Every NFL team enters the draft with vacancies to fill, whether starting jobs or backup roles. Only the Washington Redskins enter this year’s draft with a vacancy in the office of their top personnel executive, having fired general manager Scot McCloughan on March 9, two years into a four-year contract.
With 10 picks over the three-day NFL draft, which begins Thursday at 8 p.m. in Philadelphia, Redskins President Bruce Allen insists preparations haven’t suffered — a claim echoed by Coach Jay Gruden and Scott Campbell, director of college scouting, who now shoulders chief responsibility for the proceedings. That’s essentially the same triumvirate that directed the Redskins’ 2014 NFL draft, before McCloughan’s arrival. That class produced right tackle Morgan Moses, center Spencer Long, linebacker Trent Murphy and cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
Whether the assurance of smooth sailing is vindicated or proves a smokescreen remains to be seen. But as a draft-day scene-setter, the Redskins’ GM vacancy projects the look of a front office in disarray.
Gruden’s two-year contract extension in March was designed to convey otherwise. Still, the Redskins enter Gruden’s fourth season in Washington with a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and new position coaches on the defensive line, in the secondary and in the quarterbacks room. Then there’s the uncertainty at quarterback, with Kirk Cousins assured of returning this fall under the NFL’s franchise tag, which will pay him $23.9 million, but expected to bolt in 2018 — unless the Redskins broker a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline.
That uncertainty over whether the Redskins have solidified their most important position hangs like a cloud over the team’s draft. After back-to-back winning seasons, are the Redskins building something? Or will they soon be starting over at quarterback, just as they’re starting over at general manager, with McCloughan’s successor expected to be named soon after the draft?
“This league is all about quarterbacks,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call this week. “You can have all these other positions; who cares? You’re spinning your wheels if you don’t have a quarterback. You’ve got to think about an heir apparent.”
That said, Kiper doesn’t believe the Redskins will devote their first-round pick, 17th overall, on a successor to Cousins. He suspects the Redskins will take an inside linebacker, a defensive back or possibly a running back.
The Redskins aren’t tipping their hand, and the leading mock drafts vary widely, given the teams’ multiple needs and the murky picture of what the teams ahead of them will do.
Sports Illustrated’s latest mock draft has the Redskins trading up to the New York Jets’ No. 6 spot to take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and groom him as Cousins’s successor. But the Cleveland Browns could buck expectations and take Trubisky with the No. 1 pick, though odds are they would stick with Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, as close to a sure bet as there is in this draft.
And what of the cluster of prospects with first-round talent and a red flag because of off-the-field incidents? Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, whose skills ought to help the Redskins’ porous defense, is among them, charged with a misdemeanor after allegedly hitting a woman.
Speaking to reporters at Redskins Park this week, Campbell wouldn’t divulge whether the team had deleted any prospects from its board because of character concerns. In compiling a prospect’s grade, he explained, character isn’t factored in. The grade is based strictly on talent. Only later, much closer to the draft, do Redskins officials start weeding out players based on concerns about motivation, commitment or off-the-field issues.
“I will say it’s very important to me to get the right kind of guy in here to help us win, make us better,” said Campbell, who is believed to be a candidate for the general manager job. “I think character is a big part of that.”
Campbell made clear that McCloughan had a hand in compiling the team’s 2017 draft board. But the grades and rankings, he noted, are continually fine-tuned up until draft day. The process starts with the scouting department assigning grades based on months of game-day scouting trips, film study and interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine. Then Gruden and the coaching staff weigh in with their grades, needs and preferences.
When the draft gets underway, Campbell said, the Redskins’ decisions already have been reached through consensus, with Allen and Gruden heavily involved.
“Everyone will be involved in the final Redskin grade at the end of the day,” Campbell said. “The goal is to not have panic on draft day. . . . You don’t want to have a brand-new argument break out right there before you’re picking.”
Allen will decide on any trades as the draft unfolds, with contracts specialist Eric Schaffer consulting. Once the proceedings begin, Campbell said, Schaffer and Alex Santos, director of pro personnel, man the phones, both placing calls and receiving calls about potential trades. Allen makes the final call.
Defense is widely regarded as the strength of this year’s draft, and that’s good for the Redskins, whose defense ranked 28th last season. After letting defensive linemen Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois depart via free agency, the Redskins signed free agents Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee to long-term deals to fill the breach, along with safety D.J. Swearinger.
But their work on the front seven isn’t done.
One first-round option is Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, a dynamic athlete with the quick-twitch explosion of a pass rusher but whose size (6 feet 1, 237 pounds) suggests he would fare best lining up on the inside.
Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, widely regarded as a top-10 talent, could fall to the Redskins at No. 17 after producing a diluted sample for a urine test and getting sent home from the combine after a squabble with a medical official.
With needs also in the secondary, Southern Cal cornerback Adoree’ Jackson might be a fit.
While the Redskins reloaded at wide receiver in free agency, signing Terrelle Pryor after parting with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Gruden didn’t hide his intrigue over the opportunity to draft a running back.
“There are some special players in this draft that, if they’re available, it would be hard to pass up, quite frankly,” Gruden said in March.
If he was alluding to Stanford’s versatile Christian McCaffrey, it’s doubtful he still will be on the board when the Redskins pick at 17th, barring a trade up. McCaffrey’s stock has risen sharply after an impressive showing at the NFL combine.