We’re now in the postseason, and the Redskins have a game to play. We’re not used to that, and it’s evident by this week’s questions. There’s only one about the upcoming playoff matchup, and the rest have to do with future moves.

But, we’ll tackle them anyway.

Thanks as always for taking part in the mailbag, and keep the questions coming. E-mail me at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject of “Mailbag question.”

Here we go!

I have to admit I’ve for the most part been a huge critic of Kirk Cousins. But I have to say I’m extremely impressed with how much he’s grown. If he can at least win the game versus Green Bay on Sunday, do you believe he should be franchised to first see if he can beat a truly respected defense, or do we give him a big contract?  

– Kyn Hardin

The Redskins would like to sign Cousins to a long-term deal even now. They don’t need a win over the Packers to sell them on Cousins. He has grown by leaps and bounds, going from a potentially solid game-manager to legitimate leader of the offense, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.


Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. (Larry W. Smith/EPA)

But the big question involves how much it will take to retain Cousins. They don’t know yet because negotiations with his camp have not begun. At this point, with Cousins playing his best football (19 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his final eight games of the season), Cousins’s agent, Mike McCartney, is probably content to let his client test free agency, which will likely only further drive up Cousins’s value. There aren’t a lot of quality quarterbacks set to hit the market this offseason.

From now until the start of the league-wide free agency negotiation window (March 12), the Redskins can negotiate with Cousins without having to worry about another team swooping in. However, if talks prove unsuccessful, the team could decide to use the franchise tag on Cousins to avoid losing him to another team. The deadline for using the franchise tag on a player is March 7. But that will not prevent the Redskins and Cousins from continuing negotiations toward a long-term deal. It just ensures that a team doesn’t sign Cousins elsewhere while leaving Washington with no compensation. If the Redskins were to use the exclusive rights franchise tag on Cousins, committing to pay him around $20 million for the coming season, a team wouldn’t be able to negotiate with the quarterback. If the team uses the non-exclusive tag on Cousins, a team could negotiate with Cousins, but would have to give up two first-round picks if the Redskins decided not to match the offer to Cousins.

How likely is it that Kirk Cousins is a one-year wonder, a la Nick Foles? It’s my greatest fear.

– Keith Ward

I don’t see him being a one-year wonder. Will he throw for 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns again next year? Maybe not. But I do think he’s capable of playing at a high level beyond this season. The steady improvement that he displayed over the course of the year is exactly what you want to see in a young quarterback. If Cousins remains in Washington, I don’t see why he can’t continue to play well. He will have another year in the system, and a greater understanding of his responsibilities and defenses. I think part of the problem with Foles involved a lack of continuity. He went from playing in a system that suited him well to a system that he never seemed to gain comfort in. Foles didn’t have a choice because he was traded from Philadelphia to St. Louis, but in addition to the money, Cousins should weigh the pros and cons of going to another team. He’s now running an offense tailored to his strengths. That’s not guaranteed elsewhere.


Quarterback Nick Foles had a 27-touchdown, two-interception season in 13 games for Philadelphia in 2013. In 2015, the Rams benched him. (Stephen Brashear/Associated Press)

Of course, even if Cousins does re-sign with Washington, there’s always a chance that he could never have another season like this. Everyone involved obviously hopes that’s not the case. But looking back at Redskins history, in 1986, Jay Schroeder – as a second-year pro – threw for 4,109 yards, 22 touchdowns (and 22 interceptions) while helping the Redskins to a 12-4 record. In 1987, Schroeder battled injury and was in and out of the lineup. He still went 8-2 as a starter, but for the playoffs, Joe Gibbs turned to Doug Williams, even though he had gone 0-2 in his two regular season starts. (Ed Rubbert won all three of his starts in place of Schroeder, but Gibbs went with Williams for the postseason). Williams capitalized on the opportunity, leading the Redskins on a postseason march that climaxed with a Super Bowl victory, and Super Bowl MVP honors for Williams. The next offseason, the Redskins traded Schroeder to the Raiders for tackle Jim Lachey, and Schroeder played in only one other 16-game season in his remaining seven years in the league.

This is a different kind of situation. Maybe Schroeder would have had a better story had he not gotten hurt in 1987 and remained with Washington for the rest of his career. We’ll obviously never know. But anyway, the Redskins don’t believe Cousins will be a one-hit wonder. They only see him getting better and want to keep him here for a long time.


Robert Griffin III and Chris Thompson share a laugh before the Dec. 26 game in Philadelphia. Griffin has been a good sport while on the bench, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be Washington’s quarterback again. (Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

Do you believe that if Kirk Cousins is not franchised that the Redskins would turn back to RGIII if Cousins signs with a Shanahan-led team? And do you believe that with the team solidified around him that RGIII would flourish like Kirk Cousins?

– Marvin Furbush

I don’t see the Redskins letting Cousins get away. They’ll either sign him to a long-term deal or retain him with the franchise tag. And even if something wacky happened and Cousins did leave, I still don’t see any way they go back to Griffin. They have no confidence in him, and everyone knows it, including Griffin. There’s just too much damage there.

While Aaron Rodgers passing to Randall Cobb, Richard Rodgers and James Jones are formidable combinations, I’m more worried about the Redskins shutting down the running game of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Green Bay’s offensive line has struggled to provide adequate pass protection. Do you agree that, besides limiting mistakes/turnovers, a key to the Redskins winning the game Sunday is to limit the Packers’ rushing yards?

– Tim Foisie, Westport, Conn.

The Packers do have a solid rushing attack. They rank 12th in the NFL, averaging 115.6 rushing yards per game. The Redskins have definitely struggled against the run, allowing 122.6 yards per game (26th). The defense has improved down the stretch of the season, limiting opponents to 100.3 rushing yards per game in their final six games. But there’s definitely reason for concern.


Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Kenny Demens sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

This game will be won in the trenches, but I think most importantly, Washington’s defensive linemen and linebackers have to get to Rodgers. The Packers have surrendered 47 sacks (28th-best in the NFL), and in are coming off two of their worst games, pass protection-wise. The Cardinals sacked Rodgers eight times, and the Vikings sacked him five times. In the final month of the season, while getting sacked an average of four times a game, Rodgers has thrown four interceptions and only seven touchdown passes. Hitting Rodgers early and often will go a long way toward disrupting the Packers’ offense. Taking away the run game will help, and the Redskins definitely can’t afford to let Jones and Lacy gash them. But getting to Rodgers will make a big difference.

You wrote an article about the injuries to Kyshoen Jarrett and Dashaun Phillips Sunday.  Both injuries were the result of tackles of Dallas running back Darren McFadden. Both seemed to result from aggressive use of the helmet by McFadden. Were Jarrett and Phillips doing something wrong? Is using a helmet as a weapon only a defensive foul in the NFL? Any updates on our guys? Got my fingers crossed they’re okay.

– Cliff Rowland, Beaverdam, Va.

You’re correct that a running back, leading with the crown of his helmet is supposed to be a penalty, and in both cases, McFadden appeared to be guilty of this. However, no flag was thrown. For whatever reason, referees haven’t aggressively enforced this penalty since it was instituted in 2013. There’s no word yet from the league on if McFadden could possibly draw a fine for either or both hits. Normally that information comes out later in the week, so stay tuned.

On your second question, Jarrett’s season could be over. His neck injury has caused some nerve damage, which has reduced strength in his right shoulder. Phillips was expected to be fine after tests revealed no damage. But it’s too early to know about his availability for Sunday’s game.

I know it is too early and not really fair to the excitement surrounding the team at the moment, however, can we take a quick look what could be the status of several Redskins for ’16?  Given their age and/or contract, what is your educated guess on the following players (let go, contract renegotiated, or kept under current contract)? Will Blackmon, Pierre Garçon, Dashon Goldson, Kedric Golston, DeAngelo Hall, Jason Hatcher, DeSean Jackson, Terrance Knighton, Shawn Lauvao, Kory Lichtensteiger, Andre Roberts, Stephen Paea, Perry Riley and Pierre Thomas?

– Bowen Carpenter, Raleigh, N.C.

It’s definitely a little early, but as far as a quick rundown: Players that are candidates for restructuring would seem to be Pierre Garcon ($10.2 million cap hit), DeSean Jackson ($9.25 million), Dashon Goldson ($8 million). You could possibly add Hall ($5.06 million) and Lauvao ($5 million) to that list. Hatcher has an $8.75 million cap hit for next season, but he hasn’t decided if he wants to keep playing or retire. If he wants to return, he’d definitely have to restructure.


Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan hugs free safety Dashon Goldson after a win in Philadelphia, but they might have some tough negotiating to do this offseason. (Toni L. Sandys/ The Washington Post)

I’d be surprised to see Roberts return. Riley is a tough call. He played well when healthy. But team officials could feel like they can upgrade that position further. And they like how Will Compton and Mason Foster have played. Pierre Thomas would be a good piece to keep as a third-down back. He’s a little bigger and more durable than Chris Thompson, although Thompson is faster. Lichtensteiger is the only experienced center still under contract beyond this season, but he could see some competition in the 2016 offseason. Paea just signed here, so he’ll likely be back. Knighton is on a one-year deal, and is another tough call. He has made some contributions, but hasn’t been as impactful as they probably hoped. It’ll probably depend on his asking price and what other offers he has to consider.

(Editor’s note: Here are the team-specific pages from two NFL salary resources: Overthecap.com and Spotrac.com.)

E-mail a Redskins question to mike.jones@washpost.com, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered Tuesday in the Mailbag.

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