It’s getting later in the season, and for many NFL teams, the playoffs are in sight. But some squads are already looking to next year. As each club is eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Up next is the Washington Redskins, who were officially eliminated from the playoffs with a Week 11 loss to the Jets.
What Went Right
It’s hard to find much that went right for this 1-9 team, especially because they were a failed (bizarre) two-point conversion away from losing that one game. But if there’s anything to build on in Washington, it’s the young offensive core. Terry McLaurin has been arguably the best rookie receiver in football this year, averaging just over 2 yards per route run (a metric that’s been pretty good in telling us who’s elite at the position). Running back Derrius Guice, a promising 2018 second-rounder, missed all of last season with a torn ACL and most of this season thus far after undergoing meniscus surgery. He returned in Week 11 against the Jets, and while he didn’t do much damage rushing in his home debut, he ended Washington’s 16-quarter touchdown drought with this shifty catch-and-run:
On the same play... Dwayne Haskins' first career TD pass and Derrius Guice's first career TD! @dh_simba7 @Dhasickest #HTTR— NFL (@NFL) November 17, 2019
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Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/414bcK9I5b pic.twitter.com/fbgU6qVv9U
Then there’s Dwayne Haskins. The no. 15 in this year’s draft hasn’t looked great in his four appearances thus far this season—he has a 2-to-5 TD-interception ratio and is completing just 58.2 percent of his passes—but he’s still the big-armed, smart signal-caller we saw at Ohio State. With the right offensive system and the time to jell, this trio could be the foundation for the next competitive Washington football team.
What Went Wrong
There’s a lot to dissect here, but it all starts with Bruce Allen’s comment after the firing of head coach Jay Gruden earlier this season: The team president believes the culture is “damn good.” About that: Washington has gone 140-189-1 since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. His early tenure was marked by bloated contracts handed to disappointments like Albert Haynesworth and clashes with coaches like Marty Schottenheimer. In recent years, Washington has been best known for mismanaging its relationships with the most important players on the roster: First was the Robert Griffin III injury debacle, next came the yearslong game of chicken with Kirk Cousins. Most recently, star left tackle Trent Williams has blasted the team for mishandling the treatment of a growth on his head he said was cancerous. He said this week he’ll never play another down for the team. After going 7-9 in 2018, the team finds itself behind only Cincinnati for the no. 1 pick—and it’s important to remember Snyder and Allen didn’t plan to be here. This is the damn good culture that has led to a fourth straight season ending short of the playoffs. It’s difficult to imagine what the culture would look like when it’s bad.
Legendary DC writer @ThomasBoswellWP today:— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) November 18, 2019
"The prestige and status of the Washington Redskins within the D.C. area reached their absolute bottom — the lowest point in the existence of the franchise in this city since 1937 — on Sunday at FedEx Field."
If you’re searching for on-field reasons for Washington’s disastrous season, look to the offense. It hasn’t mattered whether it’s Haskins or Case Keenum helming that unit; the team has been putrid on that side of the ball. Washington ranks last in points scored—125, or 216 fewer than the team’s neighbors in Baltimore—and near the bottom of the league in yards. Washington is going to need a Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan type to turn the offense around. If only either of those guys had been in the building at some point.
The biggest question Washington will have to answer this offseason is who will lead the team on the sidelines next year. Interim head coach Bill Callahan (not that one, sadly) has done little to inspire confidence after taking over for Gruden. It’s unlikely he gets the full-time gig, but Allen and Snyder are unpredictable. Assuming he doesn’t, they’ll look at a long list of candidates, including current offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and maybe even Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. (It’s a long shot, but Snyder may try.)
As for the current roster, the team will first have to determine what to do with Trent Williams. He has a year remaining on his deal, and while his insistence to never play for the team again would make him a logical trade candidate, Washington inexplicably held on to him this season. An elite left tackle could fetch the team a small ransom in draft capital. Beyond Williams, there aren’t many key pieces that could leave this offseason. Washington’s free agents include Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Vernon Davis, Ereck Flowers, Donald Penn, and Jon Bostic. The team likely won’t extend itself to pay any of them, especially with the Alex Smith and Josh Norman deals still on the books.
Twelve months ago, it would’ve been unthinkable for a team to take a QB at the top of the draft after picking one in the first round the previous year. But the Arizona Cardinals changed that calculus when they jettisoned Josh Rosen and picked Kyler Murray at no. 1 in April. Dwayne Haskins now has six games to prove that he’s worth building around. If not, Washington could be looking for a signal-caller with their top pick.
While the draft order is being settled, Washington’s pick will surely land in the top five—and perhaps even rise to no. 1. This team needs a talent infusion almost everywhere. Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas is a likely target, but Washington may opt to pair Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young with Montez Sweat in hopes of laying a strong defensive foundation. Looking past the first round, cornerback is a clear need (perhaps they take Florida’s C.J. Henderson or LSU’s Kristian Fulton at the top of the second round), and tight end looks to be barren given the departure of Davis and unclear status of Jordan Reed, who was placed on injured reserve this season after suffering a preseason concussion.