Since the turn of the century, the Washington Redskins have been a team defined by turnover and turmoil. In those 16 years, the team has an overall record of 107-149. They have had eight different head coaches, a myriad of starting quarterbacks, and have only seen the playoffs four times.
The Redskins offense has consistently been the subject of much scrutiny. Over these 16 years, the offense has landed in the bottom third of the league in points scored a whopping 11 times. They finished in the bottom half of the league 13 out of 16 seasons, and have cracked the top 10 just twice(2012 and 2015). In the NFL, if you can't put points on the board, you can't win games.
Poor drafting, bad free agent moves, consistent changing schemes, and a revolving door at quarterback have all played into this offensive scoring drought. In this time frame, the longest tenured head coach has just four years of service with the team(Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan). Three of the eight coaches have lasted two years or less(not counting Robiskie who was an interim head coach in 2000). The team has seen eight different offensive schemes since the turn of the century.
How can anyone expect consistently good results when the coaches, players and the system that they run is always changing?
Well, things are not all doom and gloom at Redskins Park. Actually, it's quite the opposite.
The team is entering year three of the Jay Gruden era. Oh...great, you must think. Another head coach who probably won't see it past his fourth season with the team. But wait - this time may actually be different!
Gruden and his staff inherited a mess of a roster from Mike Shanahan, and had limited resources at their disposal to help mend that aging and talent-depleted group. On top of this, the team was still operating without a real general manager.
Fast forward one year.
Team president and acting general manager Bruce Allen and owner Dan Synder lured renowned talent evaluator Scot McCloughan to DC to become the team's new General Manager, and restore the pride and tradition that the team was once able to boast. Since then, McCloughan has followed a calculated approach to free agency and the draft, that has set this team up for success both now and in the future. The Redskins finally had back-to-back seasons with their top three picks in the NFL draft available to them, and McCloughan absolutely made them count in 2015, finding three impact players amongst the first three selections, and multiple role players and depth beyond that. Although it's too early to see the impact this season's draft, media and fans alike have lauded the team's efforts, seeing both star-power and value in our new team members. Josh Doctson, Su'a Cravens and Kendall Fuller all look to be big contributors for the team this season and beyond, providing both starting ability and depth to a roster that is beginning to develop an identity.
In year two under Gruden(the first with McCloughan steering the ship), the Redskins went from 26th(301) to 10th(388) in points scored, and won the division for just the second time this century. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Redskins have stability at the most important position on the field - quarterback.
In 16 games as a starter in 2015, Kirk Cousins set franchise records in passing yards(4166), completions(379), attempts(543) and completion percentage(69.8), and finished second in team history in touchdowns in a season(29), just two behind franchise leader Sonny Jurgensen.
So, can Redskins fans expect even more in 2016?
If history holds true, fans can expect to see progression from Cousins in his second full season as the starting quarterback. For comparison sake, Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers spent his first three seasons as a back-up, with limited playing time, before getting the starting job in year four. That season Rodgers attempted 536 passes, completing 341 of them, for 4038 yards and 28 touchdowns and a 63.6 percent completion percentage - numbers very similar to those Cousins put up in his first full season as a starter. In his second season at the helm, Rodgers bettered each of these marks, posting 541 attempts with 350 completions for 4434 yards and 30 touchdowns. He raised his completion percentage by one full percentage point, coming in at 64.7% for the season.
Now, I'm not putting Cousins in the same company as Aaron Rodgers just yet, so please, take this comparison with a grain of salt, but both of these passers, for different reasons, had to wait their turn to become their team's starting quarterback, and both took full advantage of the opportunity, although Rodger's record during his first season did not show it.
With the expected maturation of Cousins in year two as a starter, it will be important for those around him to step up. Last year, we saw Jordan Reed come through with a breakout season, posting career highs in receptions(87), yards(952) and touchdowns(11). He was rewarded in the offseason with a new contract which makes him the highest paid player at his position. If Reed can stay healthy for all 16 games, there is no reason to think he can't better his numbers from 2015. He is Kirk Cousins un-questioned top receiving target, and he'll be instrumental in helping this offense achieve new heights.
As a rookie, Jamison Crowder broke Art Monk's rookie record for receptions in a season, catching 59 passes. He is a mismatch out of the slot, and should only get better going forward, although with all the weapons on offense, and only one football, he'll need to make the most out of his opportunities.
Veterans Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson should be more comfortable with Cousins in year two. Chemistry is important, and the trio should take full advantage of their time together this offseason and preseason, and be ready to come into 2016 with a vengeance.
There are two wild-cards who are new to the Redskins as receiving options. First is rookie stud Josh Doctson. The 6'2" 206 altletic freak should have the luxury of being brought up to speed slowly, while he learns the nuances of the game from the veterans on the team. However, Doctson may be too talented to keep off the field. His size, combined with his amazing verticle leap, catch radius and body control, will give the Redskins a presence at wideout that they have lacked for a long time. Doctson could factor immediately as a red zone target, and could drive opposing defensive coordinators nuts on the outside in certain packages.
The other newcomer who could factor heavily into the offense is Vernon Davis. Scot McCloughan was in San Francisco when the 49ers drafted Davis, and he is intimately familiar with the tight end's talent and skill-set. If Davis can regain the form he had out west, he could pose a entirely new threat for defenses with both he and Reed on the field together.
The next piece of the puzzle is the offensive line. Trent Williams remains the key cog to keep the machine running. He will be joined by returning starters Morgan Moses(right tackle) and Brandon Scherff(right guard). Both players ended the season on high notes and are expected to take their games to the next level in 2016. Left guard and center are a little more cloudy for the moment, but it's not due to a lack of options. The health of Shawn Lauvao will be key as to who gets the start at left guard. If Lauvao is still hampered by his ailing ankles(which he got surgery on in 2015), the job could go to 2015 starter Spencer Long, or second year pro Arie Kouandjio. Long should also be given an opportunity to battle for the starting center position this training camp, against veterans Kory Lichtensteiger, Josh LeRibeus and second year player Austin Reiter. If the philosophy of "may the best man win" holds true, the Redskins should be in good shape heading into 2016. The importance of establishing a solid rushing attack will be vital for this offense. The Redskins have the talent to get it done. They just need to bond as a unit, and continue to improve.
Speaking of the running game, the biggest question will revolve around Matt Jones, and how he will handle the pressure of being the lead back in Gruden's offense. Franchise favorite Alfred Morris has departed to the rival Cowboys, leaving Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and rookie speedster Keith Marshall backing up Jones. If the running game can step up to take some pressure off Cousins and the passing attack, this offense could be in for some very big things!
The pieces are in place for a run at franchise excellence from this offense under Jay Gruden. On paper, this unit could be one of the best units in the league in 2016, but we all know games are not played on paper. For the Redskins to be taken seriously by the rest of the league, media and fans, they will have to put up some historic franchise offensive numbers - those type of numbers which fans of the team are not used to seeing around here.
Redskins Franchise Records:
Points in a season - 541(1983)
Rushing TD's in a season - 24(Riggins - 1983)
Passing TD's in a season - 31(Jurgensen - 1967)
Receiving TD's in a season - 12(4 players tied)
Points scored in a season - 161(Moseley - 1983)
Passing yards in a season - 4166(Cousins - 2015)
Rushing yards in a season - 1613(Morris - 2012)
Receiving yards in a season - 1483(Moss - 2005)
Which, if any, of these franchise records can be broken in 2016?