Of all of the playoff teams, Washington had to be the one that got in mostly due to their schedule. They went 9-7 but went 0-2 against playoff teams getting outscored 71-26 combined. Heck their most impressive win was at the 6-10 Chicago Bears. They also swept their division rival Eagles, but also had their most disappointing loss of the year when they were shut down by a dead in the water Cowboys team at home on Monday Night Football. There still can be positives to take away from the year, and the fact that they made the playoffs was a personal surprise to me.
Jay Gruden did a lot of things to prove myself wrong in 2015. Still, it is tough for me to completely succumb and believe that what Gruden did this year can translate into long term success. He has certainly earned a leash after taking his team from a top five pick into playoffs in one year.
Kirk Cousins had a year that well over shot expectations. What he has done that made him effective is honestly not trying to do too much. He threw only three of his 11 interceptions after week 8 and in that run Washington went 6-2. He now enters a year of free agency and faces a major decision for Washington. The safe bet would be that Washington hits him with a franchise tag this year, and they see if his progression from interception machine to game manager can adjust to facing a schedule filled with division winners. Colt McCoy will more than likely continue to be the backup, and my hot take prediction is that Robert Griffin ends up in Denver.
Running back Play
Alfred Morris is in the same boat as Robert Griffin in that they both just wish it was 2012 again. Morris has saw his yards per carry rate drop from 4.8 to 4.6 to 4.1 and now 3.7 last year. His carries have also decreased from 335 to 276 to 265 all the way down to 202 this year. Morris was a guy who is tough to tackle when all of the attention is on Griffin, but doesn’t have any breakout ability. He will get a job as a power back, but not on Washington. They will look for Matt Jones to take a step in year two and be there do everything back. Chris Thompson can catch out of the back field, and if they add another back on the minimum the hope is that Jones take control of the run game, and it improves with more carries dedicated to him without Morris.
Along with Cousins only throwing three interceptions through the second half of the season was the fact that Desean Jackson only played the second half of the season. What Jackson does it open up what was a very short pass oriented offense. Jordan Reed had a big time year as the leader in targets at tight end, but the safety help that Jackson frees up is when he is most effective catching passes over the middle. It also leaves Pierre Garcon in easier matchups, and he is Cousins slumpbuster and go to guy in the need of a quick completion. You then throw in the fact that rookie Jamison Crowder also began to emerge in that second half of the season, and no wonder Cousins had an easy time completing passes. Garcon is a free agent after this year, but Crowder can slide into his role, and Reed is a guy that would be expected to be extended this year.
Washington also got solid play out of their offensive line. They are also in a position where they have youth, depth and talent all locked up in the foreseeable future. Trent Williams is signed long term and is Cousins best friend, more so than his multiple options. He is one of the best left tackles in the league and is signed through basically the prime of his career. They also got solid play out of rookie Brandon Scherff, Kory Lichtensteiger, and Morgan Moses. Their only position of question is left guard. Shawn Lauvao missed the last 13 games with an ankle injury, and is scheduled to make five million dollars this year. Washington has Spencer Long who started in his place as well as Arie Kouandjio a rookie from Alabama. It makes upgrading out of the organization pointless, and makes Lauvao a potential cut candidate.
Washington is left with a huge decision when it comes to Terrance Knighton. They more than likely will be signing the potential free agent to an extension, but as he enters age 30 it isn’t a risk free proposition. Knighton however, is the biggest strength of their defensive line and it would leave a giant hole if he were to leave. It isn’t to say that the ends, Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher were bad, but more to say that Knighton just has a bigger impact. They also have no immediate replacements so if he were to get away, nose tackle would be a major priority.
The pass rush position is one of the best on the team. Ryan Kerrigan is the star of the unit leading the team with 9.5 sacks. Preston Smith and Trent Murphy however are a relentless duo around Kerrigan and combined for 11.5 sacks, eight of which came from the rookie Smith. While Smith is a rookie, Murphy is only in year two. Kerrigan is also signed long term, and there certainly is no need to upgrade here.
On the inside, they could use some help beside Perry Riley. Keenan Robinson, Will Compton, and Mason Foster had chances to start beside Riley, but none really seem to be long term solutions at the moment.
Washington made the shift for Deangelo Hall from corner to safety, and honestly it could another thing to attribute to the second half run. Hall has lost a step, but has the football sense to find the ball which makes him a great fit at safety. However, it does leave a hole at corner. Chris Culliver is currently one of the five highest paid players on the team, but you could go down the list of guys who contributed more last year than he did. Washington could move on and save five of the eight million he will put on the cap this year, but they currently don’t have the in house talent to do it. It makes a pretty obvious number one need for this team moving forward.
Where do they go?
This team has to franchise Cousins. It will give them the realization as to what it will be like to have so much money tied into him, and how the roster may potentially look. With guys like Smith, Scherff and Crowder stepping up as rookies, it gives them a type of win now opportunity before all of these players demand money. They should look to extend Jordan Reed, upgrade the defense and hope that Reed, and Jackson stay healthy, and that Jones can create a run game and they should be right back in the mix as a potential playoff team.