NFC East: Leonard Hankerson

The Washington Redskins' 12-member draft class in 2011 was supposed to yield a number of key players. With those players entering the final year of their original contracts, it has not lived up to expectations -- or hopes. As of now, only one player will enter the season as a guaranteed starter and by this time next year it could well be that only a couple players remain from this group. Injuries didn't help as five of these players have missed an entire season or a substantial part of a year. Here's a look at how they stand:

Kerrigan
LB Ryan Kerrigan (first round): Established as the starting left outside linebacker. He’s become a solid player for Washington and was off to a terrific start last season with 6.5 sacks in the first seven games. Kerrigan injured his knee and, though he said it did not cause any dropoff in his play, he also admitted he lost a little explosiveness because of how it felt (he had just two sacks in the final nine games). Like Brian Orakpo, he should benefit from the arrival of outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, defensive end Jason Hatcher and rookie linebacker Trent Murphy. Kerrigan does well moving around and rushing from the inside. He’ll need to get out of the habit of trying to mostly rush with contain. But if others are being effective, Kerrigan will have a solid year with his relentless style. The Redskins gave him the fifth-year extension, so he will return next season -- as he should.

DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.

Hankerson
WR Leonard Hankerson (third round): There’s no guarantee he’ll even be ready to start the season. He’s been inconsistent and has never become the player Washington’s previous staff hoped he would be. Injuries haven’t helped him at all. But Hankerson lacks any sort of explosiveness after the catch. He’ll have a tough time this season coming off his knee injury. Not the way he’d want to enter a contract year.

RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.

S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.

TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.

Royster
Royster
RB Evan Royster (sixth round): Will enter once again as a guy on the bubble. He was insurance last year and carried the ball twice and caught one pass. With Morris, Helu and Seastrunk, it’s hard to imagine Royster being anything other than insurance again. It will depend, too, on how Chris Thompson looks this summer -- and how many backs Jay Gruden wants to keep. Tough to see Royster being around in 2015.

WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.

CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.

OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.

LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.

NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
10:00
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DeSean Jackson's impact compared to Santana Moss ... Has the defense really improved? ... Jordan Reed and Logan Paulsen ... a comment or a question? It's all here. Enjoy.

John Keim: Great question. Man, it'll be tough to have a greater impact than Moss did in 2005 when he caught 84 passes for 1,483 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch. I can't see Jackson matching that total simply because he'll have much more receiving talent around him. Moss had tight end Chris Cooley, but those two combined for 155 of the team's 278 receptions. No other player came within 40 of Cooley's total (71). Moss made the offense; Jackson will complete this one. He will have a big impact, but without Moss the Redskins had no passing game. Without Jackson the Redskins could still be fine. They're just better with him and he gives them the same level of playmaker Moss was in '05.

Keim: They hosted Owen Daniels early in free agency, but that was about it (and he eventually signed with Baltimore). But the drop-off from Reed to Paulsen is only when it comes to pass-catching. They like, and need, Paulsen as a blocker as Reed still needs to show he could handle that role consistently. Ted Bolser hasn't impressed me a whole lot this spring, but I always viewed him as a guy to groom for a year or two down the road. Not much of a blocker and his hands were too inconsistent this spring.

Keim: I assume you mean if whichever one doesn't start because there's no way all three will considering each plays on the inside. But the answer is yes ... probably. Hayward is a career backup, with 13 starts in his seven seasons. He's a special-teamer and was not brought in to start. Sharpton and Jordan both can help on special teams as well and have more starting experience. The decision will likely come down to this: Do you keep a fifth outside linebacker (Brandon Jenkins and/or Rob Jackson) or a fifth inside linebacker? The guys inside are stronger on special teams.

Keim: I have my doubts too, especially if you want significant improvement. There is reason to believe they'll be better because of the new pass-rushers, giving them a more diverse attack. With new outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, there is an added emphasis on an aggressive rush. Too often in the past the outside linebackers rushed contain, as they had been taught. Inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will have a key role in the game planning (like Bob Slowik did last year; I trust Olivadotti a lot more). Just remember: Everything sounds good in the spring. We have to see it on the field. But the defense is aging and will remain in transition for another year. There's a lot of age up front, too -- and guys coming off injuries. It's a tough mix. They'll be helped, however, by improved special-teams play and fewer turnovers by the offense.

Keim: You are right, he dropped too many passes last season. I don't think he's a lock, but the head coach certainly likes what he adds. Two weeks ago he talked about how Moss was going to help the team. In my experience, coaches don't talk about the season that way for players they don't think will make the roster. Moss also has looked good this spring. But the other reason is this: Who will beat him out? After the three starters, there's not a whole lot of proven talent. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready to open the season; Aldrick Robinson is still Aldrick Robinson and while they like Nick Williams, is he really better than Moss? No. Besides, Williams has practice-squad eligibility. Ryan Grant will be there too but he's only a rookie. Moss provides insurance and proven depth and Jay Gruden likes him around for his leadership.

Keim: This sounds more like a complaint than a question. I guess you missed the thousands of words I wrote about observations and more. The blog is full of the information you say wasn't said.

Keim: He had a good enough rookie minicamp to earn a contract. He's long, which always helps, but he has a ways to go before he can think about making the roster. Bridget has a number of players ahead of him.When training camp starts, and they start doing more one-on-ones with receivers, etc., then I'll get a better feel for him. During the spring I need to focus on the returning players, impact guys and newcomers of note. So... ask again in August.

Keim: Have not heard that, no. It's too expensive to change based on what team you have; could change on a yearly basis. They will be fast offensively on any surface. Keep in mind, too, that the defense is not considered fast. 

ASHBURN, Va. -- He’s not an old man, unless you count in football years. In that case Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss is approaching a territory that few at his position reach: still playing at age 35.

Last week, Moss said he didn’t worry about where he stood. This week, Redskins coach Jay Gruden gushed about Moss after Wednesday’s OTA workout, saying he’s had an excellent offseason.

[+] EnlargeSantana Moss
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsSantana Moss has 722 receptions for 10,167 yards and 66 TDs in 13 NFL seasons.
“He’s fun to be around, he’s fun to watch, he knows every position,” Gruden said. “He looks like a young kid. He’s got energy, he’s a great leader. If he drops a pass he holds himself accountable. If the quarterback misses him he’s like, ‘Let’s get onto the next one, man.’ He’s a great guy to have for these young guys to learn from. He’s working out hard. He’s the first one out there today again. I like having guys like that, veteran guys who are great examples for rookies and also can help you win in big games.”

Then he dropped a (strong?) hint as to Moss’ future: “He’s another one that’s going to help this team out.”

No reason to say that if you don’t think the guy will make the roster. Still, I would never call Moss a lock at this point; the Redskins would only be on the hook for $65,000 against the salary cap if he’s cut. His age works against him. He did drop too many passes last season (a drop rate of 8.9 percent according to ESPN Stats & Information). But he has looked spry out there (he's at the age where the word spry gets used more); he's a professional route runner and good to have around.

Here is a quick look at the receivers:

Pierre Garcon: A lock. Next.

DeSean Jackson: Ditto. But perhaps you keep a guy like Moss around to serve as a mentor of sorts for Jackson.

Andre Roberts: Lock.

Leonard Hankerson: Health is an issue. The Redskins still don’t know if he will be ready for the season opener. If that’s the case, then it would be good to have veteran insurance with a guy like Moss.

Aldrick Robinson: He can play all three spots, though has primarily focused on the X receiver spot in the past (where Garcon starts). He improved last season, but we’re still talking about a guy who has 29 career receptions in two full seasons. He doesn’t help much on special teams either.

Nick Williams: Unless he’s a returner, you can’t keep him over a veteran such as Moss unless Williams shows a heck of a lot this summer.

Ryan Grant: The rookie fifth-round pick runs good routes and is a likely a slot receiver in the NFL. But he has a lot to learn and must get stronger. It’s tough to see him being much of a help on special teams or from scrimmage as a rookie. But the coaches like him, and you always favor guys you drafted over those from a previous regime (unless there is a dramatic difference). Moss is far better now, of course. But if Hankerson returns and Robinson shows improvement, you are keeping Grant on the roster for what you think he can do beyond this season. Still, the Redskins could go with seven and keep them all, including Moss.

There are also a number of undrafted free agents on the roster, but it’s tougher to analyze them. They are all considered longshots, or more so players to develop on the practice squad, and that won’t change until the games begin.

You can keep a guy like Moss around as valuable insurance; Roberts’ ability to play more than just the slot means if something happens to one of the starters, you can move him around and plug in Moss. He still has value, even if it’s not as high as it used to be.
Taking a look at the ways the Washington Redskins could go not only in the second round Friday, but beyond -- and why.

Right tackle

The case for: Tyler Polumbus is not the long-term answer and, in fact, his contract is up after this season. Though he improved last season, it's clear the organization would like an upgrade. They could find a future starter -- whether Day 1 or not remains to be seen -- at 34. Or they could find a guy who might take a year or so after the second round.

The case against: Tough to make a case against drafting a right tackle, especially because there are some good ones available at that spot. That, combined with a need for the position -- even if Polumbus starts they need his eventual replacement.

Names to watch: Cyrus Kouandjio. The main reason he's available is because of questions surrounding his knees. But he was also inconsistent in pass protection (much better against the run), another reason he fell. Some teams have definitely been scared off because of his knees -- he has a degenerative issue with his knees, according to ESPN's Stephanie Bell. But he's also had no problems since his 2011 ACL surgery and, in fact, never missed a practice, had pain or swelling. So there's a risk-reward here and some positive signs mixed with concerns. And the Redskins' relationship with Dr. James Andrews, whose office performed the surgery on Kouandjio, is important and helpful here. If he can't play tackle, Nevada's Joel Bitonio, could move easily to guard. They also showed interest in Jack Mewhort, Morgan Moses and Antonio Richardson. I would not draft Mewhort or Richardson at 34; Moses' ability suggests he should go the highest of these three. We'll see.

Receiver

The case for: The Redskins need depth with Leonard Hankerson still uncertain following ACL surgery. Aldrick Robinson is entering the last year of his contract, too. Both have shown flashes but for one reason or another (yes, injuries a part) haven't put it together. Also, if the receiver they pick can return punts and kicks, that's even better.

The case against: They have three starting receivers -- and all are under contract for the next three seasons. Whoever they get, barring injuries, would end up being a No. 3 at best.

Names to watch: Marqise Lee is still available. But this is a deep draft at receiver so finding one after the second round is a distinct possibility. They also expressed interest in receiver Cody Latimer before the draft. He's an interesting player, faster than realized given how he was used at Indiana and because of injuries.

Tight end

The case for: Washington can use another pass catcher opposite Jordan Reed. Logan Paulsen is a blocker and an occasional pass threat, but they could use more given Reed's durability issues. Niles Paul remains on the roster, but is a free agent after this season.

The case against: Tough to make a strong case against adding another one at some point. At 34? Seems a big stretch considering Reed would still be the primary target if healthy. But in the third or fourth round? Sure.

Name to watch: Jace Amaro. More of a guy who would line up wide, but has definite receiving skills.

Running back

The case for: They clearly would like another pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Alfred Morris is set as the full-time ballcarrier, but Roy Helu is not set as the third-down back.

The case against: The second round is too high for this position given the needs elsewhere. But if they pick up another third? Then this spot becomes one worth watching (though the fourth round is fine here as well).

Names to watch: De'Anthony Thomas, Dri Archer, Charles Sims, George Atkinson III.

Guard

The case for: Though the Redskins signed Shawn Lauvao, they still have questions inside. Chris Chester, who struggled last year, returns. The Redskins could opt to draft another player here and plug them in immediately. Chester would then be in jeopardy of losing his job (releasing him would save the Redskins $2.7 million against the salary cap.

The case against: They did invest inside during free agency and still need a right tackle. For them to take a guard in the second round, it would have to be someone who was head and shoulders above.

Names to watch: Xavier Su'a-Filo. The UCLA guard is No. 1 on Mel Kiper's list at this position. Some tackles, such as Bitonio, might eventually end up at guard. Cyril Richardson has the size to play tackle, but his game might translate more to guard. He's a third-round guy.

Redskins mailbag: Part 1

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
1:10
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Apparently, not everyone thinks adding more pass-rushers is a good idea. So it says in one of the questions -- I have my own thoughts on the matter in Part 1 of the mailbag. And why do the Redskins stink in prime-time games? Could it be something other than, well, they've been bad most of the past decade? More draft questions, too. Enjoy
 

Redskins remain interested in Britt

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Washington Redskins haven't abandoned their desire to sign Kenny Britt. They're just waiting for him to make up his mind, a team source said Tuesday.

Britt
Britt
Britt, the talented wide receiver whose career has been marked by off-field issues and a major knee injury, also reportedly has visited Carolina, St. Louis, Buffalo and New England. But Patriots owner Robert Kraft reportedly said New England would not sign Britt.

That would leave the other four teams in the hunt for his services. Britt told Buffalo reporters Friday that he hoped to make his mind up over the weekend. Clearly, that didn't happen. His agent, Pat Dye, told Fox Sports 1 reporter Alex Marvez that they were looking for a short-term deal.

The Redskins still would like to add depth at receiver. They won't re-sign Josh Morgan, and Leonard Hankerson is recovering from ACL surgery. Santana Moss was signed to a one-year deal with only a $65,000 bonus, which means he's far from a roster lock. They have added Andre Roberts in free agency to pair with Pierre Garcon.

Tennessee drafted Britt in the first round in 2009. He tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee early in the 2011 season -- he was off to the best start of his career (17 catches, 289 yards, three touchdowns in three games). Since returning, Britt has not been as effective. He went from 45 catches in 2012 to just 11 receptions for 96 yards this past season. His best season occurred in 2010 when he caught 42 passes for 775 yards and nine touchdowns. And Britt's off-field issues include multiple arrests.

"Last year, I'd rather keep last year in the past and things like that," Britt told Buffalo reporters. "It came and went, and I'm here right now, so I'm trying to get this free agency over with."
With free agency set to begin, I’m going to examine some of the Redskins' needs once the offseason really gets underway, with free agency starting March 11 and the draft two months later.

Why receiver is a need: The Redskins could use a consistent No. 2 target opposite Pierre Garcon. They signed Josh Morgan to be that guy two years ago, but after 68 catches in two years it’s apparent that he is not a strong second option. If they paired Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed with another solid receiver, the Redskins could have a strong passing attack. The Redskins also lack depth (and size) at receiver, not to mention players capable of being solid special-teams contributors.

In-house options: The Redskins have Leonard Hankerson and Aldrick Robinson, both of whom have flashed – Hankerson more than Robinson. But Hankerson tore his ACL and might not be ready until mid-August, while Robinson is too inconsistent. He made positive strides late in the year and the coaches like that he can play multiple spots (like Hankerson). But they need consistency. They could re-sign Morgan, but I don’t know why they would expect a third year to be any different than the first two. They can re-sign slot receiver Santana Moss to a small deal -- they still like him and feel he can play -- but that will not solve their pressing issue.

Free-agent options: If the Redskins want someone who can contribute immediately, then they’ll have to spend a little bit. Receiver is one of the toughest positions for rookies, so a first-year guy might not give them what they need – and provide them what they already have in terms of flashing one week and being invisible the next. They have enough players who fit that description. Seattle’s Golden Tate would be an attractive option because he can return punts as well. Hakeem Nicks is a possibility, though his lack of touchdown productivity in recent years (three touchdowns in his last 109 catches) and inability to get separation last season is concerning. But he also wouldn’t cost as much so he could be one to watch; his wide catch radius is helpful. He’s also had four games with at least 100 yards receiving in the past two seasons. No thanks to Kenny Britt; the Redskins need productivity not another player who can’t play to his ability.

The draft: Because the Redskins will have to fill other needs in free agency, especially on defense, the draft is a good, and less expensive, option. They might only land a lesser wideout in free agency, but they’ll still need to add depth at this position. Aside from Garcon, it’s not a position of strength, so they might have to add via free agency and the draft. With Hankerson having had two major injuries in his first three years, the Redskins could use another talented young wideout. There are a few in Rounds 2 and 3 who fit that description: Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, among others. LSU’s Odell Beckham and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks are good choices, but all the reports lately place them in the first round.

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18
10:00
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In Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, the topics include free agency, how many Bengals might follow Jay Gruden to Washington, Jim Haslett's return and more.
 

Kyle Shanahan: Systems are overrated

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Kyle Shanahan isn’t ready to give up his job just yet. But he knows that if the Washington Redskins have another offensive coordinator next season, they’ll survive.

And that includes quarterback Robert Griffin III. It’s never easy for a young quarterback to have to learn a second offense in his first three NFL seasons. But Shanahan said it’s not that big a deal.

“Robert’s a smart guy,” Shanahan said. “Robert’s going to be able to learn any system that someone gives him. Systems are a little bit overrated. This isn’t physics or anything. It’s football, and it can be tough if you don’t work at it, but Robert works at it. He’ll give it his full effort and if you do that you’re going to pick stuff up.

“So I don’t think it matters from that standpoint. It’s just about improving yourself from technique standpoints, seeing the game, reps, and just getting more comfortable with whatever it is that’s asked of him.”

Of course, if it’s a coach he’s already familiar with, such as Baylor’s Art Briles, the transition wouldn’t be hard at all.

Shanahan also said the Redskins have the makings of a top-five offense next season. They’re ranked ninth this season after finishing fifth in total yards in 2012. Shanahan pointed out, too, that they turned over the entire starting lineup by their third year in Washington. And, of course, there was the salary-cap penalty, which he said forced them to go younger.

Shanahan mentioned all this after being asked how having another consistent threat opposite receiver Pierre Garcon would help the offense.

“A lot of these guys are young players who haven’t cost a lot of money, who make the future very bright for this organization,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got a guy like Jordan Reed who comes back and has a chance to be one of the better tight ends in the league. [Leonard] Hankerson is a big deal. That’s just the people we already have. When you have those people already, if they can stay healthy, you’ve already got a top-five offense and then hopefully there’s money next year to be spent, you add a couple more players … It makes all the difference in the world.”

Moss won't reflect on Redskins career

December, 25, 2013
12/25/13
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ASHBURN, Va. -- He was here for three magical playoff runs and two horrendous finishes. He’s survived two coaching changes. He became an instant hero early in his first season here, catching two touchdown passes to win at Dallas.

He’s also experienced the lowest of the lows: the death of teammate, and friend, Sean Taylor.

But this could be it for Santana Moss in Washington. After nine seasons, Moss will become a free agent after the season and, considering he turns 35 in June, the end is near.

[+] EnlargeSantana Moss
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsSantana Moss ranks third in Redskins history with 569 catches, and fourth with 7,738 receiving yards.
At one point this season the Redskins viewed Leonard Hankerson as a future slot receiver, making Moss expendable. Hankerson’s torn ACL complicates that, as does the fact that head coach Mike Shanahan might not be here in 2014. Would a new coach want to re-sign an aging wideout?

If this is the end for Moss, he’ll go down as one of the best wideouts in franchise history. Moss ranks third in catches with 569 and fourth in receiving yards with 7,738. His 48 touchdowns are tied for 10th best with former running back Stephen Davis. Moss did this during a pass-heavy league; he also did it with constant change at quarterback and in various schemes.

But the one thing you learn with Moss: He doesn’t like to reflect; he doesn’t like to address the future. He only likes to talk about what’s going on right now. So this might be his last game in a Redskins uniform after nine seasons?

“I don’t even talk about it,” he said. “It’s nothing I can control. All I got to do is control what I control, and that is to go out and play ball come Sunday. Why sit back and try to be the superior on something that’s going to be either given or not. I can’t do nothing about it.”

It’s an attitude that helped Moss endure rough seasons or even games where he’s not being targeted. He’s always been about what he can control. He’s always been consistent. In fact, and this is rare, I don’t recall him ever turning down an interview or being rude with reporters. Even when seasons are going bad, as this one has, Moss still sits at his locker, listening to his music. If a reporter happens over, he’ll take off his earphones and answer every question. I remember when the Redskins traded for Moss in 2005 (safe to say they liked giving up Lavaraneus Coles to get him; worked out well) and hearing that he could be up-and-down with the media. That hasn't been the case here; it's all been up.

Moss survived in part because he’s smart, fast, quick and a good route runner. As his speed decreased -- he had back-to-back seasons averaging better than 17.7 yards per catch in 2004 with New York and ’05 his first in Washington -- he became a clutch receiver on underneath routes.

Moss might not scare defenses anymore, but his production isn’t much different than two years ago when he caught 46 passes (a 47-pass drop-off from the previous year). He has 40 now.

If Moss doesn’t return to Washington, he’s shown he can still help. Even last week, he returned three punts for 35 yards. He started taking better care of his body two offseasons ago, when he was in danger of being cut. Earlier in his career the knock on him was he wore down late in the season.

As his career winds down, it’s natural to wonder what’s next for him. Not that Moss wants to do so. He shook his head at whether or not he’s weighed retirement, saying he’s only thinking about Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants.

And he did say this about his nine seasons here:

“It’s been a beautiful experience. It’s nothing I can ask for more. But I’m not trying to have that conversation now, about how much fun and all that. That’s something we’ll do down the road. I enjoy every day regardless of what day it is or what year it is. Even my four years before these nine years, I enjoyed those also. Every year it’s going to be something different.”

But, for the past nine years, one constant was Moss.

Redskins UFAs face possible Fed Ex finale

December, 19, 2013
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We know Sunday will be London Fletcher’s last home game. The Washington Redskins have 15 other players who could be appearing in their last home game as well because of their pending free agency. If there’s a new coach, there could be a mass exodus. But for now I’ll stick with the pending unrestricted free agents currently on the active roster.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsBrian Orakpo will be the most expensive player to re-sign of the Redskins' soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo: He views himself as an elite linebacker, which means he’ll want to get paid like one. Last year’s top free agent at outside linebacker was Paul Kruger, who received $8.2 million per year with $20 million guaranteed and signing bonuses totaling $12.85 million. Orakpo is better. Whether or not you think he’s elite, in a passing league it’s tough to let good pass-rushers walk, especially if you plan to stick with a 3-4.

Tight end Fred Davis: Hard to see why he’d want to return, especially if the head coach remains. Yes, he’d be good insurance given questions about Jordan Reed’s durability but that’s not what Davis wants. He wants to start. I can't imagine him getting a big deal after the past couple of years of suspension, injuries and now questions about his work ethic.

Linebacker Perry Riley: If you’re staying in a 3-4, you keep him around. You’re already going to have a transition at the other spot; it’s good to have someone who knows the defense. He’s flawed, but steady and won’t cost too much.

Defensive lineman Chris Baker: He’s talented, but inconsistent. He makes plays because of his penetration, but sometimes misses plays because he’s so intent on getting upfield. A nice backup.

Linebacker Darryl Tapp: Looked good this summer, but hasn’t played a whole lot this season. Not a great pass-rusher from this spot, but strong. Not an all-around linebacker. A good backup, but the Redskins would do well to find younger backup linebackers who can excel on special teams.

Linebacker Rob Jackson: If they lose Orakpo, could Jackson be a good alternative? He certainly won’t cost as much, but he’s also not as good. He’s worth keeping as a primary backup, but Jackson should first look for a starting job elsewhere based on his 2012 film.

Quarterback Rex Grossman: All depends on the coaching staff and what happens with Kirk Cousins. If Grossman is your third quarterback, you’re in good shape. But it wouldn’t stun me if the Redskins start looking for another No. 3, perhaps a younger player they can groom into a solid No. 2 for 2015 when it’s hard to imagine both Cousins and Robert Griffin III still being on the roster.

Corner E.J. Biggers: Offers versatility and would be cheap. Just a backup.

Receiver Santana Moss: He’s been an excellent Redskin and a personal favorite because he’s always available after games and during the week, win or lose, since joining the team in 2005. But his productivity has waned; at 35 (in June) that will continue. Tough to see him returning. If this staff stays in place, next year’s slot could be Leonard Hankerson, but because of his injury they’ll need some insurance in case he’s not ready. Perhaps that’s how Moss returns, but with a new staff? Don’t see it. He deserves kudos from the crowd Sunday for a career well done in Washington.

Receiver Josh Morgan: There’s little reason to bring him back; he hasn’t been productive and his blocking has been inconsistent.

Safety Reed Doughty: If there’s a new staff, sometimes guys like Doughty -- valuable special-teamers and role players -- get lost in the shuffle. But he’s worth keeping around because of what he does.

Corner Josh Wilson: He’s been fine in the slot, doing a nice job against the run from this position. That’s important. But he’s 28 and descending. Not everyone likes small corners, so a new staff could go in a different direction. I have a tough time seeing him return, especially as a starter.

Corner DeAngelo Hall: He made big plays in the first half of the season, though he’s been quiet lately. When playing off man or zone he’s not as effective. He’s also 30. If the Redskins keep only one of Hall or Wilson, then the former is more productive. They have so many areas to address that they might not be able to find all the answers in free agency or the draft. I don’t know if David Amerson will be a quality starter, but a second-round pick in Year 2 should be one of your top two. I’d pair him with a younger veteran via free agency who is still ascending and can be the lead guy.

Linebacker Nick Barnett: Not a good alternative to Fletcher because of his coverage skills. A good guy in the locker room and a pro, but he turns 33 in May. And if you’re not going to start, you’d better do well on special teams. Not his strength.

Center J.D. Walton: They just claimed him off waivers. He’s a former starter worth checking out; the Redskins need stronger center play.

Redskins Game day: Ten Thoughts

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
9:00
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1. I don’t know what this means, but it’s certainly an observation: The Redskins seemed as loose last week as they’ve been all season, whether when we could watch practice or during the open locker room sessions (especially Friday, a typically lively day). I don’t know if that’s good or bad -- though the answer will be revealed Sunday. I do know when they were 3-6 a year ago they also were rather loose and it probably helped.

2. Pierre Garcon has had an impressive season and his 84 receptions are the most in franchise history after 12 games. Next highest: Art Monk with 71 catches and Gary Clark with 66. Garcon has done a terrific job, but the problem here is the total yards. Despite having 13 and 18 more catches, respectively, than the Monk and Clark, Garcon does not have more receiving yards than at the same point. He has 980 yards compared to Monk (1,007) and Clark (1,126).

3. Garcon’s yards after the catch (491) rank fourth in the NFL, but that stems in part from how many screen passes and smoke routes he’s run -- plays designed for yards after the catch. He has not been a big threat downfield. It’s why he’s averaging just 11.7 yards per catch, tying his career low (for the five seasons in which he’s been a regular).

[+] EnlargeWashington's Pierre Garcon
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Pierre Garcon has been a bright spot for Washington's offense this season.
4. That’s not to say he’s not having a good season; he clearly is -- he's consistent and productive. But it does illustrate some of what’s been wrong in the passing game -- the inability to get the ball downfield. Of the top 10 receivers in the NFL in terms of catches, the only two who average less per reception are slot receivers Julian Edelman (10.2) and Wes Welker (10.5).

5. In fact, no Redskin with at least 10 catches is averaging more than 12.5 yards per catch, which is a major problem. Every other team in the NFL has at least one player averaging more yards per catch than 12.5. Last season, the Redskin had four players who finished with at least 20 catches who averaged at least 13.5 yards per reception. This also speaks to the lack of explosiveness at this position. Aldrick Robinson has speed, but I wouldn’t consider him explosive (though on his six catches he averages 25.3 yards. The problem? Six catches. He’s just not that good). Leonard Hankerson (obviously now hurt) runs good routes, but after the catch doesn’t make anyone miss. All of this is a function of how teams are defending the Redskins, the line not giving quarterback Robert Griffin III enough time to always throw deep, Griffin’s accuracy being off and receivers who don’t get open. That about sums it up.

6. This is the time of the year when the media starts voting on its Good Guy award winner, the player who helps the media best do its job. Despite a 3-9 record, the Redskins have players who routinely do this. It’s not easy getting asked all the time about bad performances or about whether or not a coach should be fired (it’s a bit rare when players publicly say yes) or about what might happen to them. They all know if there’s a regime change it puts them on notice, too. One player who has been largely absent during the week? Second-year back Alfred Morris. Not quite sure why; the press he gets is almost always good. But he does talk after games. He was terrific to talk to last season and even early in the year. He still seems jovial when seen around the facility.

7. Oh, yeah, the game. The Redskins’ defense will be challenged by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. Charles is a big-time threat in the pass game, too, with a team-best 55 receptions. Charles hits holes fast, but he’s not going to lower his shoulder and drive through defenders. It’s not his running style.

8. Another thing: He and fellow back Dexter McCluster are used on a lot of screens. The Chiefs will use both players on the field at the same time and will get them the ball on a variety of routes. They’ll even have them run crossing routes underneath, trying to get them the ball in space in one-on-one situations. McCluster has 42 receptions.

9. The Chiefs haven’t applied a lot of pressure in recent games, but consider that two of their last three games have come against Denver and that’s a bit understandable. Few if any quarterbacks get rid of the ball faster than Denver’s Peyton Manning. With leading sacker Justin Houston (11 sacks) out Sunday, the Chiefs’ rush will take a hit. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali has nine sacks. While he’s fast, it’s his always-active hands that create issues. But they will try to manufacture pressure with a variety of looks. They had one blitz, for example, against New York earlier this season in which they stunted the end and the tackle on the nose on the left side with the inside linebackers executing the same move right behind them. Yes, it led to major pressure. That also came with a blitz. “They have a ton of stuff like that,” Redskins tight end Logan Paulsen said. “Usually we have a meeting on Thursday and go over the blitz and what they like to do and it’s a short meeting. But this one was like 15 minutes because they do a lot of stuff we’re not used to.”

10. The key? Running the ball well, especially on early downs. Kansas City allows a hefty 4.6 yards per rush and any pass rush is negated by a team able to put itself in third-and-shorts. But going inside the numbers, I’m not sure the Chiefs are that bad. Some backs have had strong games (Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Denver's Montee Ball). But, for the most part, they’ve done well against a team’s top back. One reason: nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is strong and quick and occupies double teams. He’ll be a handful Sunday.
NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth is clear where he stands on Mike Shanahan: He should return. He also is clear on the salary cap penalty the Washington Redskins endured: It crushed them. My guess is you'll hear a lot about this during tonight's game (8:30 ET).

It's what Collinsworth discussed during an appearance on ESPN980 Friday with Steve Czaban and Chris Cooley.

Here are the highlights (followed by my take):

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsBoth QB Robert Griffin III and coach Mike Shanahan have had to deal with great challenges as they try to get the Redskins on the winning path.
Collinsworth said the Redskin need to decide, "We have Robert Griffin III and this is the way he plays quarterback and we have Mike Shanahan and this is the way he's going to play offense and do we believe as a playmaker that you can win football games without being able to sit in the pocket and go one, two, three and read your way through a defense? I don't know that I believe that just alone the read option and the play-action against a single high safety is going to get you to a Super Bowl. People have caught up with that a little bit and like Philadelphia, you're going to have to evolve."

My take: I agree. I'm a fan of the read option, but even after last season I felt the only way for the offense to evolve was for the passing game to do so.

The hosts then asked if Collinsworth remained firmly behind Shanahan after three straight losses (he had backed him strongly on an Inside the NFL appearance last month).

Collinsworth: "If you were going to ask me what I think is best for the organization, I think what's best is to convince Robert that Mike Shanahan can take him to the next level. ...This offense has been number one, number one, number one, number one through eternity so we know it works and then you put someone with [Griffin's] physical skills into it. When I saw they made this trade I said, 'Oh my god this is going to fantastic. This is going to be the greatest offense we've ever seen.' Unfortunately, the unforeseen came into play and that was the salary cap hit. Anyone who could have foreseen $36 million taken off that team after that trade and after giving up the draft picks, so now not only are you not going to have the draft picks, you're not going to have the money to spend on free agency. Thirty six million, you're talking about at least the best six players on your team being taken off it. If you go to any team out here and take $36 million off it this late in the year when attrition starts to really kick in, I want you to find any team that will be above 3-8."

My take: When they landed Griffin, and I spoke to NFL types about the offense, no one mentioned the zone read as part of what they would do. They all felt he'd be successful because he was a good fit for what this offense has shown in the past. As for the coaches: If the Redskins finish strong and play well, then yeah bring them back.

Collinsworth continued on about the salary cap, pointing out the parity in the NFL. There's a reason the playoff teams turn over quite a bit from one year to the next. "If every team got an extra $36 million to spend, how do you think the team, the 32nd team, that didn't get it, would do? Would they win very many games?"

To which Czaban pointed out, as I would have, that the Redskins haven't always spent wisely.

Collinsworth: "You've got to hit the right players. But I thought the tough part about it was that when the announcement was made -- on the eve of free agency. You say would they have made the trade for RG3 and given up all the draft picks if they had known they'd take a $36-million hit? My guess is no. [Then you would say], ‘OK, we're going to take a $36-million hit? Fine, I'll tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna go completely young, get rid of all our older players. And we're gonna take this core of newly drafted young key players and play with them for two years while the salary cap hit is underway and then in year three we're gonna explode on the scene.' But when they didn't know when they made the RG3 trade and they gave up all the draft picks, now you can't get the free agents to make the rest of the team. You're dead. The fact that they made the playoffs last year is much more a miracle than the fact they've won three games this year."

My take: I agree on the timing of the hit. It was brutal and would have altered their strategy and winning the division with a rookie quarterback who still has more to learn was quite an accomplishment. But, fair or not, every team in the NFL also was warned that there would be consequences if the team handled the 2010 uncapped year a certain way. Now, Shanahan could argue that wasn't his decision -- he's not the cap guy or in charge of the organization. But free agency is hit or miss; always has been (not just here). The Redskins drafted 21 players in 2011 and '12 – more than any team in the NFL during this period -- and only four will start Sunday night (a fifth would have if Leonard Hankerson had remained healthy). Only two picks from 2010 will start. It takes time for picks to develop, but there's a good chance after this season only five of the 12 picks in 2011 will be on the roster next season (assuming the same staff returns) and that would mean only seven of their 18 picks from 2010 and '11 would be around. Drafting and developing can help offset free-agency mistakes, or at least keep you more competitive until you can spend again. It will take more than free-agency spending to resurrect the Redskins.

Leonard Hankerson also tore his ACL

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
8:00
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson now faces a tougher road to recovery. In addition to fixing his lateral collateral ligament, doctors had to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during surgery Thursday.

Hankerson
Rather than face a rehab period of a few months, Hankerson, who hurt his knee in the second quarter of Sunday's loss at Philadelphia, now will embark on one that will take seven to nine months. If it takes the full nine months, that would put Hankerson's return in the middle of next August.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said doctors thought there was a possibility of another tear but weren't sure until they performed the surgery. There's often an accompanying tear to any LCL injury. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III had his ACL, LCL and MCL fixed last January and, as is well-known, returned for the start of training camp, albeit in a limited capacity.

Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan called losing Hankerson a "huge blow." The team had just started to see the consistency it wanted from him: he caught a combined 10 passes in his last two full games.

"Hank is a guy we really rely on in certain situations and I felt strongly that he has been getting a lot better," Kyle Shanahan said. "He was good enough to help us a lot at the beginning of the year, but in these past three games he’s really gone to another level . I was expecting him to finish this year having a big year and it hurts. I was pretty disappointed for him, because you know he’s put in a lot of work. I know he wanted to get those numbers and to show everybody what he’s capable of. With getting hurt, he obviously doesn’t get a chance to do that. He’ll come back next year and he’ll be healthy, but it’s always tough when you lose a good player.”

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
9:25
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A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 24-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Ref-gate: The NFL will look into left tackle Trent Williams' allegations that umpire Roy Ellison called him a "garbage-ass, disrepectful m-----f-----" Sunday, which teammates corroborated. If that’s indeed what Ellison said, it’s beyond uncalled for by someone in his position. But for the Redskins, the conversation should not shift away from why they’re 3-7 and where they might be headed. The problem with their season has not been officiating, it has been their own play. In fact, Washington had only four penalties Sunday compared to nine for the Eagles. And for the season, Washington is averaging 6.1 penalties per game compared to 7.2 in 2012. Some bad calls? Yes. Missed calls? Absolutely (See: Dallas). I’ve also seen David Amerson get away with what looked like holds or pass interference penalties. Williams' accusations are serious, but when adding up reasons for their bad record, officiating is far down on the list. Good teams overcome obstacles.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Michael Perez/AP PhotoRedskins QB Robert Griffin III is still maturing as a passer, even during a Week 11 loss at Philadelphia.
Return game: The Redskins used Nick Williams on punt returns Sunday and nothing changed. He muffed one punt and failed to field another that led to a 15-yard roll to the Washington 4-yard line. Williams was playing for a punt to the other side of the field, so he was aligned on his left hash (with the ball on the right hash). When the ball was snapped and as punter Donnie Jones started to angle the other way, Williams drifted to his left, anticipating a punt to that side. Williams said he handled it the right way, but it still begs the question: Would a more experienced returner have handled it differently -- not drift so soon -- and saved those 15 yards? Regardless, the return game looked a lot like it had all season. Williams will get more chances and you can't draw conclusions after his first game in the NFL; but at some point the return game needs to provide a spark.

Griffin’s passing: One week Robert Griffin III looks as if he's maturing as a passer (Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota). The next week he looks bad (Denver, Philadelphia). The reality is that Griffin is an inexperienced passer and any legitimate improvement won’t come until next season. It’s not just about making reads; it’s about going through progressions at a certain pace and maintaining your mechanics. Things that are tough to work on during the season. He was bad from the pocket Sunday and his big plays occurred when he could get outside of it -- the touchdown passes to Darrel Young and Aldrick Robinson.

Second chance: Former starters Josh Morgan and Fred Davis were inactive Sunday -- for Morgan it was the first time. Neither is happy with their situation, but both might get another opportunity because of injuries. Leonard Hankerson is undergoing an MRI Monday to determine the extent of a possible LCL injury to his left knee. If he has to miss time, then Morgan would return to the lineup at the Z position. But he needs to be a lot more productive than he had been in the first nine games (19 targets, 11 catches, 124 yards). Yes, he didn’t play as much, though he also didn’t do enough to maintain his grip on the starting job. Davis lost his job as much because of the emergence of rookie Jordan Reed as anything; a sprained ankle didn’t help, either. But Reed now has a concussion and his status for Monday’s game versus San Francisco won’t be known until later in the week. It could provide Davis an opportunity to remind everyone that only a year ago he was a good receiving tight end.

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