The Redskins have aggressively traded for a new quarterback and drafted a run-stopping nose tackle and elusive running back. In a relatively quiet offseason, they filled their biggest needs.
But did Washington do enough to survive in the resurgent NFC East? Probably not.
We don’t know how new signal-caller Alex Smith will perform, but the Redskins again have the look of a .500 team. Including matchups with teams from the AFC South and NFC South, Washington’s schedule is the 14th-toughest according to opponents’ win percentage from last season. The Redskins may be a better team than last year’s injury-decimated squad, but a rugged division could lead them to finish 7-9 again.
The Eagles are the division favorites after winning the Super Bowl. The Giants, who put together perhaps the best overall draft this year, should bounce back from a 3-13 season. The Cowboys could win 11 games if running back Ezekiel Elliott plays the whole year. That doesn’t leave the Redskins with much potential upside.
With No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley in New York, all three of Washington’s rivals will feature run-heavy offenses. Washington has been run over the last three years, when they ranked 32nd, 24th and 26th in rush defense.
The Redskins have at least prepared to play a smashmouth style. The club drafted Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne in the first round this year after taking Crimson Tide defensive end Jonathan Allen first last year. If Payne adjusts quickly and Allen stays healthy, they could form the foundation of a future top-10 run defense. Maybe they can finally stop Elliott, who’s averaged 110 yards per game against Washington.
Meanwhile, second-rounder Derrius Guice gives Washington a serious 1,000-yard threat for the first time since Alfred Morris. That takes a lot of pressure off the passing game.
Kirk Cousins is now in Minnesota, but Washington may have gotten a small upgrade in Alex Smith, at least when you consider that the locker room won’t be affected by multi-year contract drama. Smith won’t have to dodge weekly financial questions like Cousins did.
Jay Gruden is the first coach to enter a fifth season with the Redskins under owner Dan Snyder, but Gruden’s seat may get hot by season’s end.
His future is clearly dependent on this year. A 28-35-1 record with one playoff game over four years gives him no wiggle room with a notoriously impatient owner.
However, immediately elevating the offense with a new quarterback and running back will be a big task.
Maybe Gruden can crack jokes to cut the tension following losses this fall, but there will be a reckoning come January if Washington doesn’t contend for the playoffs. The new additions will help, but it may not be enough.