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Need to Know: Will the Redskins and Cousins get a deal done?

Need to Know: Will the Redskins and Cousins get a deal done?

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, May 13, 11 days before the Redskins start OTAs.

Timeline

At Redskins Park: Rookie minicamp starts; media access will be allowed on Saturday.

—The Redskins last played a game 124 days ago. It will be 122 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: OTAs start 11; Redskins training camp starts 76; Preseason opener @ Falcons 90

Hot topic

Earlier this week Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports had a post with some “things on my mind”. One of them raised some eyebrows among Redskins was item No. 4:
It looks like the Redskins will get a deal done with Kirk Cousins.  That’s a nice development for both parties.
That was the sum total of what he had to say on the matter. There were no specifics like if one side or the other was about to give in or if a deal is imminent.

Kirwan is a former NFL general manager. He also is tight with Bruce Allen so this “thing on his mind” probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand despite the lack of a cited source or much in the way of specifics.

It’s difficult to see why much of anything would happen over the next two months. Neither side has incentive to give any ground. The Redskins can hold out for a lower annual salary and exit ramps after two or three years while Cousins camp is likely to keep up its demands for more money and a deal that locks him in for the next several years.

But two months from today we will be about 48 hours away from the July 15 deadline. After that date, negotiations on a long-term deal must stop and any tagged players must play out the season under the signed tender. If there is going to be movement towards middle ground it will start to happen as the deadline approaches.

Last year four players—Dallas WR Dez Bryant, Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, Chiefs LB Justin Houston, and Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski all signed long-term contracts on July 15. Less than 24 hours before these players signed there seemed to be little hope that any of them would get a contract. But the deadline drove the four deals.

With Cousins and the Redskins there are strong incentives for both sides to get something done. The team doesn’t want to go through this again next year with the cost to tag Cousins for a second time going up to nearly $24 million (with the salary cap number for Josh Norman running up to $20 million next year the Redskins would be using up about 25 percent of cap for two players). Cousins could decide that he doesn’t want to risk the life-changing money that will be on the table to injury or having an off year and tell his agent to make the best deal that he can.

No quarterback has played out the year on the tag; the team and the QB have always been able to get a deal done. That’s because the position is so important to the team and because the large amounts of guaranteed money in quarterback contracts tug the player towards a compromise. There is too much at stake to let it ride another year.

To be sure, there is always a first time. It’s safe to say that most quarterbacks to get tagged have a more substantial track record than does Cousins so this is an unusual situation. But the same forces that have pushed quarterbacks and teams together in the past still exist.

Ultimately Kirwan’s “thought” is likely to turn out to be accurate. But it is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Stat of the day

In 2015 the Redskins had 104 rushing plays for either no gain or negative yards. Only six NFL teams had more such plays. Alfred Morris had 37 of his 202 rushing attempts go for no gain or a loss (18%) compare to Matt Jones, who had 38 on 144 carries (26 percent).

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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