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The Redskins had their first losing quarter of the season, finishing 1-3. The only success in this quarter came against the 2-win Giants. The rest of the competition (Vikings, Saints and Cowboys) proved to be too big a challenge for Washington, though for most of the contest in New Orleans, it appeared that Washington was primed to pull off the upset. The final 6 minute of the Saints game may turn out to be the defining moments of the year for the burgundy & gold.
The Redskins gave up 110 points in their three losses. While it was not necessarily unexpected or embarrassing to give up 38 and 34 to the two division-leading teams, Minnesota & New Orleans, it was a shock to close out the quarter by providing a ‘get well’ game to Dallas, who hung 38 on the ‘Skins after mustering only a combined 22 points in the 3 previous games they had played in the 3rd quarter of the season.
The weak quarterly result has dropped the team below .500 at the end of a quarter for the first time this season. The team was 2-2 at the end of the first quarter, having faced stiff competition, 4-4 at the close of Q2, having suffered massive injuries. Q3 had been projected as a third break-even quarter that would allow the team to get healthy and launch themselves into a successful final quarter campaign.
Instead, the team sits at 5-7 and out of the playoff hunt.
The only goal left to strive for in the fourth quarter is to finish the season with a winning record. However, the front office and the on-field leadership team led by Jay Gruden will need to assess the importance of that goal against the long-term health of the team’s key players. The two tackles, in particular, Trent Williams & Morgan Moses, have been battling through injury for much of the season. There is an argument that they should be allowed to rest and recover — in Williams’ case, he apparently requires surgery.
There are two key problems with this kind of strategic decision making:
- It signals that the team has given up on the season, and that is the beginning of developing a losing culture, which can quickly define a team; and
- The health of other players — most notably, quarterback Kirk Cousins — is put at risk if Williams and Moses are not on the field to provide protection
The franchise decision makers now have some serious questions to answer in the fourth quarter, where the primary challenge now becomes balancing the short-term goal of trying to win against the long-term health of key players.
Other players whose health may be an issue for the decision makers include: Montae Nichloson, Jonathan Allen, Jordan Reed, and Chase Roullier.
Another consideration in the short-term/long-term balance
Aside from balancing the competing goals of trying to achieve a winning record and avoiding injury, the third competing goal is to get playing experience for individual players who will likely feature in the team’s plans and success in 2018 and beyond.
We’ve already seen the team sit long-time Redskin Deangelo Hall in recent weeks in favor of younger players, but that was primarily performance-driven. The coaches and front office might now be tempted to sit players who are not expected to return to the team next season and play younger, less experienced players who are expected to be on the team after 2017 comes to an end.
Some key players at risk who are not under contract for 2018:
Kirk Cousins - it’s simply not possible to sit the franchise quarterback (see: Manning, Eli. Giants). Cousins will have to play out the season as the starter, and the top priority for the front office this off season will be to try to sign a long-term contract with the signal caller.
Zach Brown - After signing a one-year deal with the Redskins late in the free agency period, Brown (along with safety DJ Swearinger) became key to the Redskins revival of the defense — in terms of attitude and style of play, if not statistical dominance. Many fans believe that Zach Brown should be signed to a multi-year extension during the fourth quarter, and there have been rumors in the press recently that the Washington front office is trying to ink a deal at the moment. Announcement of such a deal would be welcome news at a time when morale is low.
Brian Quick - The wide receiver joined the team this off season on a one-year contract. Many fans were disappointed to see him make the team over Maurice Harris at the end of training camp, but in the sole opportunity he had to shine Quick made a spectacular play to help the ‘Skins achieve victory in Seattle. Unfortunately, he was concussed on the play and was put back on the shelf during the 3rd quarter. It is unclear whether Quick, one of the most highly touted prospects coming out of college 5 years ago, is in the Redskins plans or not for 2018. If so, the fourth quarter could see Quick with a surge in playing time; if not, then he may have already played his last down for the Redskins.
Junior Galette — Like Cousins, Galette will not be protected in the final quarter — he will play. Like Quick, it is unclear whether Galette is in the team’s plans going forward. The former Saints star has been a useful rotational player throughout the season, but has not proved to be the difference-maker the Redskins hoped he would be when he first signed with the team three years ago.
Baushaud Breeland — The CB is another player who is not likely to be protected by the coaching staff, and whose future with the team is uncertain. Breeland has had a pretty good year following a ‘16 season in which he struggled quite a lot. Still, he has been inconsistent, and the Redskins may have to choose between retaining Breeland or Quinton Dunbar. With Dunbar’s status as a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the season, the Redskins may choose the cheaper option of keeping him and letting Breeland walk. Of course, if there are unexpected changes in the salary cap (i.e. if the Redskins let Cousins walk and draft a new starting QB) then there might be cap space to retain Breeland and Dunbar both in 2018.
Ryan Grant - after three years of disappointing performance, Ryan Gruden finally showed up in 2017 as the Redskins most consistent wide receiver. While it would have been inconceivable to anyone other than the Redskins coaching staff as recently as August, Grant now appears to be a priority signing for 2018 and beyond. Grant will not be protected in the fourth quarter; he will likely be a key to any success the Redskins have in the remaining four games.
Quinton Dunbar - The CB hasn’t seen the field much in the past few games, and may not see a lot of action in the 4th quarter, as the Redskins rely on Norman, Breeland, and Fuller at CB. As a RFA at the end of the season, there is a very good chance that Dunbar will return to the ‘Skins as a veteran CB in 2018.
Deshazor Everett - With Montae Nicholson hurt and DHall on the bench, Everett is likely to play nearly every snap remaining in the season. As a Restricted Free Agent (like Quinton Dunbar) Everett is likely to be back next season as a low-priced backup safety.
Ty Nsekhe - Nsekhe may play every single offensive snap in the 4th quarter of the season. The only real question is what position he will be playing. He is a Restricted Free Agent, and will almost certainly be a Redskin in 2018.
Some key players who are currently on IR that are not under contract for 2018:
Terrelle Pryor - while Pryor could be re-signed to the Redskins if they truly believe his season was impacted by injury from Week 2 onward, I suspect that he will be allowed to leave via free agency.
Shawn Lauvao - My guess is that Lauvao has played his last game as a Redskin.
Will Compton - Like Lauvao, I think Compton will not be offered a new contract in 2018.
Mason Foster - Foster will be an interesting decision. The 28-year-old has played well for the Redskins, but there may be an opportunity to upgrade the position in the draft. Spaight fills one backup role, and Zach Vigil has played well since being signed off the street. The Redskins may be looking for a low-cost option to get some more speed at ILB to complement Zach Brown, but to find a player with good coverage skills. Mason Foster could end up as a surprising (not shocking) decision to move on from a guy who has played well for the ‘Skins but doesn’t fit well into the 2018 roster plan.
Trent Murphy - Having lost the entire season to injury, I suspect the free agent market for Murphy will be very soft. I expect the Redskins to re-sign him to a low-cost one or two-year extension.
Phil Taylor - Phil Taylor will probably never don the burgundy and gold again, though they may offer him a vet min contract to come to training camp again in 2018. It probably can’t hurt to have him among the 90 guys in camp.
Spencer Long - Should be a priority re-signing ahead of free agency. Long is likely to be the Redkins starting center for the foreseeable future.
Dustin Hopkins - I think Nick Rose has made Hopkins obsolete. Rose is a slightly younger & slightly cheaper version of Hopkins, except for Nick’s total inability to produce an effective onside kick — something that Dustin is actually quite good at.
Other players who will be free agents at the end of the season:
- Niles Paul
- Deangelo Hall
- Chris Carter
- Tony Bergstrom
- Arthur Jones
- Tyler Catalina
Fourth quarter preview
It’s hard to project what will happen in the fourth quarter. To achieve a winning record for the season, the Redskins will need to win all 4 remaining games. Three of those games will be played against teams that will also be out of the playoff race, and — like the Redskins — won’t have much to play for.
But the first team up will be the Los Angeles Chargers, who are very much in the hunt for an AFC wildcard spot, and who are likely to storm into their home game against the Redskins fired up and motivated to try to get their 7th win of the season.
If the Redskins lose to the Chargers, it could lead to a total collapse in the final 3 games. By contrast, a win in Week 14 might propel the team to an end-of-season run against mediocre competition that could provide a reason for optimism through the off-season.
I’m going to set up a Straddle here — of the five possible outcomes in the 4th quarter, I’m going to say that the Redskins will achieve either an 0-4 record, or a 4-0 record.
In other words, everything depends on the Chargers game. If the team loses in LA, it will deflate the team, and they will go into ‘evaluation’ mode, losing all three of the remaining games.
Conversely, if they travel to LA, play well and come home with a win, I believe that will set them up to play aggressively in an attempt to finish the season 9-7, and they go undefeated in the fourth quarter.
Any season that ends without a playoff berth is a disappointment. But the Redskins played inspired football for most of the first half of the season against some very good teams. They have a chance to finish strong. If they can do that, then they can spend the off-season setting up the team for greater success in 2018. If they fold in the 4th quarter, however, it may lead to an off-season of tearing down instead of building up.
What will the Redskins record be in the final four games of the season (@Chargers, Cardinals, Broncos, @Giants)?
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