Part of what Ken Meringolo asks me to do is to answer questions from other SB Nation fan sites looking to write profiles of their opponents — specifically, when the Redskins are on the schedule.
This time of year, some sites do profiles of all the teams on the regular season schedule, and they will use something similar to the “5 question” format that is popular ahead of weekly games in the regular season.
Recently, Ken forwarded a request from Canal Street Chronicles, the New Orleans Saints fan site, who wanted answers to 5 questions as part of their 2018 season preview.
Why I do and don’t like answering 5 questions from opposing teams
I enjoy the opportunity to explain the Redskins and the team’s particular circumstances to opposing fan bases, but I learned last season that there are a lot of things I don’t like about the experience.
- It’s hard to know how much detail to include. Very general answers don’t really accomplish much, but the fact is, most opposing fans don’t want a lot of detail; mostly, they want a headline that is easy to digest. I tend to write more than they want to read.
- Anything I write that is positive about the Redskins, but that doesn’t fit with the accepted national narrative, is labeled “delusional” and I am immediately a “homer”. The reason for asking someone from Hogs Haven to answer the questions is to gain insight that might not be discussed by national writers, but opposing fan bases are usually quick to attack.
- Well-written questions ask about things that are unclear or controversial. I struggle to understand my obligation in answering those types of questions. In one sense, I represent an entire fan base, but opinion in that fan base is often deeply divided. Trying to explain the nuances of that deep division to opposing fans can be tiresome for both them and me. On the other hand, is it really fair to just give my personal opinion?
- It gets tiresome (with 5 questions in the regular season) to get the same questions from week to week. For example, no team in 2017, when I was responsible for answering all the 5-question requests, could resist asking about the Cousins contract situation. Having to answer that question over and over each week was like being tied to a chair and being forced to repeatedly listen to fingernails on a chalkboard.
- I’m always afraid I’m missing something obvious. I might, say, get a question about the most overlooked player on the team, and spend time talking about an udrafted rookie 3rd string linebacker who showed good tackling ability in the preseason, neglecting to mention a guy like Ryan Kerrigan, who probably is the most overlooked player on the team.
- I hate getting prediction questions. During the season, I get asked for a score prediction for the upcoming game. If I predict a win for the Redskins, I am a delusional homer (see item 2 above). If I predict a loss for the Redskins, then what kind of fan am I? Season preview questions ask for a season record prediction, which is an exercise in throwing darts blindfolded.
Now that I got that off my chest, I thought I’d share with you the list of 5 questions that the Canal Street Chronicles sent me, and invite you to participate.
I’ve already answered the questions and sent them to the writer doing the article, but I figured I’d show you what I wrote and invite you to do a few things:
a. Feel free to comment on my answers. What did I get right and what did I get wrong?
b. Use the comments section to answer one or all 5 of the questions yourself. What would you have said in reply to these queries?
c. We play the Saints in the regular season. Feel free to suggest questions that we can include in the 5-questions request that we will undoubtedly send them in advance of the Week 5 game.
By the way
If you were wondering, I don’t think Ken (or anyone else) is planning to do a schedule preview of this type on Hogs Haven. I know I’m not doing one.
Here are the 5 questions that were sent to me:
- What were the biggest additions and/or subtractions (not via the draft) to the team’s roster from last year?
- What was the biggest surprise move the team made - or didn’t make - this offseason?
- What is the biggest storyline heading into Week 1?
- What is the outlook for the team? Is this a rebuild? Are the playoffs in sight?
- Final answer: what’s your prediction for the team’s final record?
Think about your answer to those questions. When you finish, scroll down and read what I said in reply.
What were the biggest additions and/or subtractions (not via the draft) to the team’s roster from last year?
This is an easy question. Outside of the draft, the biggest offseason moves for the Redskins took place at quarterback, where the team traded to acquire Alex Smith from the Chiefs, bringing the Kirk Cousins hostage situation to an end.
After two consecutive years with Cousins playing on the franchise tag, and three years of the “will he or won’t he” question of a long term contract, the franchise can now look forward to three to five years of relative stability at the quarterback position. Jay Gruden gets a cerebral signal caller with excellent mobility and ability to go “off schedule”, and the team gains a true locker room leader. Moving forward with a quarterback that has Alex Smith’s track record of success, who is fully committed to the organization should pay huge dividends for the Redskins.
What was the biggest surprise move the team made - or didn’t make - this offseason?
We had a few surprises.
The Redskins didn’t do anything to improve the LG position, which was one of the most glaring weaknesses, and they allowed Spencer Long, a starting C/G to leave via free agency.
The front office traded for Alex Smith in the Week before the super bowl, getting a jump on the quarterback musical chairs game that normally doesn’t play out until March.
The front office allowed two outside linebackers -- Trent Murphy and Junior Galette -- to leave the team (though, at the time of writing, Galette has not signed with any other NFL team). Fans had assumed that the front office would make a serious effort to keep one or the other.
Given the Redskins history in free agency and the front office reputation for reckless spending, it was surprising to see the Redskins being among the most frugal in the league during free agent contract negotiations.
A surprise that was related to that frugality was that the team didn’t make a stronger effort to sign former Giant and Colt, Jonathan Hankins, to a free agent contract ahead of the draft, given our obvious need for interior defensive line help. When he came to Ashburn for a visit, it was generally assumed that he wouldn’t leave without signing with the Redskins.
But the biggest surprises came at the cornerback position. First, fans were gobsmacked when the team gave away one of our best young players in the Alex Smith trade in January -- Kendall Fuller from Virginia Tech had a breakout sophomore campaign as the nickel corner, and looked like one of our future building blocks. No one initially believed that he’d been traded, including Kendall Fuller himself, who tweeted that we didn’t need to worry, he was “safe”.
Once that trade had taken place, a lot of fans thought that the team might make an effort to re-sign Baushaud Breeland, a young and talented CB who was initially expected to be a salary cap casualty, but the team let him go anyway. Several veteran free agent CBs visited the Redskins and left without contracts, and it was surprising (and perhaps a bit upsetting) when the team signed the frequently injured Orlando Scandrick from the division rival Cowboys.
All in all, the way the front office approached the CB position was surprising, but trading Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs was the traumatic high (or perhaps low) point for Redskins fans.
What is the biggest storyline heading into Week 1?
Most of the ‘fireworks’ for the Redskins took place early in the off-season, so we don’t have a lot of hot topics under discussion.
Of course, there’s the question of what to expect from Alex Smith, but as a veteran in his 14th year, there’s a lot known about him even though he is new to the Redskins.
Fans are divided on the question of whether the Redskins have a successful playoff-ready team in 2018, or if they have simply made another stutter-step and re-started another ‘five year plan’ that will keep the team mired in mediocrity. But I would look elsewhere for the biggest storyline -- at least for right now.
I’m not sure if Derrius Guice will continue to dominate Twitter and newspaper headlines going into Week 1, but he has certainly done so in June and July. After being drafted by Washington, he has taken the town by storm. His first week in DC, he treateed 50 people to the movies. A few days later, he Tweeted that he was going bowling (like, right now) and invited anyone who wanted to, to come along and play with him. He was in the Capitol Center for the Stanley Cup playoffs, interacting with everyone there and Tweeting pictures and videos of the celebrations.
You and your readers may already be aware that, last week, in his (and the Saints’) home state of Louisiana, he sponsored a “GoFundMe” campaign to raise money for a local cancer treatment facility, including matching donations from his own pocket. After the target was achieved, then raised and achieved again, Guice sponsored a bowling party where he bowled with the participants, took pictures with all comers and signed autographs, donating all the proceeds from the ticket sales to the same cancer treatment facility.
During OTAs here in Virginia, he was the last player to leave the field daily, staying out and interacting with fans. While he’s spent his weeks off at home in Louisiana, during minicamp and OTAs he was routinely seen in the streets of DC, sightseeing and -- as always -- tweeting his experiences.
He is winning the hearts and minds of Redskins fans and DC residents in general. He is quickly on his way to becoming the town’s favorite Redskin. To me, Derrius Guice is the biggest story in Redskin Nation at the moment, but that may not last.
What is the outlook for the team? Is this a rebuild? Are the playoffs in sight?
That’s the $64,000,000 question, and Redskin fans are deeply divided over this question.
Jay Gruden was pretty clear about things in a press conference recently.
“[Alex Smith] has got to get it down by the first game. So, I think he is already close to having it down for the most part. Each game plan is going to change with different concepts depending on who we play from time to time. But he needs to get it down and he will get it down. That’s why we got him here. That’s why we wanted to get a veteran quarterback here that can adjust to different schemes and alert on the fly. One thing about Alex, he is the smartest guy I have ever been around, without a doubt, and he is in great shape. He can move around and he can handle a lot of different things. We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now. This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.”
In Jay Gruden’s mind, this is a one year process, and the Redskins have to win right away. I don’t think anyone in the Redskins front office thinks this is a re-build. If they did, Kendall Fuller would still be a Redskin, Alex Smith would be playing somewhere else, and the Redskins would have drafted a rookie quarterback. The Redskins intend to win the division and go to the playoffs in 2018, and they believe they have the horses to do it.
Final answer: what’s your prediction for the team’s final record?
I won’t pretend to speak for the entire fan base, because, as I indicated above, there is absolutely no consensus about where the team is. The Redskins have a new quarterback, a rookie running back, an unproven wide receiver group that features a free agent signed from Seattle, and at least three new starters on defense. In other words, there are tons of unanswered questions. If it all goes to plan, then the team could win 11 games and the division title, but if it doesn’t all gel quickly, it could be a losing season (which would be three straight years without a playoff game), which would likely cost Jay Gruden his job.
Complicating it all is that the Redskins started out the 2017 season looking very good in Weeks 2, 3 and 4 before injuries started biting way too hard for normal NFL depth to handle them. The Redskins were, by most people’s measures, the 2nd most injured team in 2017 behind the Giants. A lot of people saw the final 7-9 record despite all the injuries to be a good sign, while others simply saw another disappointing mediocre season.
The former group of fans believe that the team simply can’t be as injured this year as it was last season, so they expect a 10-win season and the playoffs.
The latter group points to the bad 2017 loss at home opening week against the Eagles when the team was fully healthy, the 4th quarter collapse against your Saints that knocked the ‘Skins out of any hope of playoff contention, and the no-show in Week 17 against a dead-in-the-water NY Giants team when the entire Redskins team looked as though they were sleepwalking instead of fighting to finish with 8 wins, and says that this team is incomplete and mired in the 6 to 9 wins-per-season mode season after season.
Personally, I think the team will finish with 9 or 10 wins and go to the playoffs as a wildcard team behind the Eagles, or (less likely) as division champs. If they don’t make the playoffs, then I predict that Jay Gruden will be interviewing for a new job in 2019.