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It's not who starts the season for the Redskins at QB, it's who finishes

It's not who starts the season for the Redskins at QB, it's who finishes

INDIANAPOLIS—Jay Gruden’s almost casual announcement at the NFL Combine that Robert Griffin III will be the Redskins’ starting quarterback came as a surprise to just about everyone.

“We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No 1 guy and, you know, it’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person,” he said to reporters at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”

Here is what Gruden said on Dec. 29, the day after the Redskins’ regular season ended.

“Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition,” he said at his postseason news conference. “And I anticipate us having a competition at a lot of spots and quarterback is no different next year.”

So, what changed in the last seven-plus weeks? Unfortunately Gruden’s press conference was cut short so we didn’t have the time to probe into the reasons why the competition was called off.

All we can do is speculate. Perhaps Gruden and new general manager Scot McCloughan got their heads together, watched some film of Griffin, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy and decided that Griffin gave them their best shot. Perhaps front-office politics was involved, with team owner Daniel Snyder and president Bruce Allen, who are said to have pushed for the blockbuster deal that allowed the Redskins to move up in the draft and take Griffin in 2012, persuading Gruden and McCloughan to give Griffin, who struggled mightily at times last year, another shot at the job.

The question now becomes how long a leash Griffin will have. Last year Gruden benched a healthy Griffin in favor of McCoy just three games into Griffin’s return from a dislocated ankle. Will Gruden hesitate to pull a similar move if Griffin struggles again?

The critical thing here is not going to be who starts the season at quarterback, it will be who finishes the season. If Griffin starts the season opener and shows that he can get rid of the big issues that plagued him last year, he could start all 16 games. That is likely to lead to a new contract for Griffin and perhaps his career can get back on track. If it is Cousins, McCoy (who is currently a free agent), or any other QB the Redskins may acquire during the course of the offseason, Griffin could well be headed elsewhere.

A lot of how successful this plan will be depends on how Griffin views it. If he views it as the status quo and keeps preparing the way he has been preparing, with more of an emphasis on strength training and not enough time in the film room (according to multiple reports), he might find himself in a battle sooner rather than later. If Griffin thinks that he’s in for the fight of his life he may raise his level of play to meet the challenge.

There are advantages to not having a competition. Naming Griffin the starter gives him all of the first-team reps during the offseason program and training camp and he can use all of those he can get. Cousins, or whoever the backup ends up being, will have to do what backups do and get ready to play with only very limited first-team reps.

And if Griffin falters, there is a good chance that the backup will get a shot. And that is when the competition will begin.

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Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

Jay Gruden wants DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon back, but 'won't blink' if they're gone

The Redskins face the very real prospect of losing receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon via free agency. Head coach Jay Gruden wants both players back, but is prepared to roll with the guys on the team if Jackson and Garçon depart. 

"Obviously DeSean and Pierre had great years. 1,000 yards each. Those are going to be hard to replace," Gruden said to reporters in Indianapolis. 

It's still possible the Redskins keep both Jackson and Garçon, or keep one of the two, just as both players could leave the organization. In his comments, it seemed like Gruden does not expect one or both guys to be back, and that the team will move on without them. That could mean losing Jackson's 1,005 receiving yards or Garçon's 1,041. 

"Coach the guys that we have. Free agency you’re never going to be able to sign everybody you want as a coach," he said. "I’d like to have Alshon Jeffery, Pierre and DeSean. Heck, give them all to me. I know that's not going to happen."

Gruden tends to joke often speaking with the media, and clearly the prospect of signing Jeffery, a star wideout for the Bears that will hit free agency next week, along with Jackson and Garçon isn't going to happen. The receiver market in free agency will be interesting to watch, as a number of top options will be available. Jeffery, Jackson, Garçon along with Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor and younger prospects like Kenny Stills and Kenny Britt. 

Asked if it was "necessary" to bring at least one of Garçon or Jackson back, Gruden bristled. 

"Would never say necessary. I’d love to have them both back, I'd love to have one back. If we are unfortunate enough to lose them both, I'm not gonna blink."

The coach explained the team has a good crop of young pass catchers already on the roster. 

"I do feel very good about Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson. I love the fact that Mo Harris got a lot of work in, he’s gonna develop."

The coach should feel good about the young receivers, their development is part of his job. Crowder looks like a future star in the slot. Still, Jackson and Garçon accounted for more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards in 2016. That's a lot of yardage to lose. 

Of course, Doctson's development will be a major theme this offseason. A first-round pick in 2016, the Redskins got next to nothing from him as a rookie as he dealt with an Achilles injury. A healthy 6-foot-2 Doctson could offset some of the lost productivity that would come with the departure of Jackson or Garçon.

And then there is always free agency. It's entirely possible Washington could sign another, perhaps cheaper, wideout on the marketplace should they lose two the same way. Gruden said the team has 'other free agents' the team could pursue.

"We have Plan B's and Plan C's ready to go," Gruden said. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

The Redskins aren't willing to trade Kirk Cousins unless they are

Shortly after Kirk Cousins got the exclusive franchise tag from the Redskins on Saturday, two sort of conflicting reports. One, from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, was that Cousins “is not going anywhere” and a trade is essentially off the table. Mike Florio of Pro Football talk, quoting “a source familiar with the dynamics of the situation” reported that the Redskins would have to be “blown away” by a trade offer in order to pull the trigger on a deal.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 4.0

On the face of it, the reports conflict. One says that Cousins is available, the other says that he isn’t. But that valuation of them assumes the sources for these reports were intent on putting out the truth. The fact is that Cousins is very much available for the right offer.

A conversation along the lines of this one could well take place in Indianapolis this week:

“How much do you want for your house?”

“It’s not for sale.”

“No, really, how much do you want.”

“Really, it’s not for sale.”

“I’ll give you $50,000 over whatever it gets appraised for.”

“Sold!”

In short, you don’t need to have a “for sale” sign up in front of something to sell it. In fact, sometimes it’s better to act as though you have no intention of selling whatever it is. That can intrigue potential buyers even more.

The analogy falters a bit as it seems that the Redskins are unlikely to get a premium over whatever Cousins’ valuation on the open market might be. The receiving team will have to give the QB a massive contract. In addition, a team that wants Cousins is likely to be able to get him with no compensation in a year, when Cousins is likely to be an unfettered free agent. But you get the idea.

More Redskins: What happens next with Cousins?

The message from the Redskins is, don’t come at us with a couple of mid rounders. There is some point where the compensation for giving up Cousins a year earlier than they might have to isn’t enough. It literally would be better to rent Cousins for one more season than get, say, a third-round pick with a 2018 fifth thrown in.

That being said, they are not going to get the RG3 type haul—three firsts and a second—in exchange for Cousins. The likely would accept something south of that in exchange for Cousins’ rights.

So, he’s not available at any price—unless the price is right.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.