Thanks, as always, for taking part in the Mailbag, and keep those questions coming! Email me at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and we’ll do it all over again next week.
But first, we take a dive into the best of this week’s submissions.
Could you definitively say that the one thing holding Kirk Cousins back from a long-term deal on the side of ownership is his win percentage against teams above .500?
— Justin Dickens
No. I can’t definitively say that, because nobody that I’ve talked to has given this as a reason. If that’s a reason in the minds of Bruce Allen and Daniel Snyder, then it’s known only by them. The people I’ve spoken to say that if this is a factor, they aren’t aware of it.
Cousins owns a sub-.500 record as a starter (19-21-1). When facing teams with nine wins or more, he is 2-11, and 5-13 against teams with eight victories or more. But more goes into wins and losses than just quarterback play. Cousins rarely tackles. He doesn’t block, he doesn’t catch the ball and he doesn’t run, outside of the occasional scramble. So, it’s unfair to slap a win-loss record solely on Cousins.
I’m pretty sure Washington’s decision-makers know this. And that’s why — even after last season’s disappointing finale and failure to make the playoffs — Jay Gruden said, “I don’t know what Kirk has to do as a quarterback to prove that he belongs in the National Football League as a starter. I think he had a great year. … Overall, I think the amount of times he dropped back to pass and made some unbelievable throws in some great games, I think he belongs in the NFL as a starting quarterback, that’s for sure, and hopefully it’s here.”
So, what is the holdup? Man, I wish I had something for you. From everything I can gather, no progress has been made, and there aren’t any intense negotiation conversations going on. But Cousins keeps on cranking, working on improving his mechanics and command of the offense and timing with his new receivers. It doesn’t appear that the contract situation is weighing on him at all. We’ll see what happens around July 15, the deadline to get a deal done and avoid the use of the franchise tag. By then, it’s possible that quarterbacks such as Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford will have received contract extensions, and that will give the Redskins a more clear indication of the market value and then prompt them to open up the checkbook and give Cousins a deal that both sides believe he deserves.
The defense last season was a disaster and the team has seemingly made some good moves to address some of their shortcomings at safety (D.J. Swearinger), inside linebacker (Zach Brown), and along the defensive line (drafting Jonathan Allen). That said, they’ll still likely be relying on a cast of characters that underachieved last year — Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Ryan Kerrigan, et. al. — in addition to a new coordinator. How optimistic are you that we will see meaningful improvement from the defense?
— Chris Fox
I think it’s going to be a work in progress. Adding Allen and free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain should improve the defensive front, and I like the addition of Ryan Anderson to the outside linebackers group. We’ll see if Brown can win a starting job (he’s competing with Mason Foster and Will Compton) and make a difference. He makes some big plays, but he also has been known to blow his share of plays because of over-aggression or a lack of discipline. The addition of Swearinger will help, and I’m intrigued by the move of Su’a Cravens to strong safety. Kendall Fuller should improve at nickelback. And you’d like to think that a highly motivated Breeland, entering a contract year, could produce a solid season. Fellow cornerback Josh Norman will be learning from yet another position coach. His move from Carolina to here didn’t go as smoothly as hoped. But maybe Torrian Gray and new coordinator Greg Manusky, who plans to use Norman to follow top receivers, can get more out of Washington’s prize 2016 free agent signing.
But you’re right. There are a lot of familiar faces, and growing pains ahead. So, no one should expect dramatic overnight improvement. Steady progress is possible, and maybe by the homestretch of the season, this group will be firing on all cylinders.
After years of staying away from classic “tweener” positions, the league, and particularly the Redskins, seem to have embraced it, particularly on defense with the adaptation of the “dime” linebacker, “edge” rusher, safeties who can drop into the slot and cover, and etc. Over the past few years they’ve drafted guys such as Su’a Cravens, Kyshoen Jarret, Preston Smith … How fully do the Redskins plan to embrace this positionless approach? I personally like it. I think it gives an edge when your opponent has to prepare for a position they may not even have.
— Jey Williams, Columbia, S.C.
I don’t know that I would call it a “positionless approach.” But the team has tried to add some more versatility. With offenses constantly evolving, it’s important for defenses to add more athletes capable of doing more. Maybe they don’t fit the bill of a true safety or true inside linebacker or edge rusher. But they can do a number of things. It’s about getting the best athletes on the field and worrying less about traditional size requirements or labels.
Cravens this year is moving to strong safety after playing a dime linebacker kind of role. But his duties still include defending the pass and run, playing in the box, covering receivers out of the backfield or in the slot. It’ll be interesting to follow his transition.
I don’t really include Preston Smith in this category. He’s an outside linebacker who can rush standing up or from a three-point stance. He moved around more in college, but the Redskins don’t use him as an interior defensive lineman or inside linebacker. He’s just an edge guy.
This year’s seventh-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons is another guy to add to the list. He played safety in college, but the Redskins believe he’ll be better suited as a dime linebacker.
It seems we are mentioning nose tackle by committee. I was hopeful Ondre Pipkins would pan out. Is there any word on how he is doing, and where do we project him to be? Practice squad? Active roster?
— Paul David
It’s still really early. Right now, Pipkins, an undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech, is behind Joey Mbu, Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor and A.J. Francis. Stacy McGee can play nose tackle as well. These offseason practices are about instruction more than actual position battles. But we’ll start to see those take shape more precisely in training camp.
I do expect a rotation at nose tackle, though, as Jim Tomsula tries to keep his guys fresh. And, as was the case both under Jim Haslett and Joe Barry, the Redskins might call themselves a 3-4 defense, but they’re in four-man fronts most often, so it’s important that nose tackle candidates have the ability to play more than just the nose. Pipkins appears to possess that ability. The 6-foot-3, 321-pounder has lined up at the nose in the three-man fronts, and at tackle in the four-man fronts. I’m not ready to make a prediction on where he winds up, however.
Where can I find the most accurate roster (height/weight) for the Skins? Even the Washington Post online version lists Trent Murphy at 290 pounds. It seems every year, the height/weight is just rolled over from the previous year.
— Bowen Carpenter
It looks like redskins.com has the updated roster now. Trent Murphy is listed at 259 after reporting for 2016 training camp at 290 pounds because he was going to play defensive end. You’re right, though, that many heights and weights are rolled over from the previous year even though players are measured and weighed for the roster each year, and some of them are weighed weekly if they have weight clauses in their contracts.
When Barry Cofield signed in 2011, he was listed at just around 300 pounds. But he admitted that was his rookie weight and that six years later, he weighed much more (he would never say how much more, even though it was significantly more). But teams aren’t required to publish actual weights if a player doesn’t want them to, so they don’t. P.S., thanks for the reminder. We need to update our roster!
In 2015, the Skins ranked 10th on third-down defense with Bashaud Breeland, Will Blackmon, Quinton Dunbar, and injuries to Kyshoen Jarrett and Chris Culliver. In 2016, they ranked 32nd on third-down defense despite the addition of Josh Norman and having him travel. Has anybody explained how this happened? Did they play better offenses in 2016? Did Norman traveling impact the others? Also, any more information on your tweet about Manusky’s aggressive-style practices?
— Ryan Chase
The Redskins’ defensive front and pass rushers didn’t have as great an impact, so that hurt some. The departure of Terrence Knighton meant more double-teams for Chris Baker, and Washington didn’t have any consistent defensive linemen to take advantage of Baker drawing those double-teams. Preston Smith struggled and didn’t generate as much pressure as he did the year before. So, that meant more time for quarterbacks to sit back and wait for receivers to get open as well. There were miscues in the secondary as players struggled to get on the same page with each other, and that’s part of the reason the Redskins fired Perry Fewell. I don’t think Josh Norman traveling or not traveling was the problem. Remember, Joe Barry didn’t use him in that capacity for a good chunk of the season. We’ll see if this year’s offseason additions to the roster and coaching staff help spark improvement.
From talking to players, and the limited amount of practice we’ve been able to see, it seems Manusky sends a lot of pressure, runs a lot of stunts and uses more than just the front four to get after the quarterback.
Email a Redskins question to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered next Tuesday.