NFL Nation: Kirk Cousins

Jay Gruden a good fit with RG III

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
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Robert Griffin IIIPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesQuarterback Robert Griffin III is smiling again under new Washington coach Jay Gruden.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- They notice a difference. Robert Griffin III is happier, something just about everyone who has seen him at Redskins Park has picked up on. It could be because he’s not spending his time in Florida rehabbing his knee, as he was doing a year ago. Or that he knows the knee brace likely is a thing of the past.

Or it’s the fresh start that he -- and everyone else, for that matter -- is getting. When the Redskins changed coaches, they also changed the outlook for Griffin. Regardless of who was to blame for the failed relationship between him and former coach Mike Shanahan, the bottom line is it didn’t work. Enter Jay Gruden. Enter an excited young quarterback.

One Redskins employee described Griffin as “18 times happier.” Others echo that sentiment. Whether a happy Griffin translates into a productive one will be answered in about six months. But there is little doubt the offseason has unfolded in a positive way for Griffin.

“Jay sees football through the eyes of the quarterback,” Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of his former offensive coordinator. “It gives him the opportunity for the quarterback to grow through him. That’s really helpful. The offense and everything has to be quarterback-friendly, and that’s important.”

It’s not just Gruden’s arrival. It’s Sean McVay being elevated to offensive coordinator. Like Gruden, McVay offers a more measured demeanor. It’s also the hiring of Doug Williams as a personnel executive. Williams will not coach Griffin, but will act as a sounding board, as someone who played the position at a high level in the NFL and understands scrutiny. The two already have spoken.

“This kid came in here as a rookie and single-handedly raised the play of everybody on that football team,” Williams said recently on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “At the end of the day, you can’t put it all on his shoulders. You’ve got to have some people around him. And I think that’s the course we’re in now. This guy, man, he comes to the office, always smiling, always upbeat, and you can tell his leadership character and the things that he’s got going for him that are gonna take him a long way.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsJay Gruden on developing the offense around Robert Griffin III: "I think it's gotta be a two-way street. It's gotta be something we're both interactive with."
Even Gruden sees how eager Griffin is to get going. But it’s about more than just having a new coach; Griffin also wants to make up for a subpar season and to regain his rookie mojo. But Gruden wants to make sure Griffin, who is often at Redskins Park (though they can’t yet discuss football together), doesn’t burn out.

“He just needs to relax right now. Enjoy the offseason,” Gruden said. “When it’s time, it’s time. We’ll get plenty of time with him to work with his fundamentals, and just don’t stress out over it right now. He’s so anxious and wants to do so well all the time. He’s such a perfectionist that he needs to settle down right now, enjoy the offseason, enjoy the players he’s working out with right now, and have some fun.”

Griffin had to mature; it’s also important to note that he’s still only 24. And, yes, maybe he needs to be treated differently than, say, backup Kirk Cousins. Is that right or wrong? Well, coaching is about knowing how to reach every player, especially one who plays the most important position and who can define the franchise for the next decade.

Shanahan had his way of doing things, and it earned him two Super Bowl titles. As a rookie, Griffin flourished under him: 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 815 yards rushing and 3,200 yards throwing. But, fair or not, Griffin never trusted him, never fully bought what he was being sold. Doesn’t matter who’s at fault, but the reality is that it makes it tougher to grow, both as a player and as a team.

Gruden has never quite relinquished a quarterback’s mindset. Heck, he says he’s still bitter about never getting a shot in the NFL. But maintaining that mindset helps him relate well to those who play the position. In Cincinnati, Gruden and Andy Dalton shared a strong bond. If that develops here, perhaps he’ll coax even more out of Griffin.

“There’s the physical tools to the game and then there’s the mental aspects, where you have to have confidence in everything you do,” Gruden said. “The quarterback needs to know that the coach has the quarterback’s best interests [at] heart. He has to understand that I want nothing more than for him to succeed. Obviously, he’s got my future in his hands. And it kind of works both ways. It would be foolish for me to think I have all the power: ‘You do exactly what I want. I don’t care if you like it or not.’ I think it’s gotta be a two-way street. It’s gotta be something we’re both interactive with.”

If there’s a disagreement, Gruden stressed that he has the final call. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. Gruden must be in control, and that concept must be accepted by Griffin. But if they develop a strong relationship, they can weather any storms. Last season, a storm turned into a tornado.

Griffin, now working out with teammates in Arizona, must smile at Gruden's words. It’s a new day for him: a full offseason and a coach known for building strong ties. All that’s left is to produce next season. If that happens, Griffin will give the entire organization reason to smile. Again.

Jay Gruden: No calls on Cousins

March, 26, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kirk Cousins let it be known early in the offseason he’d welcome a trade. The Redskins let it be known they didn’t want to deal him. And perhaps that’s why Redskins coach Jay Gruden said no team has called them about the third-year quarterback.

That’s fine with Gruden. Robert Griffin III is the clear starter, which is why Cousins said he wanted to go somewhere he had a chance to compete for the position. But the Redskins have a different mindset.

“You need two great quarterbacks on your team,” Gruden said. “You never know. The way Robert plays and the style he plays with you never know what can happen. Injuries are a part of the game. You need two excellent quarterbacks and we’re fortunate to have two of the better quarterbacks.”

Of course, another team could always call over the next month, now that the first wave of free agency is over. And teams did not have to call the Redskins about Cousins this week considering they were all in the same hotel. Still, there's no desire to trade him.

Cousins has two more years remaining on his rookie contract before he could leave via free agency. The Redskins could always opt to trade him next offseason, depending on how Griffin performs and if he stays healthy.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some highlights from Jay Gruden’s hour-long press gathering at the owners meetings:

1. He’s OK if linebacker Brian Orakpo plays out the season on the franchise tag. Sounds like he and the organization wants to see if his production increases, thanks to the promise of being turned loose more and also having an outside linebackers coach.

2. They will move Shawn Lauvao to left guard and keep Chris Chester at right guard. Gruden did not address Josh LeRibeus, but it’s clear from this move that there’s not a whole lot of confidence in him.

3. He certainly understands the importance of maximizing Robert Griffin III. He’s glad that Griffin needs to be reined in when it comes to his desire to push himself.

4. Gruden said if Griffin isn’t comfortable with the read option, they won’t run it as much. He also said he won’t try to stop him from running out of the pocket. Clearly, though, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. But Gruden wants Griffin to feel comfortable on the field. That’s a big issue.

5. He loves Jordan Reed.

6. Yes, they looked for some bigger linemen, but they want big guys who can move. As has been stated many times, they plan to use the same run-game schemes.

7. He’d like Alfred Morris to be a guy who could catch 20 to 25 passes a season. But he said Morris isn’t a natural pass-catcher; has work to do.

8. Gruden is a breath of fresh air. Though there are some things he can’t say, he was as honest as possible without crossing a line.

9. He’s not concerned about Griffin’s knee; wasn’t too deep on him playing without the brace and what it might mean. Why? Because he said the braces are so light these days.

10. He liked watching Chris Thompson at Florida State and seems anxious to work with him. But his durability is a major issue.

11. He said no teams have called about quarterback Kirk Cousins, but added that he wants “two great quarterbacks” because of Griffin’s style of play.

12. Gruden acknowledged he likes to have a lot of plays; apparently he was able to streamline that desire better during his time in Cincinnati. Does not want to overload Griffin, but says the third-year QB can handle a lot.

13. He mentioned the young safeties, but, again, I don’t get a sense that either Bacarri Rambo or Phillip Thomas will be the answer this season. Rambo’s play did not suggest he should be; Thomas’ foot and recovery from the Lisfranc injury makes him a question mark for now.

14. Gruden mentioned Andre Roberts’ versatility as a receiver. I don’t get the sense that the return position is solved by his arrival, however.

15. They're anxious to see Kory Lichtensteiger at center. As for Tyler Polumbus at right tackle, Gruden was a bit complimentary but I don't get the sense they're done looking for another possibility. Or, as they say, "more depth."

Redskins' owners meetings agenda

March, 24, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some things to watch for this week at the owners meetings:

1. Compensatory picks. It’s a complicated formula used by the NFL to determine who receives one, but a lot is based on if a team lost more than it gained via free agency the previous year. Or if they lost a high-priced talent. The Redskins' only loss last season was Lorenzo Alexander and they’re not expected to receive one. Here’s a good look at compensatory picks.

2. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said this week would also provide opportunities for trade talks, another way for Washington to potentially fill some remaining holes (in addition to the draft). They have little desire to trade backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, though that could change if another team made an offer that, right now, no one would expect.

3. It’s also not as if the Redskins have a lot of desirable players another team would want to acquire in a trade. They do have some excess along the offensive line, believe it or not, with a glut of guard/center types. But three of them are unproven (Maurice Hurt, Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis). So it makes little sense to trade for one, unless you're a coach who has worked with them like Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. But the Redskins deemed those players not ready even at the end of last season. What would make them desirable enough to make a trade now? The Redskins like Kory Lichtensteiger at center so he’s not going anywhere, and I have a hard time believing Chris Chester could be traded for a draft pick. And with only six draft picks, the Redskins don’t have a lot of ability to maneuver. That is, unless they want more immediate help defensively (Jason Hatcher’s window is probably two years).

4. The Redskins made a number of proposals that will be discussed this week. Among them: moving kickoffs to the 40-yard line; eliminating overtime in the preseason; increasing the practice squad from eight players to 10; having one cut during training camp, going from 90 to 53; increasing the active roster from 46 to 49 on non-Sunday or Monday games (except for Week 1); and using the “designated to return” from injured reserve on more than one player.

5. Jay Gruden meets with reporters Wednesday morning. It’ll be our first chance to talk to the Redskins' coach since free agency began, as well as a number of other issues.
The first wave of free agency didn’t solve every problem, nor did the Redskins expect that to happen. But they still have other ways to bolster their roster, with more players still available – and with the trade market starting to form next week.

When coaches and general managers convene in Orlando starting Sunday for meetings, league business will be discussed. So, too, will potential deals now that teams have a better sense of what they need – and don’t want.

In other words, the Redskins aren’t done. Far from it.

“We’re still having conversations with players and next week I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions about teams offering up players for trades,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said.

Yes, Allen will be receptive to such talk.

“I’m listening to them, absolutely,” he said.

Whether or not something happens is another matter. And it’s his job, of course, to find other ways to improve, and that includes trade talk. Yes, quarterback Kirk Cousins has said he would welcome a trade, but the Redskins have said they’re not interested in trading him.

The overall point, though, is that it’s tough to accurately judge their offseason right now. There’s too much of it left; too many moves they can still make in addition to the draft. Another wave of players will hit the open market after the draft after getting released.

The Redskins have hosted safety Ryan Clark, linebacker Anthony Spencer, receiver Kenny Britt, center Brian de la Puente and guard/center Mike McGlynn in the past nine days. All remain unsigned. Britt told Buffalo reporters Friday he would make up his mind in a few days. In addition to the Redskins and Bills, Britt also has visited New England and St. Louis.

“We have a lot to do,” Allen said. “Everybody here is focused on 'Let’s find another way to get better.'”

To date, the Redskins have added pass-rush help but have yet to solve their issues at safety, though they did re-sign Brandon Meriweather. They've signed defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, guard Shawn Lauvao, receiver Andre Roberts, cornerback Tracy Porter and linebackers Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward. They also re-signed corner DeAngelo Hall and linebacker Perry Riley.

The logical conclusion, based on signing Hatcher and franchising Brian Orakpo, is that the pass rush was the Redskins' top priority. That's where the big money went.

“I don’t think it’s any secret in the NFL the last 75 years that the line of scrimmage is very important on both sides,” Allen said. “Adding some depth is very important and that’s what we continue to try and do.”

Redskins must consider future contracts

February, 28, 2014
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When the Washington Redskins look at free agency this offseason, they also have to be mindful of the next several years. They have key contracts that will expire over that time, with players they would probably like to keep around. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that the salary cap, projected about $133 million this year, could top $140 million next year and $150 million by 2016. It had been flat for a couple years. So any increase would be good for Washington.

Here are some contracts that could be impacted:
  • Orakpo
    Linebacker Brian Orakpo. If it’s going to get as high as $150 million in two years, then the Redskins could afford to take on the sort of contract it would take to keep him around. He could be a smaller cap hit this year, perhaps around $7 million or so (in comparison, Clay Matthews' new deal signed last spring cost Green Bay a $6.7 million cap hit this past season). A long-term deal would start to pay him silly money in Year 3 (again by comparison, Matthews will count $12.7 million in the third year of his deal). But with a higher cap figure the Redskins might decide they’re OK with such a contract.
  • Quarterback Robert Griffin III's contract will be up after the 2015 season. Thanks to the CBA, the Redskins will have the option of extending his contract for a fifth season. It would be worth the average salary of the 10 highest paid quarterbacks -- this year, that would be about $13.5 million. That would lock him up through 2016. But his next contract is one they will soon have to start taking into account, especially if he returns to the level they hope. By the way, backup Kirk Cousins' contract is up after 2015. Teams can only use that one-year extension on first-round picks; Cousins was a fourth-rounder.
  • Kerrigan
    Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan's contract is up after this season. However, as with Griffin, the Redskins can extend his deal. They have a May 3 deadline to decide if they want to pay him the average of the fourth through 25th players at his position, which would pay him between $3 million and $4 million for 2015. Otherwise he’ll become a free agent. Regardless, he’ll be a free agent by March 2016 at the latest.
  • Running back Alfred Morris will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season. Because he was a sixth-round pick, the Redskins can’t choose to simply extend him. Morris was a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s stretch zone system. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay said they will use the same run game under new coach Jay Gruden. If that is the case, Morris should continue to pile up yards. But if Gruden wants to change it, you wonder how that could impact Morris. Shanahan showed that his system could make a lot of backs productive, but Morris has gone above the norm.
  • Britt
    Williams
    Left tackle Trent Williams will be a free agent after the 2015 season (he’ll count $13.7 million against the cap that year). He’s the anchor of the line and a guy who could play a long time.
  • Receiver Pierre Garcon won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season, but a couple more years like this one -- mixed with massive contracts by other receivers -- could lead to a desire to get something done before he becomes free again.
  • Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins is a free agent after this season. His play has not warranted a big deal, but a strong season could change everything. Unlike some of the others on this list, Jenkins would not be a big-money guy. But, then again, the Redskins gave Stephen Bowen a deal that averaged $5.5 million, and he was not an accomplished player with Dallas before signing.
  • I’m including cornerback David Amerson and tight end Jordan Reed together, because both contracts will be up after the 2016 season. Reed could be in line for a major pay raise, but he has to prove he’s durable. Amerson will have plenty of time to show what he can do. I'm not yet concerned with these deals because three years is a lot of time in the NFL. We'll get a better feel after next season, perhaps, at what direction their careers will go.

Keeping Kirk Cousins won't cause issues

February, 21, 2014
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Kirk Cousins made his request known. He has also made it known that if he’s not traded he’ll go back to being who he was the past two years: the good backup quarterback who does what’s asked and causes no issues.

“I won't lose a lot of sleep over the unknowns," Cousins told ESPN.com nearly two weeks ago. "If it doesn't present itself, then I enjoyed being part of the Redskins and look forward to being with them. Until I'm told otherwise, I'm a Redskin and I expect to handle the role as No. 2 as best I can."

Now that league sources have told Adam Schefter that the Redskins have no interest in trading Cousins, the third-year quarterback will have to honor that statement. Of course, there’s always the possibility that some team gives the Redskins an offer they didn’t expect -- and ultimately can’t refuse.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/John BazemoreKirk Cousins threw 4 TD passes and 7 interceptions last season.
But their statement tells two things: They like Cousins and want to keep him as insurance in case something happens to Robert Griffin III (or if he doesn’t develop the way they hope); and, two, they didn’t think they’d get the sort of compensation to make moving him worthwhile. Why give up a young quarterback, who still could play a role for you -- next year or in the future -- if you don’t have to? And the Redskins don’t have to make any move with him. If I'm Jay Gruden (and I turned Andy Dalton into a playoff quarterback), I'd want to see what I had before peddling any young quarterback.

Still, how will this play out in the locker room? Will Cousins be the good soldier he’s been in the past? It’s tough to see him being otherwise. One reason teams liked Cousins coming out of Michigan State was his intangibles. His desire to start is no different than it was in, say, Week 8 of last season. At that time, Cousins would spend his lunchtime studying his playbook, preparing as if he would start. I’d expect him to do the same in Week 8 next season, regardless of how well Griffin is or isn’t doing.

I’ve always thought Cousins was a good backup for Griffin because he always understood what his role is -- and that this was Griffin’s team. Cousins respects the position and the team aspect. But it’s also clear that Cousins won’t bow down to anyone. When he made it known that he would welcome a trade, Cousins was expressing belief in himself, that he was ready to indeed lead a team. Though his desire to start has always been there, the confidence that it was time to happen perhaps has grown.

Cousins’ three-game stint at season’s end did not show that he should challenge Griffin for the job. Griffin, though, understands he can’t take success for granted, and his offseason already shows that’s the case. Having a hungry young backup can only help push him a little more (as if he needed more motivation).

Cousins won’t make waves. It’s just not who he is. But he’s also not about to just accept his fate.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' contingent of front office people and coaches is arriving in Indianapolis this week, with plenty of prospects to meet and a glaring hole at quarterback at or near the top of their to-do list. The Vikings have the No. 8 pick in the draft, however, which means they'll likely need to move up or hope for some help if they want to get one of the top quarterbacks.

That's part of the reason we've spent so much time looking at the Vikings' other options for the No. 8 pick, and it's entirely possible the Vikings will still be looking for a young quarterback when their second-round pick (No. 40 overall) comes up on May 9.

Would the Vikings be better off dealing that second-round pick to the Washington Redskins for Kirk Cousins or to the New England Patriots for Ryan Mallett? It's a question they'll certainly have to explore.

According to the Washington Post, the Redskins want a second-round pick for Cousins, and the Patriots reportedly have a similar asking price for Mallett. Both quarterbacks are 25, and would come with some NFL seasoning -- Cousins has started four games the last two seasons for the Redskins, while Mallett has backed up Tom Brady for three seasons -- but they'd carry some risks, too.

Cousins threw seven interceptions while playing in five games (starting three) for the Redskins in 2013, while Mallett hasn't started a NFL game. The Vikings would have evaluated both quarterbacks as they were coming out of the draft -- and in Mallett's case, they would have passed on him when they selected Christian Ponder in 2011. There can be a tendency to over-value the hot backup of the moment (see: Matt Flynn or Matt Schaub), but in the case of Matt Hasselbeck with the Seahawks, trading for a backup can be a viable path to finding a franchise QB.

And if the price were a second-round pick, the Vikings would have to seriously weigh a trade as an option in the event they don't get a quarterback in the first round. They'd have to stack up Cousins or Mallett against QBs like LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Fresno State's Derek Carr or or Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, and determine if a quarterback with some NFL experience is a better option. They'd have to navigate the financial landscape with two quarterbacks on the back ends of their rookie contracts, and realize they wouldn't get the benefit of starting those quarterbacks in the most affordable years of their careers.

It's certainly an option, though, and as they size up their quarterback prospects, the Vikings will no doubt consider it.
Rick SpielmanAP Photo/Jim MoneThe success of the next Minnesota Vikings quarterback may determine the legacy of general manager Rick Spielman.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In his 17 years as a member of NFL front offices, through a career that's spanned three teams and taken him through two convoluted power structures, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might never have had more influence over a team than he does right now.

Vikings ownership scrapped its disjointed "triangle of authority" structure in 2012, elevating Spielman from vice president of player personnel to general manager and giving him full control over personnel decisions. The Wilf family decided not to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after a surprising 10-6 season in 2012 and fired him after a 5-10-1 season in 2013. Spielman got to pick his own coach for the first time in his career, hiring well-respected former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and heads into the 2014 draft with four of the top 100 picks, including the No. 8 overall selection.

Spielman could use that pick to take the highest-drafted quarterback in Vikings history. If he does, he could also be making the selection that defines the rest of his tenure as the Vikings' GM.

The biggest hole in Spielman's résumé with the Vikings -- which includes an otherwise commendable record on first-round picks, a shrewd trade for DE Jared Allen, and what appears to be a good return on dealing WR Percy Harvin -- is his inability to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Spielman came to the Vikings shortly after the team had used a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson, and didn't have to devote a high pick in the draft to a QB until the end of Brett Favre's two-year run triggered a youth movement in 2011. And now the Vikings appear to be acknowledging that the decision to pick Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 was a mistake.

"I haven't got it right yet. We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right," Spielman said after the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30. "I wish that you could get a quarterback [easily], and it's not. It's maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we're going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."

Spielman will have veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner helping him this time, and the GM might rightly conclude that the best decision is to take a defensive player in the first round, come back to draft a quarterback later and let him develop without the expectations (and guaranteed money) that often drive a first-round pick into action right away. But the Vikings would have to bring Matt Cassel back on a new deal or go another route if they want to have a veteran quarterback on their roster next year, and trading for a player like Kirk Cousins or Ryan Mallett would cost the Vikings at least a midround pick while offering few guarantees. More than ever, it's incumbent upon Spielman to get it right at a position he's struggled to fill since his days in Miami.

During his five seasons with the Dolphins, Spielman initiated the first of his two trades for Sage Rosenfels, a move he'd repeat with the Vikings. Spielman had a hand in the acquisitions of Ray Lucas and Brian Griese, and in 2004 -- his only season as the Dolphins' full-fledged GM -- Spielman dealt a second-round pick to Philadelphia for A.J. Feeley, only to watch the quarterback fail to hold the starting job as the Dolphins slipped from 10-6 to 4-12.

The Dolphins' 2004 season went awry in part because running back Ricky Williams went AWOL before the season, but a clear direction at quarterback might have helped the offense weather the loss of its best player. And for all of the Vikings' defensive issues -- and running back Adrian Peterson's nagging injuries -- along the way in their fall from 10-6 to 5-10-1 in 2013, there's a convincing argument to be made that the team could have won a mediocre NFC North if it had stability at quarterback. Frazier seemed to be making that point on his way out of town, leaving some strong hints that responsibility for the quarterback situation -- and who started games there in 2013 -- should be borne by more people than just him.

Frazier, of course, is gone now, and Spielman got his chance to build a more seamless football department by picking his own coach. He has outlived his gaffe on Ponder, and he has more than $20 million of cap space with which to mold the roster this spring. Ownership seems firmly behind him, and as the Vikings move toward the opening of their new stadium in 2016, their direction is firmly under Spielman's control.

But the stigma of his misses at quarterback still follows him around, and if he can't get the position right this time around -- especially if he makes what turns out to be a bad investment with the eighth overall pick -- he likely won't get another chance to change his reputation. General managers can often survive at least one coaching change, but the best ones extend their careers by finding quarterbacks.

To his credit, Spielman seems to know he needs to fix the position. All that's on the line is all he's built for himself in his time with the Vikings.

"I have confidence we'll get this quarterback situation resolved. I really do," he said on Dec. 30. "What that answer is right now, I'm not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place. And when we sit down and delve into what we have at this position -- what is potentially out there in free agency? What is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time."

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

February, 8, 2014
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Tried to get to as many questions as possible; tough to do. But in part 2, the topics include free-agent Bengals who might tempt Jay Gruden; Brian Orakpo; Chris Baker and positions the Redskins might target in the second round of the draft.

He praised him. He knew he couldn’t push for him, at least not publicly.

When it comes to Kirk Cousins, new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said what you would expect: that he likes him. But whether or not he’d lobby the Browns to trade for him is another matter.

"You're walking a fine line of getting me in a lot of trouble because I'm not allowed to comment on other people that are under contract,'' Shanahan told Cleveland radio station 92.3 The Fan Thursday. "So I can't really go to that aspect.''

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/John BazemoreKirk Cousins is reportedly open to a trade out of Washington.
Shanahan nearly got in trouble for something similar in Washington, when he discussed Peyton Manning and whether or not he’d want him -- before Indianapolis had released him.

Cleveland.com reporter Mary Kay Cabot wrote that a source told her it’s “highly unlikely” the Browns would trade for him. It makes little sense why they would: Cleveland has a quarterback it reportedly likes in Brian Hoyer, who should be recovered from knee surgery sometime in early spring. The Browns also have the fourth pick in the draft and most expect them to spend it on a quarterback. Also, there’s a chance they’d have to trade up. So why surrender another draft pick for Cousins, who would still have to beat out Hoyer? Minus the Shanahan connection, there’s little reason to believe it would -- or should -- happen. At least not for a draft pick that would tempt Washington.

Besides, Shanahan won’t have that much power.

Regardless, Shanahan remains a fan of Cousins, who has let it be known that he’d welcome a trade. Cousins informed the Redskins of this before Jay Gruden was even hired as a coach. Cousins also knew a primary topic during the coaching interviews was how to maximize quarterback Robert Griffin III's ability.

"I think Kirk's a hell of a player,'' Shanahan said. "That's one of the reasons we took him coming out of Michigan State. He did a good job there in college, and the times we needed him, he came in 1 1/2 games his rookie year, and he did a real good job and he got to play in the last three games this year, which it was good for him to get a little bit more experience.

"He had some good moments, and he had some moments I think he'll learn from, but I think Kirk did a good job for us and really was a good backup player for us out there.''

Five Thoughts: Kirk Cousins

February, 2, 2014
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  1. It’s not big news that Kirk Cousins would like to go somewhere he can at least compete for a starting job. But here’s the deal: You have to wonder why that story, by ESPN's Adam Schefter, came out now. There’s a reason: This is about Cousins being proactive in trying to push for a trade and reminding teams that, yes, he would welcome a move. It's not earth-shattering news, but that wasn't the intention, I'm guessing, of the story's genesis. He is not demanding a trade, nor is that his style. But he definitely understands that Jay Gruden was brought to the Redskins in part to help Robert Griffin III reach a certain level. Yes, I had heard that the idea was told to Cousins; I don’t think that’s news. By the way, any competitive person should want to be in a position to start. No one wants to stay too long in a place where, if things go right for the starter, you might never get that opportunity. That’s why, from what I understand, the notion of welcoming a trade was relayed to the Redskins before Gruden was hired.
  2. Based on previous conversations I’ve had with him, Cousins understands his situation rather well. That’s why he would not demand a trade. He has little leverage because he just hasn’t played enough, so demanding a trade would not be a good look for a guy who has four career starts and could lead to a burned bridge. Besides, if he demanded a trade, how would fans react? Even if they understood, it would not be wise. Here’s something Cousins once told me of being in Washington: “I love the fan base, and I love where I live. The problem is that I’m here to build a great career, and I can only do that so much in D.C.” Because Griffin starts, of course.
  3. Even in those prior conversations, Cousins was well aware that some teams would not be inclined to give up enough to pry him from the Redskins. I’m guessing his thoughts on the matter have not changed. One conversation we had centered on what his value was. Cousins understood that teams would compare their pre-draft thoughts on him to what they’ve seen of him in his first two years. Did their pre-draft grade match up with what he’s shown? If not, where has his performance been better -- or worse? It also will be compared against the current draft class. At one point it looked like this might be a deep group of quarterbacks. Not anymore.
  4. Some teams -- not all -- would definitely want to see more than four starts or eight games played before giving up, say, a second-round draft pick for Cousins. A first-rounder at this point would be highly unlikely. Although the Cleveland Browns are about to name Kyle Shanahan offensive coordinator and Shanahan liked Cousins, the Browns are said to be targeting a quarterback with their first pick. They also have Brian Hoyer (coming off an ACL injury, but if he recovers on time, he reportedly should be fine by the spring), whom the front office reportedly likes. Hoyer is not Aaron Rodgers, but he played well when given the chance this past season. If he’ll be ready and if the Browns are still set on selecting a quarterback, it’s tough to see Cleveland doing something. But this was an interesting column the Browns’ general manager, Mike Lombardi, wrote about Shanahan/Cousins. Going back to the picks, if another team does want Cousins, what would offset some of the lack of game action will be the opinion of Mike Shanahan, who saw the quarterback's progression in practice. How much that would help I don’t know, but it would be a factor, I’m sure.
  5. If I’m the Redskins, I don’t trade him -- and certainly not for anything less than a second-round pick. Although Cousins clearly wants to go somewhere to start, he’s also the sort of guy who would not be a problem if he does return. He’s a perfect backup for Griffin, and has been, for that reason. And if Griffin somehow is bothered by the competition, that’s a bigger issue. If Cousins returns, he will work hard, provide good insurance in case Griffin either struggles or doesn’t stay healthy. That’s who he is and who he has been. But he also will continue to show that he’ll advocate for himself, as the trade story suggests.

Green Day: Offseason issues await Idzik

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
7:00
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MIAMI -- It has been nearly three years since that magical day in Foxborough, where the New York Jets delivered their biggest win since that other magical day in the franchise's history, Super Bowl III, in 1969.

In January 2011, Rex Ryan conquered his nemesis, the New England Patriots, creating a big, loud and cocky green monster that figured to wreak havoc for seasons to come. But instead of the Incredible Hulk, they turned into Shrek -- ugly and goofy.

On Sunday, the Jets completed their third consecutive non-playoff season. It's their longest postseason drought since the dark ages of the 1990s, when they failed for six straight years under four different coaches. Their record since 2011 is just 22-26.

Without question, they overachieved in 2013, squeezing eight wins out of a young roster devoid of stars. Ryan did a commendable job in a rebuilding year and will return in 2014, the team announced after a season-ending 20-7 victory in Miami.

For GM John Idzik, the honeymoon is over. It's on him, and he faces an offseason with many challenging issues. Such as:

Augment the quarterback position: This is the biggest decision facing the Jets. They have to decide if Geno Smith is a true No. 1 quarterback or whether they should hedge their bet by bringing in legitimate competition. They have 16 games on tape to evaluate.

While Smith's late-season rally reduces the need to make a major acquisition, the smart play would be to add a competent veteran. Problem is, it's hard to find that guy, a No. 1/No. 2 quarterback.

Mark Sanchez fits the description, but there are health and salary-related questions, not to mention the entire issue of whether they'd want to re-create last summer's competition. Been there, done that.

An interesting target would be Kirk Cousins, who probably will be dangled in trade talks by the Washington Redskins. He wouldn't come cheaply in terms of compensation, maybe a second-round pick. That's a lot to surrender for a possible backup, but they have to look at the long view. He'd be an asset that appreciates in value.

They could go for Matt Schaub, the 2006 version of Cousins. Schaub would bring some baggage to the party, assuming he's released by the Houston Texans, but he’s still only 32 and would be a worthwhile reclamation project/insurance policy.

What about the draft? Unless Idzik absolutely falls in love with someone (Johnny Manziel, anyone?), it wouldn't make much sense to sink a first-round pick into a quarterback, one year after using a No. 2 on Smith. Jay Cutler could be the big fish in free agency if the Chicago Bears let him hit the market, but he'd be a disaster in New York.

Rebuild the offense: The Jets' skill-position talent has deteriorated steadily since 2010. Since 2011, they're ranked 26th in scoring, due largely to a lack of playmakers and poor quarterback play. They've ignored this side of the ball under the defensive-minded Ryan. It's time to pour money and resources into the offense so they compete in an offense-obsessed league.

They need a new tight end and two new wide receivers, preferably a game-breaker. Stephen Hill was supposed to be that guy, but he can't be counted on after two disappointing seasons.

The free-agent market for receivers is thin -- Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos might be the best -- so look for Idzik to address the need in the draft. There are a couple of good ones, Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and Marqise Lee (USC), assuming they turn pro. The top free-agent tight end is Jimmy Graham, but there's little chance he gets away from the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Alan DiazWill Antonio Cromartie, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2012, be playing in the Jets' secondary in 2014?
Spend money: Facing a tight cap situation last offseason, Idzik operated on a shoestring budget, doling out modest contracts. Cap space won't be an issue this time. With Darrelle Revis coming off the books, and with Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes likely to be released (a total savings of $16.5 million), the Jets will have close to $40 million in cap space.

In theory, the Jets could stage their biggest spending spree since 2008, the year they acquired Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace and Damien Woody, but Idzik believes in building through the draft. He owns eight choices, a total that could grow to 10 or 11 with expected compensatory picks.

This is "go" time for Idzik, a chance to show his acumen as a team-builder.

The first thing they should do is take care of couple of their own free agents, namely right tackle Austin Howard and kicker Nick Folk. Both earned long-term deals with their play in 2013. Linebacker Pace and guard Willie Colon are B-list free agents who have value for the short term.

Out with the old: Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie -- key players on the 2010 team that reached the AFC Championship Game -- are highly paid players with injury questions. It's possible all three could be playing elsewhere in 2014.

Holmes is a goner, for sure. They would've cut him two years ago if it weren't for $24 million in guarantees, one of the contracts that got Mike Tannenbaum fired. Sanchez fits the profile of what they need, but he's due a $2 million roster bonus in March -- and there's no way that will be paid. He'd have to agree to a massive pay cut, and that's unlikely to happen. Chances are, he'll be released.

Cromartie is a tough call, with a lot depending on his bad hip. His contract, which runs through 2014, is prohibitive -- a $15 million cap charge, including a $5 million roster bonus. He says he wants to retire a Jet, but let's see if he changes his tune when they propose a pay cut. Chances are, they'll cut him, letting him establish a market price before deciding whether to bring him back on a new deal.

Giants 20, Redskins 6: Ten observations

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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1. If the Redskins asked me -- and for many, many years they have not -- I’d tell them to bump Bruce Allen to team president, hire a young general manager, let him hire the coach and proceed with building your organization. It’s a strategy the Redskins have not tried under Dan Snyder. Allen is a negotiator/contract guy, not a talent evaluator. That’s not a knock, it’s who he is. But I’m not a fan of a head coach having all the power. You need to have checks and balances when it comes to acquiring talent; GMs have an eye on the future whereas coaches are worried about right now.

2. I don’t know who the next coach will be, but it would be good for the organization to have a young guy with energy as a head coach, someone who wants to prove how good he is -- not how good he used to be. And someone who isn’t just giving jobs to some of his buddies. That’s not to say Mike Shanahan’s staff was only filled by coaches like that. Nor is it always a bad thing. But there are definitely coaches you bring with you when you’ve coached that long. Even Joe Gibbs had coaches on his staff who were only in the NFL at that time because of their ties to him. Again: bring in some energy.

3. That is something the offensive staff had a little more of because they did have a younger group, from offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to several of his assistants. Of that group, I could see tight ends coach Sean McVay returning with a new regime. That’s not a definite of course, but he is well regarded and, as WJFK’s Grant Paulsen tweeted earlier, he has closer ties to general manager Bruce Allen. If anyone from the Gruden family comes, McVay almost definitely would stay. Not only do they have a connection, they share the same agent.

[+] EnlargeGriffin/Cousins
AP Photo/John BazemoreHaving two promising young quarterbacks under contract like Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins makes the Redskins' head-coaching job an attractive one.
4. The top two jobs available: Detroit followed by Houston and then the Redskins. That was also the ranking of one league source. The Redskins will be enticing because they have two young quarterbacks -- with Robert Griffin III still their future -- and lots of salary-cap space. But there’s a history of losing here and there is a lot of work required to rebuild the defense. And owner Dan Snyder must keep his distance from quarterback Griffin. It’s a look that could turn off some prospective coaches. That doesn’t mean Snyder must ignore him, but it would definitely be a turnoff for some coaches if they appear to have a close relationship.

5. The Redskins’ locker room was more noisy and filled with laughter than you would usually expect after a 14-point loss. But I can’t say I blame them. Even before the game I was told that the players were rather loose and clearly ready for the season to be over compared to the coaches who understood the gravity of their situation and reacted accordingly. It’s been a long season, but the locker room was a loose one. Was it too loose? At times I wondered, but it also was this loose last year and was one reason, perhaps, that they could overcome a 3-6 start. One note: Griffin sat in front of his locker with headphones on checking out his iPad.

6. Players will almost always publicly support a coach in the situation that Mike Shanahan is in. So you have to take that into account when you read players’ quotes. But I thought more players privately said good things about him as well, more so than for other about-to-be-fired coaches that I’ve covered like a Jim Zorn. Still, for some they know a coaching change also means they could be out of a job. And whether or not they like him doesn’t matter. The job is to build a winner, the Redskins didn’t and the veterans especially understand that notion.

7. Linebacker Brian Orakpo says he wants to return. He also looked and sounded like a guy who’s ready to test the free-agent market. If he re-signs, Orakpo would be playing for his third head coach since being drafted by Washington in 2009. Of course, if he goes elsewhere he’d also be playing for a new team, coach and, possibly, system. And money always plays a factor. So, too, will be whoever the next coach is in Washington and what defensive scheme they’ll implement. “I would love to finish my career as a Redskin,” Orakpo said. “We have unfinished business here. At the same time I want to have the best interests of myself as well. There aren’t too many times you can be an unrestricted free agent. You have to take advantage of that.”

8. A little housecleaning: Washington’s last 2014 opponent was finalized Sunday. Based on Tampa Bay’s last-place finish, the Bucs will play at Washington. The Redskins' other game based on a common finish already was determined; they will play at Minnesota.

9. Quarterback Kirk Cousins did not have a strong finish, playing against the best defense he’s faced in his four NFL starts. The weather conditions didn’t help and on too many shorter routes, receivers weren't winning. But if he had gone out and played well then it would have said a lot about him, that he could play well against a good defense in dreary conditions. But his throws were off target all day and he could have been intercepted several more times than he was -- and he was picked off twice. He was just inaccurate and forced some passes trying to make plays.

10. But the idea that he lowered his trade value assumes that he already had a certain value. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think people speculated based on what they thought Cousins would continue to do (and most teams would have wanted to see more anyway before unloading a high pick). Cousins still needs time to develop and perhaps in time he could fetch something of substance. For now though he’s looked like a fourth-round pick with upside. I wonder how many teams would have changed their opinion on him based on his four starts -- two good, two not so good. But he just didn’t make enough plays the past two games after having a strong outing against Atlanta. Nobody will work harder; nobody will study more. It would have been good for the franchise if Cousins had played well, but it also will remove a potential storyline next summer. Griffin remains the future. I’d rather keep Cousins anyway than trading him this spring (even for a second-rounder). You can trade him next year, but he still acts as insurance if Griffin doesn’t develop the way they’d like.

Rapid Reaction: Washington Redskins

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
4:25
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Washington Redskins' 20-6 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.

What it means: The end of the Mike Shanahan era, as he will be fired shortly, perhaps as early as Sunday night, according to multiple reports. Shanahan’s tenure will end with a 24-40 record after a 3-13 finish this season. It became clear in the past three weeks that Shanahan would not be coaching the Redskins in 2014 thanks to multiple stories that emerged painting quarterback Robert Griffin III in a bad light, among other things. That brought a return of the circus atmosphere Shanahan said had ended. But it’s tough to pin his ouster on Griffin’s influence with owner Dan Snyder. One of Shanahan’s complaints, according to the reports, was his dislike of Griffin's supposed close relationship with Snyder. Rather, Shanahan’s ouster can be justified from a football decision. In a bottom-line business, a 3-13 mark in a fourth season is tough to overcome. The Redskins last finished 3-13 in 1994, Norv Turner's first season.

Quarterback watch: Kirk Cousins played a full game against the best defense he’s seen in his NFL career, and the results weren’t pretty. Cousins was inaccurate on a number of throws on this wet, dreary day -- too wide on some, high on others and inside on yet some more. It was a bad all-around day for Cousins, who also threw two interceptions (one off a high pass to Santana Moss, which could have been caught). Another pick was dropped -- actually a couple of more were in danger of being intercepted -- and he also lost a fumble in the red zone. Cousins showed he’s still a young, developing quarterback. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he has not shown that he’s worthy of being traded for a high pick by any means. Nor that there’s any reason to think anyone but Griffin should be the starter in 2013. Cousins has some skills that you like and other aspects he must overcome. A couple of passes were dropped, but Cousins really struggled, completing 19 of 49 passes for 169 yards.

Record day: Receiver Pierre Garcon became the third receiver in NFL history to catch at least five passes in all 16 games. Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith (2001) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (also 2013) are the other two. There are better receivers in the NFL than Garcon, but you have to admire his consistent play this season -- as a pass-catcher and run-blocker.

End of another era: Linebacker London Fletcher played his last NFL game. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who was inactive because of a strained groin, corners DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, linebacker Perry Riley and safety Reed Doughty also will become free agents. All have been with Washington for at least four seasons. Any new coach will have a lot of holes to fill, which is what happens when a team goes 3-13.

Next up: Search for a new head coach.

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