Not good enough.
That’s the bottom-line evaluation from Coach Jay Gruden of the 2017 Washington Redskins. A 7-9 record and going 1-5 in the NFC East, injuries or not, plainly show that. The team has followed a similar path over the past four seasons with a 28-35-1 record, though that includes the 2015 division title.
The next two months will be a vital stretch for the organization, including free agency and the NFL draft, as Gruden enters his fifth season at the helm. The two-day contract negotiation period begins Monday, and teams can sign free agents starting Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, it’s really black and white. What’s your record?” Gruden said at the NFL combine. “No way, shape or form is that even close to being good enough. There were some positives to draw out of [last season]. We got a look at some guys. We handled some adverse situations pretty well.
“From a coaching staff standpoint, we have to look at that and figure out ways in which we can get better in helping our guys succeed. And then going from there, we have to look at our roster and figure out where’s the most important places we need to improve and try to figure out ways to do that.”
Doug Williams, senior vice president of player personnel, dismissed any suggestions that there may be a sense of urgency this offseason. His perspective is that every team has the same sense level of motivation to win a title every year. But Gruden’s tenure as Redskins coach now is surpassed in length only by those of Joe Gibbs, Norv Turner or George Allen since 1966. There are certain expectations for an organization with three Super Bowl victories in five appearances, even if it hasn’t won a divisional round playoff game since 1991.
“I feel good that we have a core group of veteran guys that I feel good about going into any Sunday with,” Gruden said. “I feel like we have a chance to win anytime we step on the field with those guys. I feel like they’re setting a great tone for the younger guys coming in here as far as work ethic and how to prepare.
“From a production standpoint, we’ve just got to do a better job of situational football and finishing games off when we have a chance. And having to come back if we have to. … There’s a lot of areas of improvement we have to do, but I feel good about the core nucleus of our group. Getting them healthy is another thing. And then going out and competing next year with some added pieces in free agency and the draft.”
There are plenty of pieces to be added — running back, left guard, receiver, defensive line, middle linebacker, cornerback and safety. The idea is to plug holes in free agency and take the best player available in the draft. The Redskins have $23 million in cap space, according to salary tracking database Spotrac.com. They won’t have to commit another franchise tag to quarterback Kirk Cousins who is, arguably, the most prized free agent in 2018. The Redskins have moved on and, barring something unforeseen, Alex Smith will be the starting quarterback when the league year begins on Wednesday and the trade with the Kansas City Chiefs becomes official.
Another running back is expected to be added from a deep draft class at the position and Smith should be getting another outside receiver to go along with Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed, one way or another. Gruden speaks highly of fourth-year veteran Ryan Grant, who had a career-year with 45 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns, but he is unrestricted. Terrelle Pryor is widely expected to leave via free agency after one injury-hampered, unproductive season.
Middle linebacker will have to be addressed with Zach Brown set to be the Redskins’ most significant loss in free agency as he aims for a big-time payday after taking a one-year prove-it deal in 2017. The six-year veteran did exactly that, leading the team with 127 tackles. The new price tag probably will be too steep for Washington, and Williams said Brown and his representatives, as of the combine, hadn’t responded to an initial offer.
Linebackers Will Compton, Junior Galette and Trent Murphy could also leave via free agency.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao will also be unrestricted and he’s dealt with injury issues that left him on injured reserve two of the last three seasons.
Starting center Spencer Long also went down during the season (quad surgery) and will be free to test the market for the first time since being drafted by the team in the third round out of Nebraska in 2014.
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland will hit the market after starting 57 games since the team selected him in the fourth round in 2014. Also in the secondary, the future is unknown for the longest tenured player on the roster in DeAngelo Hall. The 14-year veteran is a free agent, but could retire after a position switch from cornerback to safety in 2015, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2016 and the loss of playing time that peaked with two healthy scratches in the final two games.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins will also have the freedom to leave after three seasons with Washington.
The Redskins allowed a league-high 2,146 rushing yards in 2017, so another defensive tackle is certainly a possibility. Former New York Jet Muhammad Wilkerson, the 2011 No. 30 pick, is already planning a visit to Washington. The team is also reportedly interested in No. 11 overall 2012 pick Dontari Poe. That position could also be solidified with this year’s No. 13 overall pick.
Tight end Niles Paul is prepared to leave after an ominous tweet last week that read, “Stayed down, played my role, & always put the team before myself. S— wild, but I don’t even know why I’m acting surprised.”
Tackle Ty Nsekhe will be a restricted free agent after starting nine games the last two seasons, though Gruden praised him at the combine and sounded as if he expected Nsekhe to be on the roster in 2018. The Redskins already kept safety Deshazor Everett from hitting restricted free agency by signing to him to a multiyear deal last week.
All restricted free agents must sign offer sheets by April 20 and the draft begins April 26.