"Any time you're standing up here and the playoffs are going on and you're not a part of it, you're disappointed," he said, adding that the coaching staff is in "evaluation mode," studying the roster before it turns its attention to self-critiquing.
Aside from announcing that Kevin O'Connell will remain his quarterback coach and passing game coordinator — rather than leave to join Chip Kelly and UCLA's staff, as had previously been reported — Gruden had no concrete answers about several key positions, including quarterback. And his tepid assessment of Kirk Cousins's 2017 campaign didn't go unnoticed.
"Kirk had his flashes where he was really good."
In his third season as the full-time starter, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. But it's unclear whether the 29-year-old will choose to leave in free agency or whether the Redskins will keep him under their control courtesy of a third consecutive franchise tag.
"He's a very, very good quarterback, without a doubt," Gruden said. "But as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning the division with all the injuries we had, I think he competed and did some good things."
Gruden said he doesn't know "the exact schedule" of the Cousins contract talks or whether the front office has had any contact with the quarterback yet. But despite the uncertainty at their most important position, Gruden said the Redskins "have to" plan for the future. "Whether he's here or not, we have to figure out ways that we're going to make this team better," said Gruden, whose team has taken a step back in the win-loss column in recent years, finishing 9-7 in 2015, 8-7-1 in 2016 and now 7-9. "In order to make the team better, obviously, we have to look at each individual position and target the guys we want and do the best we can to get the guys here. There's no guarantee that they're going to sign here anyway, so we still have to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D."
The organization must also address the question mark at running back, first by determining whether that player is already on the roster. "We have about 30 of them. I hope so," Gruden joked.
The team must also determine which free agents are worth re-signing, with a potentially big question looming as to the future of cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who will become a free agent this offseason. "You can never have too many corners in your building, so whatever happens with Breeland happens," Gruden said, stressing that the contract extension given to Quinton Dunbar on Monday has "no effect" on their decision whether to keep Breeland.
Although optimistic about the level of talent in the building, Gruden acknowledged that the Redskins' record ultimately is a reflection of his own job performance — and how the team fares on the field has an impact on his job security.
"Without a doubt," he said. "Every year is its own entity, and every year is important. And we have to be competitive. We have to do better in our division. . . . The nature of this business is you've got to perform. You've got to have success or you're going to have a short-lived tenure."
The evaluations are ongoing at Redskins Park. And that includes Gruden's self-assessment.
"I'm very critical of myself, as most head coaches are," he said, adding that he will analyze everything from the team's schedules to how they practice and how he manages his staff meetings. "First off, you judge the record, and 7-9 is not good enough. That's number one. And then how can we improve on our wins and losses? And then you break down each area — offense, defense, special teams — and then you break down situational work.
"Two-minute [drill], we weren't very good in two-minute. Third down, why weren't we good in two-minute, [or on] third down? Short yardage, we were awful. Why? Is it that we're not practicing enough? We're not putting enough time into it? More padded work in training camp? More live work in training camp? So I have to break down every situational aspect of the game and go from there and then figure out ways that I can correct it and make it better."
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