Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2018 NFL draft, which means mock draft season is officially upon us. Please try to contain your excitement. The Redskins enter the offseason with many holes to fill via free agency and the draft, but their most critical need probably won’t be apparent until sometime after March 6, the deadline for the team to decide whether to use the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins for an unprecedented third consecutive year.

The prevailing thought is that Cousins is as good as gone, which is why so many mock-draft makers — ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. included — currently have the Redskins selecting a quarterback with their first-round pick, No. 13 overall. Kiper, who released his first mock draft of the year on Thursday, predicts Washington will take Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. It would mark the second time in six years the Redskins drafted a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from the Big 12.

This all depends on Kirk Cousins. Is Washington going to franchise tag him again? Remember, if the Redskins do it for the third straight year, he would cost more than $34 million in 2018. Could Washington let him test the free agent market? He could get a huge deal, but it might not be from the Redskins. If Cousins walks, there’s no ready-made replacement. They would have to scan the free agent market or draft a quarterback. Don’t count out the Heisman Trophy winner being taken this high. He is going to get a chance to impress scouts at the Senior Bowl, and I know they’re interested in seeing how he performs. If Washington keeps Cousins, inside linebacker is a clear position of need.

The brash Mayfield put up gaudy numbers (43 touchdowns, six interceptions) while leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoffs as a senior. There are questions about his size, and to a lesser extent his maturity level, but Mayfield, who was disciplined for a crotch-grabbing incident against Kansas in November, hopes to put some of those concerns to rest at the Senior Bowl next week.

“There are a lot of skeptical people out there who think I have character issues,” Mayfield told Gil Brandt and Alex Marvez last week on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s why I’m doing [the Senior Bowl] — to sit down and have a conversation with people. Let them know I love the game of football and I’ll do anything to win.”

Mayfield also might do anything to get to South Florida. During a live Instagram event hosted by Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills — like Mayfield an Oklahoma product — the quarterback took to his verified social media account and wrote “#GetMeToMiami.”

The Dolphins have the 11th pick in the draft. They also have quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who signed a six-year, $95.272 million contract before the 2015 season. Tannehill is expected to return after missing the 2017 season with a major knee injury, but there are some who think the Dolphins would be wise to start grooming a viable backup who isn’t named Jay Cutler, Matt Moore or David Fales.

In any case, Mayfield took to Twitter to clarify that he was just looking to hook up with a fellow Sooner and will be happy wherever he lands.

Kiper has the Browns taking 6-foot-5 Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen at No. 1 and the Giants selecting UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen at No. 2. The Broncos, who have the No. 5 pick, are also in the market for a quarterback this offseason, and Kiper suspects John Elway will look to USC’s Sam Darnold. Denver is also considered among the more likely landing spots for Cousins if he’s not in Washington next season.

With the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and pro days approaching, a lot will change between now and the draft in late April. For now, Kiper isn’t the only one projecting Mayfield to the Redskins. Here’s a look at what some other mock drafters see in Washington’s first-round future:

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback comes off the board and lands in a situation where he can play right away if Kirk Cousins is elsewhere next season . . . Washington would be a great fit for Mayfield. He doesn’t go to a city with an intense media market (New York) or a city with a long history of losing and a ton of pressure on a rookie quarterback (Cleveland). And with Jay Gruden as the head coach, Mayfield lands in a place where he’ll be coached up and a scheme can be built around him.

(The Redskins have nine winning seasons and nary an appearance in a conference championship game in the 26 years since their last Super Bowl title, but sure, fans and the front office will patiently wait for Mayfield — or any other quarterback — to develop. Also, the Redskins will have fans know that writing and tweeting about Mayfield ahead of the draft is not a sign that Cousins is no longer in their plans.)

The Redskins have a big decision to make with Kirk Cousins. If they decided to move on from him, Mayfield would be a perfect fit in this system.
Will the Redskins get Kirk Cousins signed to a long-term deal? It’s hard to imagine something finally giving way after years of stalled negotiations. The team can get by with franchise-tagging him one more time but they need a plan going forward if it’s not going to be Cousins. Allen needs some work before he can step onto an NFL field, but his upside is tantalizing enough for a team that can redshirt him for a year to grab him.
Kirk Cousins is probably done in Washington, so a new quarterback will obviously be needed. Allen struggled this season at Wyoming with a new receiving group and a suspect offensive line. Still, he’s a project, make no doubt about it.
Quarterback will obviously be a priority if Kirk Cousins isn’t signed to a long-term deal, but with four passers already off the board, Washington goes with value over need. James is a rare athlete with incredible range and physicality who can instantly transform an entire unit with his presence.
Before his College Football Playoff performance against Clemson and Georgia, Payne was a first-round pick. But his play in those two huge games will not go unnoticed. He’d fit perfectly in the Redskins defense and could help keep Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan productive.

(Sporting News writer Eric Galko, who projected Mayfield to the Redskins in a previous version of his mock draft this month, has the Broncos taking Mayfield at No. 5 if they miss out on Cousins.)

This post has been updated.

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