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Gruden extension doesn't necessarily equal good news for Cousins long-term deal

Gruden extension doesn't necessarily equal good news for Cousins long-term deal

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden installed Kirk Cousins at starting quarterback before the 2015 season. It was unpopular with some at the time, but in the two subsequent seasons, the move to bench Robert Griffin III for Cousins looks good, and the results have been strong enough to make both men wildly rich.

Gruden landed a two-year contract extension over the weekend, which extends his deal with the Redskins through 2020. His original deal pays him more than $4 million per season, and while terms of the extension have not been released, there is zero reason to expect Gruden will take a pay cut. 

Cousins played the 2015 season on the last year of his rookie deal, and made just $660,000. While that's a lot of money for regular folks, for NFL quarterbacks, it's peanuts. In 2016, playing on the franchise tag, Cousins made nearly $20 million. This season, Cousins could make $24 million playing on another franchise tag, and if he signs a multi-year deal, that money will increase exponentially.

Considering their mutual success, a 17-14-1 record over the last two seasons to go with a 2015 NFC East title, it's easy to assume that Gruden's extension could be helpful as the Redskins work to secure Cousins to a long-term contract.

It even makes sense. Knowing that the coach and offensive system that's been crucial to his success are locked in place for the 'Skins, Cousins could feel increased security in commiting to a future with Washington. 

Unless it doesn't.

Think about this from a different angle: If the Redskins really are considering trading Cousins, as multiple reports have suggested, locking up their coach for the next phase is a must. 

As CSN reported in January, 'Skins backup QB Colt McCoy is viewed as a viable, significantly cheaper alternative to Cousins by some at Redskins Park. MMQB's Albert Breer expanded on that mindset,

"The Redskins do believe they can win in the short term with McCoy, and there’s a feeling that it’d be better to just resolve the Cousins situation now—whether it’s giving him a new deal or trading him—and not setting up to be in this position again in spring 2018."

In addition to the threat of losing Cousins, the Redskins stand to lose one or both of DeSean Jackson or Pierre Garçon. Both were 1,000 yard receivers for Washington in 2016, and losing either would be a blow for the offense.

For Gruden, knowing that losing one or both of his top wideouts, not to mention a possible Cousins trade, remains on the horizon, a contract extension seems downright neccesary. If the 'Skins go into 2017 with McCoy at QB and without Jackson and/or Garçon, it seems the team could take a step back from the progress of the last two years. And a step back, in the fourth year of a five-year deal, likely would mean saying goodbye to the coach. 

Instead, Gruden gets an extension. In turn, hypothetically, he knows he has the security to withstand an offensive shift at quarterback. 

If a situation arises where the Redskins cannot get a deal done with Cousins, trading him this offseason makes sense. Get something now before next offseason when the team would get nothing. 

Gruden might not want the Redskins to trade Cousins, at all, but it would be very hard for Gruden to support a trade going into the 4th year of a 5-year deal. In the 4th year of a 7-year deal, however, things look quite different. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

Jay Gruden views Chris Thompson as the NFL's best third-down running back

In 2016, Chris Thompson simply needed to prove to Jay Gruden that he could handle 16 NFL games.

Now, looking ahead to 2017, the fifth-year running back hopes to show his head coach he can shoulder 16 NFL games and a larger workload.

"I have a feeling that I might get a little more this year," Thompson said Monday at the Redskins Charitable Golf Foundation. "[Gruden] knows now that I'm healthy and I can stay healthy, which I think that was one of his biggest concerns. So now he sees that I can handle the load, I think that I'll get a lot more opportunities this year."

Last season was by far the best in the 26-year-old's career. He played a full slate of games after playing in just 19 over his first three seasons combined, and he set career highs in rushing attempts (68), yards (356), receptions (49), receiving yards (349) and total touchdowns (5).

MORE REDSKINS: TEAM IS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE WITH PLANS FOR NEW STADIUM

He also held up well in pass protection, a key duty for him as the team's third-down running back. And it's all of those qualities — being able to contribute on handoffs and with catches while also providing help in keeping Kirk Cousins upright — that make him an excellent fit for a popular NFL duty.

The most excellent in that duty, actually, if you ask Gruden. 

"I think Chris Thompson's role is big," he said. "When you're talking about third downs, that's the most important down in football. There's nobody better as a third-down back in my opinion than Chris. He's got a huge role on this football team." 

Gruden went on to indicate that an increase in Thompson's responsibilities is likely coming, though No. 25 will still do the majority of his work when the offense needs him most.

"Whether he does some more stuff on first- and second-down will be determined," he said. "I'm sure he will. But he's so valuable on third-down that I gotta keep him in that role for now."

A 2013 fifth-round pick who came into the league with a history of injuries, Thompson has now fully gained the trust of his coaches and teammates. The 5-foot-8 running back may be small in stature, but the Redskins know he's not small in importance.  

RELATED: RANKING THE TOP ROOKIE QBS FOR FANTASY FOOTBALL

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Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Rookie camps are in the books as teams now move to organized team activities. Does that mean it's too early for fantasy football rankings? 

Probably, but seeing as the rookies are new to the scene, we might as well start projecting where and how they fit. 

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas were among the rookies who produced and then some in 2016.

Based on the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, there’s hope for even more first-year standouts.  

Starting with the Bears selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall, 19 skill players were drafted in the first and second round.

That includes fellow first-round quarterback selections Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Several sleeper candidates followed. 

Here’s my look at the Elite Eight quarterbacks with the 2017 fantasy football season -- and beyond -- in mind.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings:

Running Backs - No. 1, Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

* Wide receivers - No. 1, Corey Davis, Titans