Here we are in the final week of the year, and depending on what happens Sunday night, it could be the final game week of the season for the Washington Redskins.
With the offseason quickly approaching, questions abound about the decisions facing the front office. We tackle a few of the most pressing in this week’s mailbag.
Thanks, as always, for taking part in the Mailbag. You can still send questions for next week’s installment. Email me at [email protected] with the subject line “Mailbag question.”
But first, let’s take a dive into the best of this week’s submissions.
In the Dec. 21 mailbag, you wrote that Washington can franchise Cousins and still have room for free agents plus re-signing a few guys including “possibly Chris Baker.” The “possibly” on Chris Baker got my attention. Did you mean that Washington might not want him back? That Baker wouldn’t want to be back? Or that the market might drive his price beyond what Washington can/wants to spend? I guess I’ve just always just presumed Baker will be back and the injection of “possibly” made me think about it for the first time. Is there reason to believe (other than free agency, of course) that Baker won’t be back? Pierre Garcon and Vernon Davis are free agents you also mentioned but without the “possibly” tag. So what’s up with Baker? I’d hate to see him go.
— Doug Brill, Easton, Pa.
Nothing is a given. We’ve seen plenty of seemingly core Redskins go unsigned by this team in free agency. I think Baker has had a solid season. He recorded 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. That’s down just a bit from last year’s 53 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles, but still solid. However, I think some within the organization would have liked to have seen a little more consistency and a greater overall impact from Baker. So, you never know. I do think it should be taken into account that Baker encountered new challenges this season, namely the lack of a consistent difference-maker lined up next to him on the line. Ziggy Hood and Cullen Jenkins and Ricky Jean Francois give good effort, but they don’t command double-teams. Last year, Terrence Knighton had endurance and weight issues, but he commanded attention and forced teams to account for him. By doing that, he often freed up Baker for 1-on-1 matchups. I’d still bring Baker back, but would for sure look for a couple of more impactful defensive linemen to go with him. We’ll see what he thinks his worth is, and how serious a commitment the Redskins will be willing make to him.
You’ve been pretty steadfast in your belief that Joe Barry will be our defensive coordinator next season. A lot of people have implied he’s likely to be gone, including Twitter accounts that claim to have sources, and Chris Cooley. Are you still as confident as you have been, that Barry will be back? Also, have you heard of any doubt inside the building that he is the right guy, and is hiring him a blemish on Coach Jay Gruden’s record in their eyes?
— Randy Strickland
I can only go on what I’ve been able to gather. For now, I get the sense that — while he hasn’t been flawless — there’s an understanding Barry really has had very limited resources with which to work. There have indeed been a series of miscalculations that have set the defense back. The failed free agent signings of Stephen Paea, Jeron Johnson, Kendall Reyes and David Bruton hurt. Those are four potential starters that were signed in the last two offseasons and no longer are with the team. The injuries to Junior Galette foiled plans, as well. Everyone inside the building knows beyond the re-signing of Kirk Cousins, upgrading the defense carries the highest priority. Some within the organization believe that continuity would best serve the holdover defensive players, and that improved pieces around them would make a difference. That being said, I don’t think anything is a surety. Not in the NFL, where a coach can sign an extension one week and get fired the next. You never know what coach or coordinator would hit the market and prompt the Redskins’ decision-makers to change their minds and pursue them instead. But for now, from what I can gather, it appears that Barry might have a good chance of returning.
Do you see Matt Jones returning next season? While he showed some flashes here and there, his fumbles, lack of getting tough yards and his injury history make me think it’s time to move on from Jones. At the very least, I think he will have a very tough time making the team next summer unless he has a huge uptick in his level of play in the preseason.
— Jeff Vass, Sunnyvale, Calif.
I do see Jones returning next season. He still has supporters in the building. They admit that he didn’t take hold of the job like they thought he would. But they like his physical tools and his potential. Jones has said that everyone from Gruden to Scot McCloughan has encouraged him to use the benching as a learning opportunity. They’ve encouraged him to continue to work hard and improve. He’s a third-round pick, and he’s only 23 years old, and he still has two years left on his contract after this, and it’s a very affordable deal. So, I see him sticking around.
How do you see the running back position playing out for the rest of this season and into next? Seems that Jones is not in the plans and Kelley was a nice surprise. Mack Brown has stuck around too and has playmaking ability. How do you see the depth moving into the offseason?
— Bailey Fink
If Rob Kelley is healthy, I see him remaining the starter on Sunday. If not, then I’d have to think Brown gets the nod, but that coaches lean heavily on Chris Thompson. This position will carry a lot of intrigue during the offseason and training camp. I think you’ll see Kelley, Jones and Brown all competing. Keith Marshall will be back in the mix, as well. And of course, Thompson is the reliable third-down/change-of-pace back. So, I guess the depth chart would go in the order of Kelley, Thompson, Brown, Jones, Marshall. At least initially. The big question is if management feels the need to add another back to the mix. Can Rob Kelley take another step forward in his development and become more well-rounded? Will Jones make the needed strides to earn his way back into the good graces of this coaching staff? That’s probably the biggest question. Jones drew praises from his coaches all offseason, but once the season got here, we saw him revert to the same problem areas from his rookie year. And what about Brown? He showed big-play ability in the preseason and on Sunday against Chicago. And although Marshall struggled in the preseason, he still remains largely an unknown commodity.
While this may be a bit premature, whether the Redskins are able to secure a playoff berth or not, how would you rate this season overall and what are you looking forward to most in the offseason?
— Brad Gillens, Orlando
I’d rate this as a season of progress. Maybe it’s not as dramatic as the Redskins would have hoped. But there have been improvements, mainly on offense. We’ve seen growth from Cousins, his offensive line and tight end Jordan Reed. The Redskins seem to have found a legit back in Kelley. Is he a star in the making? I don’t know. But he is an effective pro back. There are some pieces to start with on defense, but they need a lot more. This season has been successful from the standpoint that for a second straight year, this team is playing meaningful games in December. And playoffs or not, they will finish with a winning record for a second consecutive season despite facing a more challenging road this season (tougher strength of schedule, taxing travel schedule in the second half of the season). But even so, if Washington misses the playoffs, everyone will look at this as a season of wasted opportunities, and rightfully so. Losses to Detroit, Arizona and Carolina and the tie at Cincinnati all sting. Any one or two of those that could have gone into the win column could have punched the Redskins’ ticket to the postseason. This offseason should feature a lot of defensive upgrades, both through the draft and in free agency. The offense is in good shape (if they re-sign Cousins, Garcon and Davis). But needs abound on defense. So, you’d hope McCloughan and Co. get that taken care of this offseason, or at least make some significant progress in this department.