon Browner on Thursday, but he signed instead with New Orleans. If they sign another corner, I’d imagine they would cut Tracy Porter. It wouldn’t make much sense to keep him -- and they could save $2,328,175 against the salary cap.

Can one of them move to safety?

Perhaps, but they’re not good options. One former NFL coach said he’d be concerned about Hall’s size and durability at a position he’s never played. Hall is smart enough, but he’d have to learn the game from a new perspective, plus learn run fits and how to play angles and be physical coming from the middle of the field. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds -- small for a safety. Amerson is too undisciplined, with his eyes in particular. Breeland has the skills to move there, and the previous defensive staff believed he could play safety. But if a guy is playing well at corner, you don’t move him. My guess is the Redskins will sign another player. They’ve expressed interest in Taylor Mays (not a quality starter), and when Dashon Goldson is released by the Buccaneers, general manager Scot McCloughan's ties to him suggest some level of interest. There’s also Stevie Brown, who played for Redskins secondary coach Perry Fewell in New York.

What about Culliver’s off-field issues?

They’re key. He has made comments that upset the gay community. He also was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run last year, and he faces both criminal charges and a civil suit. The alleged incident hardly paints him in a flattering light. What happens if he gets punished for the case? Will the NFL react? It’s something to watch. Has Culliver matured? Or will giving him good money lead to other problems? No way for me to know, and we’ll find out. It also matters how his contract is structured and what safeguards the Redskins have; they’ve done a nice job with contracts during the past two offseasons, so I’d imagine all of this was addressed. Also, McCloughan still has strong ties to the 49ers, so getting a good feel on a player from there wouldn’t be hard. Clearly, the 49ers won with Culliver. From what I understand, they wanted to re-sign him, but at a much lower price. But it's not as if they were saying they were done with him, either.
My ESPN colleague John Clayton dropped a little nugget on the radio Tuesday night about the Washington Redskins taking Marcus Mariota with the fifth pick if he’s available. As always, I have some thoughts on the matter:
  • I talked to someone a few weeks ago about Mariota and what Philadelphia would have to surrender to move up from No. 20 to the Redskins pick at No. 5. One thing he said: Mariota was better than Robert Griffin III.
  • Three years ago Griffin was a slam-dunk No. 2 choice. Tennessee owns the No. 2 pick and by most accounts is likely focused on USC defensive end Leonard Williams instead. The Titans need a quarterback. Badly. For whatever reason, they might pass on Mariota.
  • Another scout I spoke with said he’d take Mariota if he were the Redskins, saying he thought Mariota was better than Griffin -- not great, but someone you could win with. He did not think the Redskins would win with the quarterbacks on their roster.
  • Another executive said he bought into the possibility because of how the Redskins' football side comes across in regards to Griffin, not because he knows the Redskins thoughts on Mariota. He also said he hasn’t heard anything about the Redskins shopping Griffin (whom they named their starter for 2015 and have given no indication he’s going anywhere).
  • Finally, another coach wondered if the Redskins were just trying to stir up interest in their own draft pick. And he doubted the Redskins would make such a move, but obviously wasn’t sure. Certainly, there are mis-truths put out every year about the draft.
  • Mariota comes from a spread system at Oregon that will require the usual difficult adjustment, though Griffin certainly showed you can succeed early while doing so. The problem, Redskins coaches would say, is that Griffin’s next steps indicated he didn’t realize how far he still had to go as a passer. So, in their minds, his lack of recent success isn’t tied to the system he ran at Baylor as much as his lack of awareness in his own game. Just pointing out what they say; go ahead and shoot the messenger if it makes you feel better. But the point is: They wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss Mariota just because of the spread. However, Jay Gruden likes the drop-back game and there’s no way Mariota would be ready to become that sort of passer. But I think Gruden could live with it if Mariota made good decisions on the move. That’s been a knock on Griffin. Durability is another knock, and Griffin has already had two ACL surgeries.
  • One thing general manager Scot McCloughan discussed on his first day with the Redskins was Russell Wilson’s "it" factor. And it wasn’t about his play, it was about his aura and how he conducted himself and took charge. If he views Mariota as having that same "it" factor and not Griffin, then maybe this will happen.
  • Keep in mind when Griffin arrived here, early on I kept hearing teammates talk about how hard he worked and was a welcome change from Donovan McNabb. If Griffin played well and the Redskins won, there’d be zero worry about anything other than his play. When you lose, everything else is magnified. Griffin needs to mature; he’s still talented and does work hard.
  • Gruden was hired in part to get Griffin going. But if this feels like a forced relationship, then it will make it tough on both parties. Players need coaches to believe in them. I also get that while the coaches are down on Griffin, they, too, have a lot to prove.
  • But the bottom line is what McCloughan thinks of the situation (and if he does indeed think a certain way, getting the owner to go along). McCloughan, like anyone, puts a great deal of importance on the quarterback. He’s also someone who likes a consensus. If he views a situation as unworkable, should he let it continue? No. Especially if there’s a quarterback he likes sitting there when the Redskins pick? This becomes about his future; these guys want to win. Coaches like players who help them win. Period. It keeps them employed, you know?
  • I have no idea if this will happen. But there are a lot of new eyes in the building since Griffin arrived. It certainly adds intrigue next month to the draft. (And you'd have to unload Griffin right away; this wouldn't be about competition for him, it would be about a replacement.) And, yes, it would be stunning to think Griffin wouldn’t finish his first contract here (see: St. Louis, Sam Bradford). But there's a long way to go before that happens.
Some quick quarterback thoughts:
  • Minnesota traded quarterback Matt Cassel to Buffalo on Wednesday, taking another team out of the hunt for another quarterback. There are still a few who need help, but Cleveland (Josh McCown) and Buffalo (Cassel) have found veterans. Tampa Bay will pick one in the draft. And St. Louis still has Sam Bradford -- for now. If the Rams do get rid of him, they could be players for Marcus Mariota in the draft. The New York Jets and Houston remain in the market for quarterbacks, though the Jets, picking sixth, could land Mariota if no one trades into the top five for him.
  • [+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
    Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesShould Kirk Cousins stay with the Redskins, the QB will need to work on cutting down on INTs.
    So, the question then becomes: What does this mean for Kirk Cousins? As of now, he'll be with the Washington Redskins, according to a source. I don't think his side expects that to change, either. The Redskins do like having him around for competition with Robert Griffin III.
  • Yes, Griffin was named the starter entering 2015, but how long that lasts remains uncertain. He'll have to look good to keep that job. And if he hangs onto the job entering the season, I would not be surprised to see a quick hook. As I've written a few times, the coaches do like Cousins and there was a sense he got a raw deal last season (which suggests to me that not all the moves were of the coaches' doing). But if Griffin plays well, then the coaches would be thrilled. His talent is high; he just needs to play better. Keep in mind, others benefit if Griffin plays well. You can put up with anything if a player produces and your team wins.
  • What the coaches need to see from Cousins as much as anything? Fewer interceptions; better reaction to adversity. It will be tough to know how he handles both situations until he plays in a game. He also can improve in the pocket, knowing where to go with the ball, etc.
  • It's not as if every decision he made was the right one last season. On one interception vs. the New York Giants, he went to his No. 2 receiver for some reason (I believe it was Ryan Grant). His first read, on the other side, was open. An easy pick and a bad decision. So it's not just about responding to adversity. People I talk to around the league, from agents to executives to coaches or scouts, are split on what Cousins can do. Some like; some don't like at all.
  • The point is: Both quarterbacks have their issues. Griffin will just get the first crack at the starting job; how long he holds onto it is up to him. I also think if you're going to keep him as the starter, then they should do what they can to bolster the run game. Yes, the run game. Do better on first down, put him in less obvious pass situations. It matters.
  • Of course, if Cousins returns along with Griffin, I can't imagine Colt McCoy, a pending free agent, would want to be back in Washington. McCoy genuinely loved playing in this offense and felt he was in sync with what the coaches wanted. That's why he seemed crushed he could not finish the season because of injury; it was an opportunity lost and he knew it.
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A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles trade of running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, and its impact on the Washington Redskins:
  • These were the two guys Washington most worried about two years ago: receiver DeSean Jackson and McCoy. They combined for 3,480 yards and 20 touchdowns during the 2013 season. McCoy, alone, contributed 2,146 yards and 11 touchdowns.
  • The previous Redskins' defensive staff loved McCoy and considered him the best back they faced because of his all-around game. Their plan every time they faced Philly was to stop McCoy. In the first game against Washington last season, McCoy only rushed 19 times for 22 yards -- but the Eagles won 37-34 because, well, they couldn't stop much else.
  • The Redskins actually did a solid job against him during his Eagles' tenure. In 11 games, McCoy rushed 206 times for 807 yards -- a 3.92 yards per run average. He added 51 catches for 479 yards, a 9.39 yards per reception average.
  • McCoy surpassed 100 yards twice against Washington, including the 181-yard game on the opening night of 2013. That game forced the Redskins to tweak how they defended the Eagles, specifically McCoy, and in the three ensuing games they played McCoy gained a combined 187 yards.
  • In five of the 11 games vs. the Redskins, McCoy rushed for 50 yards or less.
  • It's not as if McCoy had the same level of impact last season, rushing two less times than in 2013 but gaining 288 fewer yards. However, you wonder about the loss of Jackson and the impact it had on how teams defended McCoy. But: McCoy faced a seven-man front one fewer time in 2014 than the previous year and faced only four fewer six-man fronts (he averaged 5.09 yards against that look in '13; and 4.42 against it this past season), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • But McCoy was always dangerous and using he and Darren Sproles in the backfield at times last season put defenses in a bind. They were successful at using screens in which they'd fake a handoff to McCoy running one way -- defenses had to honor it because of who it was -- and then screened to the other side for Sproles, now in a favorable spot. McCoy would also serve as a blocker for Sproles on occasion. So McCoy's impact was more than just about him running the ball: It was receiving, a little blocking and a dangerous decoy.
  • Until we know what other moves the Eagles, make it's tough to say what they've truly gained or lost. Alonso had a terrific rookie season, but the Bills' defense flourished without him last season when he missed with a torn ACL. But the move also provided them with an extra $10 million in cap space. That could result in two or three more players -- or one (potentially) dominant one.
  • It's not as if Chip Kelly made McCoy; the Redskins' thoughts about him being the best, for example, pre-dated this marriage. So whether Kelly can just plug any back into his system and produce the same numbers is uncertain. Perhaps he can. But the passing game last season definitely missed Jackson, the other big name he jettisoned. And it's always dangerous when a coach thinks it's about his system and not the players.
  • But these moves for the Eagles also are about the future and re-shaping the roster to more of what Kelly wants or needs. Perhaps he's getting rid of McCoy a year or so too early; we'll see. McCoy did not look like he had the same burst and wiggle as he did in 2013. He averaged only 5.5 yards per reception. McCoy still finished third in the NFL in rushing, but he also gained a combined 1,976 yards before contact the past two years -- an NFL best. Just a hunch: I'm guessing Kelly attributed that in part to the line and his system. It's also unnecessary to have a running back count $11.95 million against the salary cap as McCoy would have (though at least McCoy is a three-down guy, which increases his value).
  • The Eagles still have talented parts on offense; the line should be healthy and strong. Receiver Jeremy Maclin is dangerous; receiver Jordan Matthews had a good rookie season and tight end Zach Ertz is a big threat as well.
  • But they will need to replace McCoy and that won't be easy. Then again, they have a lot of money and flexibility -- and it makes you wonder what other moves are on the horizon and how it will impact the Redskins. Will this aggressive mindset carry into the draft with Kelly trying to land quarterback Marcus Mariota? And will the team on the other end be the Redskins or someone else? It would be a steep price to pay for the Eagles, but Kelly isn't afraid to make bold moves.
[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
AP Photo/Nati HarnikThe Redskins are in need of a dynamic rusher, and Nebraska's Randy Gregory seems to fit Washington's profile.
The Washington Redskins don't have to select a pass-rusher with the fifth pick. They might make a move in free agency that negates the need; they could trade down. But if they stay there, there will be some interesting choices.

Nebraska's Randy Gregory will be, and has been already, projected to the Redskins by any number of mock drafts. That could be cause for celebration -- and a little bit of crossing the fingers. Gregory is a freakish athlete; he's also someone who needs work to make his game fit in the NFL.

So says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Gregory's film supports Kiper's belief: In my write-up on him, it was clear he made athletic plays, but his strength is an issue, whether against the run or in beating his opponent in a pass rush where speed isn't working.

"Gregory has to get stronger," Kiper said. "He's more the developmental type. ...If he does, then you could be looking at a guy who can be a very good pass-rusher."

That word, developmental, could scare people. But with Gregory, there are things you can't teach or coach or improve. Like his athleticism and his length. Both are attributes of a (potentially) special pass-rusher.

It's often difficult for pass-rushers to make instant impacts, even if selected high in the draft. J.J. Watt is a dominant rusher now; he was drafted 11th overall and in his first year recorded 5.5 sacks -- and then 20.5 as a second-year player. Last year's No. 5 overall pick, Khalil Mack, had fantastic measurables (a 1.53 in the 10-yard split; anything under 1.6 is good) and showed good things as a rookie. He had just four sacks. St. Louis' Robert Quinn had five sacks as a rookie; two years later he had 19. Teams are trying to find guys who can make a long-term impact, not just an instant splash.

The trick is projecting who will develop into that special rusher. Which of the available pass-rushers could be that guy?

Gregory benched 225 pounds 24 times at the combine, an OK number. But Kiper said his film looked more like someone who benched that weight 15 times. In watching him, Gregory often had a tough time getting off blocks in the run game.

If the Redskins drafted him, they wouldn't necessarily need him as much in the run game with Trent Murphy available. Murphy played the run well, but lacks the explosiveness of any of the available-pass rushers in the first round. Gregory, though, likely would play a lot given how much nickel the Redskins are forced to play (partly because of the division).

However, they'd still have to cross their fingers and hope it pans out. Here's the thing: That's true of pretty much every player in the draft. The more players are scouted and watched, the more they're picked apart. The offensive tackles all have flaws as well -- some project more to guard. Nose tackle Danny Shelton has warts, too; there's concern about his inconsistent game film.

But with the pass-rushers, there is a choice. Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr., has the necessary size, but his game, too, is raw -- he has an explosive first step, but needs to learn how to react thereafter. For Gregory, it's about adding strength -- and staying explosive. Will that happen? It's a bet some team will make.

"Gregory's a great athlete," Kiper said. "Phenomenal athlete. He has the length; long arms. He could be spectacular in this league. He has to show he can be durable as well. He has enormous upside."

Redskins draft prospects: Randy Gregory

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
4:55
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Taking a weekly look at various players who could tempt the Washington Redskins with the fifth overall pick in the draft, watching at least three or four of their games. As the draft gets closer, I’ll post these reports more frequently and take a look at other rounds as well.

Player: Randy Gregory

Position: Defensive end/outside linebacker

School: Nebraska

Height: 6-foot-6

Weight: 240 pounds

Projected round: First round, top 10.

What I liked: His athleticism. It’s why he has a chance to develop into an excellent NFL rusher. Gregory has an explosive first step, especially when rushing to the inside, and he couples it with a good swim move. He was adept at forcing tackles to set wide, only to cut back inside. Saw him get a sack when he jumped over a cut-block attempt by the back. Saw him drive potential first-round pick Ereck Flowers (Miami) back to apply pressure. His two sacks that game did not occur against Flowers; he did take advantage of Flowers’ slow hands in the run game. It was a good game for Gregory. He was doubled quite a bit in most games I saw. Did a pretty good job in open space, tackling receivers (showed it on one screen pass; kept his balance and composure and made a nice tackle). Showed he could rush standing up or with his hand on the ground – from both sides, too. When he got a good jump off the ball, or at least was on time, he would be a step ahead of his linemates. Saw him block a field goal with an inside rush.

What I didn’t like: His play against the run – at all. Gregory would not always get driven off the ball, but he would be controlled and turned to a side. In too many games, he got a late jump off the ball and that allowed the linemen to get his hands into him sooner and, therefore, control him. Gregory goes off player movement; on one snap I froze the frame and the ball is almost in the hands of the quarterback, who was in shotgun, before Gregory takes a step. He needs to add lower-body strength and learn to disengage blockers quicker. Saw him drop into coverage once in five games. But that can be taught. Occasionally he would get upright looking for the ball, losing his base and being driven. I would like to have seen him win more around the edge against good tackles. I didn’t see him beat many left tackles to the outside, though he did have some strong rushes vs. Flowers. Wisconsin’s tackles, especially right tackle Rob Havenstein with his long arms, maneuvered him in the run game.

Why they could use him: Starting to sound like a broken record, but because I’ve focused on edge rushers early on for this series, it’s become repetitive. The Redskins might lose Brian Orakpo to free agency and they lack depth at outside linebacker and do not have many legitimate pass-rushers. They wanted to improve it last offseason and that desire should not have changed.

How he fits: Gregory would provide the Redskins more athleticism and speed on the edge. He would add explosiveness that they now lack on the outside. But he would not be a full-time player because of his need to add weight and strength and would likely be used as a pass-rusher. That’s fine, considering how often they’ll likely be in nickel. He would provide some versatility. Gregory would have to add 10 to 15 pounds to become an effective full-time outside linebacker.

Previous draft prospects
If the Washington Redskins wanted to add more picks and still select an outside linebacker, they could do so. That is, if Marcus Mariota is still around when they select -- and if other teams want him badly enough to take a big jump.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
David J. Griffin/Icon SportswireAlabama safety Landon Collins is a possible target for the Redskins, if the team decides to trade down its first-round pick.
That's the opinion of ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who said the trade for Robert Griffin III in 2012 -- and the loss of picks the past two years -- heightens the importance of adding more selections.

The Redskins still had a combined 15 picks the past two years, just none in the first round. But they have a dearth of under-25 talent because of failed choices for several years. Of course, if Griffin were playing at a Pro Bowl level it wouldn't be a big deal. But he's not; so it is.

Of their 15 picks in the past two years, six are no longer with the team (and nine of the last 24 selections are elsewhere). That's fine if you're a contending team with depth and no room for rookies. It's not good if you're a rebuilding team with a need for young talent.

"If you can get a deal to move out, I think they'd be better served," McShay said. "There's enough depth at the outside linebacker position that you can get a really good one if you move down in the first round."

Or if they trade down they could select safety Landon Collins, who is not considered a top-10 player, and perhaps add a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the second round (possibly Virginia's Eli Harold). Or if they traded down a few spots, Clemson's Vic Beasley would be a good possibility.

The problem is trying to line up a trade partner (I wrote about that Monday morning). Three teams outside the top 10 would be possibilities: Cleveland (12, 19), Houston (16) or Philadelphia (20). And the only position they'd move up that high for is quarterback; if Mariota is gone then a trade is unlikely -- unless it's to move down a couple spots.

"There are plenty of teams that have quarterback needs behind them," McShay said. "Nothing would be shocking. I know it would be a monster move to come up 15 spots. I don't think Cleveland would be willing to [trade] but you never know.

"I'd rather move down several spots and get Beasley and then pick up two or three extra picks."

The caveat, of course, is that every team picking high needs a lot of help and, in theory, would be well-served adding more good young talent. It's not that easy, but if the right player is still around at No. 5, then the Redskins would have a chance.

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