Thanks as always for taking part in the mailbag, and keep the questions coming! Email me at email@example.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” and we’ll do it again next week from Richmond.
But first, the best of this week’s submissions:
What is your assessment of Jay Gruden after three full seasons? How do players respond to him in the locker room? There were times last season, specifically in the Giants and Steelers games, when the team didn’t really seem prepared. Is he too lax or does he have the pulse of his team in knowing when to push and when to lay off?
— Rick Edwards
Jay Gruden is proving himself as a good NFL head coach. The improvements that the Redskins have made in the past three years — going from double-digit losses in his first year to posting back-to-back winning records — have a lot to do with the cultural change that Gruden has sparked.
We have seen the Redskins teeter on the edge of disaster many times, and Gruden has found a way to get his players to focus, unite and pull through. It isn’t always pretty, but somehow, they get it done. They find ways to fight through adversity, and that’s something that Gruden preaches a lot. Gruden has been unflappable.
Think of all that he has gone through. After a quarterback carousel in his first season, he had the courage to stand up to Bruce Allen and Daniel Snyder and insist upon a permanent change. He benched the face of the franchise, whose $16 million option had just been picked up. He settled on Kirk Cousins, who had displayed growth under his and Sean McVay’s tutelage. He kept the team from splintering after a 2-4 start and guided Washington to a 9-7 record and the division title.
Sure, Gruden’s squad had some missed opportunities last season, but the team remained competitive throughout the year while fielding a top-five offense and a defense filled with holes. Could Gruden and Co. have done better? Of course. But the Redskins took steps forward.
This offseason, Washington has replaced both coordinators and dealt with the messy firing of GM Scot McCloughan and the ongoing uncertainty over Cousins’s future. But Gruden has remained steady, and because of that, the Redskins still believe in their head coach and are confident they can improve. We’ll see what strides Gruden takes this season.
What makes an NFL front office bad? The Redskins have been the poster children for dysfunction and bad management for over a decade. This week, Kyle Shanahan was asked about his time with the Redskins and he stated, “For some reason, it’s hard to get things done over there and get everyone on the same page.” As David Bruton retired, he stated that the Redskins “are run a lot differently” than other teams. During this offseason, it’s apparent that we’re unable to attract top coaching talent and the GM position is a revolving door and fuzzy at best. What’s the deal and how will things change? Is the dysfunction fostered by Daniel Snyder? Is it Bruce Allen?
— Roni H. Angel
I don’t know that one key ingredient renders front offices or owners ineffective. But a lot of it stems from how you treat people. Snyder in years past hasn’t had the patience and trust to let his football people do their jobs.
He wanted Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer to do things his way. Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn just weren’t good hires. But pride on the part of Snyder and Allen hurt the Redskins with the Mike Shanahan era as well. They preferred to side with a player (Robert Griffin III) over a coach. And so that marriage didn’t last, either.
Snyder has done a better job of letting Allen run things since firing Shanahan and promoting Allen to team president. But Allen also couldn’t let the people he hired do their jobs. He wanted to dictate to McCloughan, people familiar with the situation said. Allen and Snyder have, however, given Gruden trust and time. They listened when he wanted to move past Griffin to Cousins. And they’ve let the coach do his job. I think that’s one reason the Redskins are working their way back toward respectability.
Of course, nothing is ever easy for Washington. Allen brought the drama with the McCloughan firing, and his refusal to pay Cousins last year led to this summer’s contract standoff. It’s good to have confidence and stand for what you believe. But Allen didn’t display good foresight with Cousins’s potential and worth.
Patience, trust, humility and foresight: Those are ingredients that have been missing in Washington’s highest ranks for years. I guess there’s your answer. Winning cures all ills. But Washington always seems to stray toward dysfunction. It’s hard to say whether the Redskins will ever be smooth and drama-free.
Can you break down the amount of money committed to offense versus defense? The offensive investment will only increase next year if the Redskins re-sign Cousins. So, what do they do on defense? Draft young and cheap?
— Ryan Chase
On offense, Washington has $98.5 million dedicated to salaries. And it has another $78.5 million dedicated to defensive players. A total of $3.4 million is dedicated to special teams players. But it’s not uncommon to have more money devoted to the offense, especially on teams with well-paid quarterbacks.
The Steelers, for example, have roughly $100 million committed to offensive player salaries and just $63 million to defensive salaries. The Patriots are more even with $88 million committed to defensive and special teams salaries and about $86 million committed to offensive salaries. But Tom Brady has a base salary of about $14 million this season, and that number jumps to $22 million next season. The Packers have roughly $90 million devoted to offensive contracts and about $79 million for defense and special teams. The Ravens have about $84 million committed to offensive salaries and $75 million spent on defense and special teams.
You can spend more on one side of the ball, or be more balanced, and still get varying results. The key definitely is to draft well, however, so that you’re less dependent on free agency, and if a veteran’s productivity begins to decline and you’re unwilling to meet his asking price, you have a more affordable young guy waiting in the wings.
Honestly, what’s the point? We all know how this QB situation ends.
— John Rowland
Do we? Sure, it seems like this could be the last hurrah for Cousins as a Redskin. But we don’t really know. And even if this is his last year, you know he’s highly motivated because he’s playing for his future, and that means he wants to throw lots of touchdown passes and win a lot of games.
It will be a compelling season. Will he thrive, or regress? Will the defense help shoulder the load? Will the Redskins exceed expectations, find stability and become a more desirable place for Cousins (assuming he is offered the right contract)? There are plenty of reasons to watch this season.
Do you think the only way Kirk stays on the Redskins is if we win the Super Bowl this year? In my opinion, this is the only way Cousins will get paid the kind of money he thinks he deserves.
— Brennan Hammett. Kearneysville, W. Va.
I don’t think he has to win a Super Bowl. But he has to play well, and win a playoff game, and then I think the Redskins finally open the checkbook and give him a fair market offer. If it appears Gruden and his players are truly building something special, I can see Cousins feeling more comfortable about staying here. But the Redskins have a really tough schedule.
Given the draft and free agent investments made over the past two offseasons, should Redskins fans expect better play from the defense? Is there a solid reason to believe that the revamped unit is capable of the kind of one-year turnaround we saw in the New York Giants in 2016?
— Emmett Mosley
It’s too early to say whether the defensive is capable of a significant turnaround. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain are upgrades over Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois. Jonathan Allen boasts promise, but he’ll have some growing pains. You’d like to think the addition of Ryan Anderson and return of Junior Galette could help the pass rush.
D.J. Swearinger will make a difference at free safety. But we don’t know how smooth a transition Su’a Cravens will make to strong safety. Will Bashaud Breeland ball out in the final year of his contract? Will Kendall Fuller show improvement at nickelback? Oh, who starts at inside linebacker? Will Compton and Mason Foster? Foster and Zach Brown? Compton and Brown? There are a lot of questions to be answered.
Read more on the Redskins:
The Redskins eventually will run out of heroes from the ’80s, writes Dan Steinberg
Tostitos is infusing their chips with ‘Redskins luck’, says the Bog