With a new head coach, it’s fair to say that everyone on the Redskins roster is under pressure, but I think that the combination of performance, salary cap hit, positional depth and injury history can put some players at a watershed moment in their careers in 2020.
In this article, I’ll highlight six players who may have a particularly critical year ahead of them.
Safety Deshazor Everett
Everett is a 5-year veteran who has been with the Redskins since coming to the NFL as a UDFA in 2015. He started out on the practice squad and was identified primarily as a cornerback; he got promoted to the roster when DHall suffered a toe injury. In 2016, with the addition of Kendall Fuller and Josh Norman, Everett was switched from the cornerback group to safety.
Everett is a backup, and a special teams standout. He was injured for much of 2019, appearing in just seven games. Of his 196 snaps last season, only 38 came on defense — the rest were all ST snaps.
Similarly, 72% of his snaps in 2018 came on special teams.
Last season, I personally felt that Jeremy Reaves had outplayed Everett in the pre-season to earn the final safety spot on the roster. The coaches didn’t agree with me, as Everett was named to the 53-man roster to start the season, while Reaves was sent to the Practice Squad.
In 2020, I think two factors may work against Everett. First the number of roster spots that the team can devote to the safety position. Landon Collins and Sean Davis are locked in; additionally, Troy Apke was ahead of Everett a year ago, and should remain third on the depth chart. It remains to be seen whether the Redskins go with 4 or 5 safeties on the final roster, but the competition will be fierce.
Jeremy Reaves, who played so impressively last pre-season, will be back, and the Redskins used a 7th round pick on another CB-turned-safety and special teams player out of Arkansas, Kamren Curl. These three players will be competing for one or two regular roster spots and probably one spot on the Practice Squad. It’s a competition that I’m not sure Everett will win.
One huge factor in his favor is that the front office gave Everett a 3-year contract extension in November, so he has a deal that runs through 2022 at a fairly economical $5.6m ($1.87m APY). Of course, that deal was inked by Bruce Allen, so it may not mean much to Ron Rivera.
While Deshazor Everett probably has the inside track to retaining his roster spot, the competition between he, Reaves and Curl should make for an entertaining pre-season, if we get to see it played.
Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle
2019 was an interesting season for the former 2017 fifth-round pick from Arkansas. Sprinkle went into training camp virtually guaranteed of a roster spot as the #3 tight end behind Redskins star TE Jordan Reed and future HOF TE Vernon Davis. It was an enviable spot for a 3rd year player.
But injuries to both Reed and Davis thrust Sprinkle into a starting role early in the season, and he failed to impress; he had a couple of particularly embarrassing drops during the season on key 3rd down and red-zone plays.
The problem for Sprinkle is that he is now in the final year of his rookie contract. It appeared to many observers that UDFA Hale Hentges, picked up on waivers late in the season from the Colts, outplayed Sprinkle. PFF for example, rated Hentges #39 among tight ends, with an overall grade of 63.8, while Sprinkle was ranked 96th with an overall grade of 49.8.
This off-season, the front office brought in tons of competition — Logan Thomas, Richard Rodgers and Thad Moss being the most high profile.
Sprinkle seemed to be a reasonable guy to have on the roster as #3 behind Reed and Davis, but with the two star tight ends seemingly retired, the Redskins need to completely re-structure the tight end position, and Sprinkle in 2019 didn’t look like he was the answer to the team’s needs.
While cap hit isn’t likely to be the deciding factor at the tight end position this year, it’s worth noting that Sprinkle’s $2.2m cap hit is second only to Logan Thomas ($2.5m) among Redskins tight ends.
Sprinkle will probably need to have a very good showing in training camp and pre-season to retain his spot on the 53-man roster in 2020.
OT Geron Christian
Drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft, Geron Christian was always seen as an investment in the future. Well, the future is now.
Consider these 2018 post-draft comments from Mark Tyler:
[D]espite excellent measurables, he’ll need to add some functional playing strength to his massive frame. He has long arms (35”) and huge hands (10 3/4”), but he lacks the initial pop needed to jar defensive linemen at the point of attack off the snap. He does show good leg drive and the ability to roll his hips into his defender, but he’ll need to work on staying a bit lower in his stance, and not just rely on his length to “steer” defenders.
Before being drafted, Christian was considered an athletic tackle with long arms who could be developed. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay projected Christian as a second-round pick.
But doubts will persist with Christian, who hasn’t shown he is capable of being a full-time starter. There were questions internally about his play demeanor last season. Despite the mess that was their 2019 season — the Redskins finished 3-13 and fired coach Jay Gruden after five games — Christian started two games and played 138 snaps on offense, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They continued to start Donald Penn at left tackle ahead of him, even though they knew Penn didn’t factor into their future. It spoke volumes about their thoughts on Christian’s development.
It’s time for Geron Christian to step up and show what he can do. He has to dominate the competition in training camp if he hopes to achieve the starting potential that the Redskins thought he had when they drafted him. In fact, he may need to improve just to justify being on the roster as a swing tackle, backing up both the left and right sides.
The Redskins have brought in plenty of competition. In addition to starter Morgan Moses at RT, the Redskins signed veteran Cornelius Lucas to a 2-year contract in March, and drafted Saahdiq Charles out of LSU in the 4th round of April’s draft. Christian may even face strong competition from Timon Parris, a 2018 small-college UDFA who has hung around for two years, mostly on the Redskins Practice Squad, but also being elevated to the regular roster at times in both of his NFL seasons.
The Redskins have invested two years of teaching, training and conditioning in Geron Christian, and it’s time in 2020 to see what dividends that investment will pay.
No one doubts Guice’s abilities on the field. When he was drafted in the second round of the 2018 draft, most observers thought the Redskins had gotten a steal.
Guice’s rookie season never really got off the ground. He took ten snaps in his first pre-season game before going down with a torn ACL.
Last year, Guice was injured again — this time in Week 1 of the regular season — after taking a helmet hit directly on his knee. He was forced to sit out nine weeks, returning in Week 11. Guice managed 72 more snaps before spraining his MCL and ending his sophomore season.
Three knee injuries have limited Derrius Guice to 95 regular season snaps and 49 touches in a 2-year career.
In 2020, the challenge for Guice is not only to be productive when he’s on the field, but to stay healthy. Another significant injury could end his promising NFL career before it really gets started.
RT Morgan Moses
Some people will dispute whether Moses belongs on this list, but I think 2020 is a very important year for him. Moses has struggled in a number of areas over the past couple of years, and there are now a lot of questions surrounding him.
Moses has become a liability with regard to penalty flags. He had 11 flags thrown against him in 2019, tied for 14th-most in the NFL. This was actually a big improvement from 2018, when Moses led the entire NFL with 16 penalty flags against him.
Last season, Moses was charged with giving up 5 sacks, 25 hurries and 37 pressures in 542 pass-blocking snaps. His grade from PFF was 65.2 — is third straight year at 67.2 or less after grading out at 77.5 and 76.8 in his two best seasons, 2015 and 2016.
Moses is under contract until 2022, but, ironically, this contract may actually work against him if he can’t show significant improvement almost immediately. The Redskins brought in competition for Moses when they signed Cornelius Lucas in March. Right Tackle Lucas outperformed Moses in every measure in 2019 and offers the Redskins a relatively low-cost alternative.
By cutting or trading Moses, the Redskins could save $4.85m in cap space in 2020 alone, but would reduce salary cap charges by $22.25m over the remaining three years of his contract. Lucas, by contrast, will cost the Redskins just $3.8m for the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined.
Moses has been struggling for two to three seasons after playing very well in ‘15 & ‘16. His contract is relatively expensive at roughly $8.7m per season, he has struggled in pass protection, has been an absolute liability with regards to penalties, and the Redskins have a right tackle on the roster in Cornelius Lucas who outplayed Moses in 2019 and costs an economical $1.9m per year. Morgan Moses is definitely under pressure.
QB Dwayne Haskins
There’s a lot of sensitivity about criticizing Dwayne Haskins; many people feel he was unfairly treated last year amidst the Jay Gruden, Bill Callahan, Bruce Allen circus, which exempts the young quarterback from any criticism now.
I don’t take issue with the idea that Haskins didn’t get a “fair” chance to showcase his abilities in 2019. In fact, that’s why I think he’s under pressure in 2020.
The new Ron Rivera regime passed on the opportunity to draft a new franchise quarterback at #2 overall in April, but if the Redskins end up picking near the top of the draft again in 2021, it had better be in spite of Dwayne Haskins play and not because of it if you want to see Rivera again pass on drafting his own QB of the future.
This is the season in which Haskins has to show that he can run Scott Turner’s offense, lead his teammates, and demonstrate the consistent maturity expected of a franchise quarterback.
If he does these things, Haskins has the opportunity to buy himself two to three more seasons to establish himself as a long-term fixture at QB for the Redskins. If he fails to do those things in 2020, however, he risks seeing his name added to a long list of quarterbacks in Washington who showed promise or represented hope for the fan base, only to disappoint.
It’s early in Haskins career, but 2020 is looking like a watershed year for the young man. He has a great opportunity to impress Redskins fans and change the national narrative about him. The entire NFL and its fans will be watching to see how he handles it.