The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Washington team needs are.
Many predicted Washington to struggle in 2015 due to their unstable quarterback situation, their turnstile offensive line, and their dismal secondary. Many, however, were wrong.
In their first season under general manager Scot McCloughan, Washington went to the playoffs led by the stellar play of quarterback Kirk Cousins in the second half of the year. Cousins earned himself the starting job over Robert Griffin III due to a better scheme fit in Jay Gruden’s west coast offense. After the playoff loss to the Packers, Washington placed the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins worth $19.953 million. With another strong draft by Scot McCloughan, Washington looks to repeat their divisional title performance.
Washington started the 2016 offseason $6 million over the cap, but $16 million of their cap space was tied to RG3’s 5th year option, which the team decided not to exercise. Griffin’s release allowed the team to re-sign key depth players such as, back-up quarterback Colt McCoy, punter Tress Way, and change-of-pace running back Chris Thompson.
Additionally, McCloughan signed tight end Vernon Davis to a one-year deal worth $2.4 million. Davis is not the receiving tight end he was back in 2013 when he caught 13 touchdowns and 850 receiving yards, but his run blocking ability is the main reason why the Redskins targeted him in free agency. He made a key downfield block in the Super Bowl for C.J. Anderson on the longest run of the game.
All of these moves were depth signings and not the sort that will ensure a dominant team in the future. This is where McCloughan’s performance in this draft will be vital for keeping Washington a competitive team for multiple seasons.
Jason Hatcher had a great season in penetrating the pocket and pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but he could only convert two of those for sacks. His cap hit was too large at the age of 33, so he was subsequently cut. Washington is desperate for defensive line help, even with signing Kendall Reyes from San Diego.
In base packages the strongside defensive end is a 5 technique, but moves inside to play 3 technique in nickel packages. Having a skill-set to do both is necessary in this defense. Trent Murphy was asked to gain weight this offseason and it’s possible he can play the position, but a cornerstone defensive end would be ideal.
Both Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley were awful this past season. Robinson signed with the New York Giants and Riley will have to fight for his starting spot. Will Compton and Mason Foster were re-signed, but an upgrade is needed here badly as many of the long runs Washington gave up was due to poor linebacker play.
Clearly the biggest weakness in the Washington’s offensive line, Josh LeRibeus and Kory Lichtensteiger were terrible and a center in Bill Callahan’s run scheme is necessary on both outside and inside zone runs. Luckily for Washington, this draft contains a strong class of centers that should provide starter-level play quickly, including the current hot name, Alabama center, Ryan Kelly.
Newly signed free agent Chris Culliver tore his ACL / MCL in November and might not fully recover. He also did not play that well this season while healthy. Hopefully when healthy he can turn it around, but another cornerback to line up opposite of Breeland is necessary.
Terrance Knighton was a solid run-stuffing nose tackle, but the New England Patriots signed him in free agency. Even though head coach Jay Gruden mentioned this off-season that they were de-emphasizing the position going into next season another rotational nose tackle could prove useful even after re-signing Kedric Golston to a one-year deal.
DeAngelo Hall switched to free safety and looked decent in limited action. Dashon Goldson played at an acceptable level, but was cut due to his large cap number. Duke Ihenacho was recently re-signed and is a good fit at strong safety, but cannot be counted on due to his injury history. David Bruton was signed from Denver and will compete for a starting position, but looks to be a bigger help on special teams.
Running Back Depth
Chris Thompson was re-signed, but Alfred Morris jetted to sign with Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys. Pierre Thomas is a free agent, and if he’s not re-signed Washington could use another running back especially if Matt Jones does not develop into the lead running back they envisioned in him when he was drafted with a third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jay Gruden mentioned that he would like to start developing a back-up quarterback. Journeyman quarterback Colt McCoy re-signed with Washington to a three-year $9 million deal, but a back-up quarterback on a rookie contract could be very helpful to the team, especially if the team does not come to a long-term agreement with Kirk Cousins. Luckily, this draft has many developmental options that fit Gruden’s West Coast scheme, such as Brandon Doughty and Jake Rudock.
Set, For Better or Worse
One of the strongest positions on the team, Washington has All-Pro linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, recently re-signed Junior Galette, second-year Preston Smith, and third-year Trent Murphy. Unless the team feels confident that Murphy can switch to a pure defensive lineman role, they shouldn’t draft an outside linebacker in this draft.
A major weakness during the 2015 season due to injuries, the tight end position was solidified for the 2016 season with the signing of tight end Vernon Davis. Jordan Reed looks to improve his run blocking ability, while Niles Paul fully recovers from his ankle injury.
All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams and third year right tackle Morgan Moses will start for Washington this season. Ty Nsekhe is the teams’ back-up offensive tackle, while right guard Brandon Scherff can play right tackle if necessary.