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Point-Counterpoint: Will the Redskins be the worst team in the league in 2020?

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New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With free agency behind us and the draft complete, pundits are turning their attention away from roster building and beginning to consider what is likely to happen when the games are played this season.

Most of them are projecting the Redskins to be among the worst in the league in 2020, and a number of them say that the Redskins will be THE worst.

Are they right? Or is this just the national press showing its lack of awareness of what’s happening in Washington at the moment?

KS4GM: The Redskins Absolutely Won’t Be the Worst Team in the League in 2020

Even though we’re just barely a week and a half from the conclusion of the 2020 draft, some media outlets are already predicting that the Redskins will be the worst team in the league this coming season, and will end up with the first pick in the 2021 draft. Don’t get me wrong, during the 2019 season, the Redskins were an absolute dumpster fire.

Nevertheless, despite an absolute laundry list of afflictions, including:

  • Taking a young, inexperienced QB with their first round pick, and
  • Foisting that QB on a feckless head coach who was entering a “win now” season, and
  • Having their top offensive weapon go down for the season in a pre-season game, and
  • Firing said “feckless coach” after an 0-5 start, and
  • Replacing said “feckless coach” with perhaps the least creative offensive mind in the league, and
  • Rolling with a defensive coordinator, who, once fired at the end of 2019, was barely equipped to shuttle dirty towels to the laundry room at the University of Kentucky, and
  • Starting 3 rookie WRs, a practice squad tight end, and a 46 year old RB at the end of the season, and
  • Being managed by a petty and vindictive team president who squandered most of the value of one of the best left tackles in the game...

the Redskins were still able to finish as the SECOND worst team in the NFL. In this year’s draft, the number one player selected - Joe Burrow - was actually beaten out as the starting QB at Ohio State by our QB during the 2018 season. Our QB, who is 6 months younger than Burrow, and who spent much of the last year getting NFL experience while Burrow and his NFL roster worth of draft picks at LSU spent the season beating Northwestern State into oblivion.

While the Redskins’ 2019 was dismal, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about 2020. First, they added Ron Rivera, he of the 76-63-1 career record with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera is a dramatic improvement over Jay Gruden - and is universally respected around the league as both a leader of men and a defense-minded strategist. On top of that, the team added former Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio as its defensive coordinator.

Minnesota Vikings v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

On the offensive side of the ball the Redskins added Scott Turner, who, it appears, recognizes that NFL teams are not statutorily obligated to force runs between the tackles on every first down. They then drafted him “the Human Cheat Code,” Antonio Gibson, so that he could torment our NFC East rivals for years to come.

The Redskins are one of the youngest teams in the league, and their young players will be another year older and more mature. By snap-weighted age, the Redskins were the 6th youngest team in the league last year (their defense was 4th youngest, and has lost Josh Norman (32); their offense was 10th oldest, but lost Vernon Davis (36) and Case Keenum (32)). Daron Payne is entering his third year in the league, and will be 23 when the season starts. Starting QB, Dwayne Haskins, just turned 23 as well. Chase Young - the best player taken in the 2020 draft - and Montez Sweat will be 21 and 24, respectively, when the season begins. It’s entirely possible that the Redskins starting left tackle could be Saahdiq Charles, who will be 21 in June. This is a team with tremendous youthful exuberance, waiting to be harnessed.

In addition to their youth movement - 24 players from their 2017-2019 drafts remain on the team - the team added a bevy of solid free agents, including Kendall Fuller, Ronald Darby, and Sean Davis to the defensive backfield, linebackers Thomas Davis and Kevin Pierre-Louis, tight ends Logan Thomas and Richard Rodgers, and offensive linemen Cornelius Lucas and Wes Schweitzer, among others. All of those players add valuable depth to the team and raise its performance floor significantly. Meanwhile, the team moved on from the oft-injured Jordan Reed, team headache Montae Nicholson, and part-time matador, Josh Norman.

Finally, the team took the desperately needed step of upgrading its putrid training staff. After finishing among the most injured teams in the league for the past several years, the team fired Larry Hess and brought in Ryan Vermillion from Carolina. How bad were things? In 2019, the Redskins lost over $67M to player injuries over the course of the season. The league average was $24M. A younger, healthier team should translate into more wins on the field.

My current projection for the team in 2020 is 7-9, good for the 17th best record in the league.

Bill-in-Bangkok: The Redskins are Going to be Terrible

Kyle, you ignorant slut. I thought I was going to have to provide counter-arguments to your reasoning; instead, you went ahead and laid out all the evidence to show why Redskins fans are going to have to suffer through the indignation of being the worst team in the NFL in 2020.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t think the Redskins are doomed to some eternal purgatory of being the laughingstock of the league year in and year out. That’s not the case at all. I’m very bullish on Ron Rivera and the team...starting in 2021, when I think the RivEra will really begin to reward fans with wins.

But 2020? To quote George Harrison, It’s gonna be a long long lonely winter.

Let’s start with Ron Rivera and the coaching staff. Before we even ask whether this was the right hiring decision, it’s important to note that a recent study identified that teams that fire their coaches underperform the following season when compared to teams that maintain stability. On average, they improve their win total by 1.6 wins, meaning that, all things being equal, the Redskins could expect to win 4 or 5 games in 2020.

But all things aren’t equal.

We know from Ron Rivera himself that Job One in Ashburn right now is establishing culture. He’s said it so many times that I’m surprised he doesn’t just tattoo it on his forehead. I love hearing that, but under the very best of circumstances, culture change is difficult and time consuming. Rivera faces the unprecedented challenge of trying to change the culture of an entire organization almost entirely via Zoom.

Now, online platforms are amazing and allow us to do things that were unimaginable when I was just starting out in my professional career 35 years ago, and today’s young people have an incredible level of comfort with technology that allows them to get the most of what’s available. That said, I’m a teacher, and I have spent the last two months living the life of an online-leader, so I’m very aware of the opportunities an challenges that Zoom brings to a teaching organization — and that’s exactly what an off-season coaching staff and football team is, a teaching organization. Doing it via a computer tablet is a very poor substitute for being face to face on a grass field under the Springtime sun and sky.

Teams with established coaching staffs, established culture, and stable rosters will have an incredible advantage in 2020.

Right now, Ron Rivera is hugely disadvantaged. As you pointed out above, the Redskins have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL; the coaching staff is one of five that has the incredible disadvantage of not knowing the players on the roster, and the Redskins will be changing both offensive and defensive schemes at the same time they have to adjust to substantial turnover in key personnel (Flowers, Penn, Williams, Dunbar, Reed, Davis, Thompson, Norman, Nicholson, Keenum) all of whom loomed large in the team’s plans at one time or another last year.

Without even considering the roster, we’re looking being in the group of five teams that are most disadvantaged from the start by having a new coaching staff. The Giants, Browns and Cowboys each have new coaches as well, but appear to have the advantage of returning the team’s unquestioned 2019 starting quarterback; really, only the Panthers seem to have circumstances that may be as dire as the Redskins’ for 2020.

But, since you brought up the roster, and since it is so crucial to the success of the Redskins season, let’s give it some consideration.

The Redskins didn’t win the offseason. In fact, they now have more salary cap space than when starting. Free agency was largely inexpensive show-me deals and the draft was mostly about one player.

The Redskins quarterback room comprises three healthy bodies - Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez. I think the airing of Project 11 on ESPN last week can put to bed any expectation that Alex Smith will be taking any snaps under center this season. The three quarterbacks for the Redskins have appeared in a grand total of 24 games, and have experienced 8 wins in those contests. Amazingly, Kyle Allen is the most experienced veteran of the group, having played 16 games in 2 seasons, and he is the only signal caller on the Redskins offense that has any experience with Scott Turner as offensive coordinator — a 4 game stretch at the end of 2019 in which Allen started and lost three games.

The presumed starter, Haskins, was reported by multiple sources last season to struggle with learning the playbook and to display less than ideal levels of self-motivation. He is currently on his own trying to absorb a new (and apparently versatile) Air Coryell offensive scheme that should be significantly different from Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense, complete with an entirely new set of terminology. He’s doing this without the opportunity to get out on the grass and practice it with his teammates.

[Having] no offseason really hurts development of both passers because you can throw the ball around in public parks you want, but there’s nothing like offseason camps. This could be painful at times this fall.

Looking at other areas of the roster, I find it hard to imagine that any Redskins fan anywhere actually knows who our left tackle is. You speculated above that it could be 21-year-old Saahdiq Charles. You may well be right. And, while that may be good news for 2021 and beyond, in 2020 it leaves us with a young rookie who was suspended for 6 games of the 2019 season guarding Haskins’ blind side! Right now, in May — that’s the time that the coaching staff should be spending time improving his technique, teaching him the offense and molding his character. Instead, he’s at home with his tablet and a lot of time on his hands, completely cut off from his teammates and coaches.

Guard Brandon Scherff is the standout, but he’s one man and you need five to make a fist.

You listed the Redskins tight end group above as well. I’m not sure how you did it with a straight face. Logan Thomas, the 6-year veteran with career totals of 35 catches for 317 yards, appears to be the presumed starter on an offense where only he could make his starting quarterback look like the more experienced veteran. He’s backed up by Richard Rodgers, whose career is sort of the mirror image of Logan Thomas’s — Rodgers has also been around for 6 years, but while Thomas’s production has been “rising”, Rodgers’ production fell off a cliff. He has one reception for 7 yards in the past TWO seasons combined, and has pulled in only 13 total receptions since the end of the 2016 season. Some people are pinning their hopes on Thaddeus Moss — an undersized and not speedy tight end known for his blocking who, despite competing against what may be the weakest tight end class in living memory, managed to go undrafted through 7 rounds in the April draft. That group of players doesn’t sound like an NFL team, but the cast for a remake of The Replacements.

Look for a lot of blocking from this unit. And, that’s fine if they do it well. Maybe next year brings a pass catcher.

While any fan would look at the tight end group and wince, the running back room is full of potential. But that’s exactly the problem — it’s full of potential. The only proven performer in the group is Adrian Peterson, who is 35 years old and has always been fairly one-dimensional. While he was the perfect guy for Bill Callahan’s run-between-the-tackles offense, there’s very little to suggest that he’s the sort of weapon that Scott Turner is going to turn into gold for one more season.

After that, we get the bandage brigade, the JAG corps and the rookies: Derrius Guice (42 attempts in 2 years), Bryce Love (no NFL carries), Peyton Barber (one season above 500 yards; career 3.6 ypc average), Josh Ferguson (3 yrs; 19 carries; 1.8 ypc avg), JD McKissic (917 combined rushing & receiving yards in a 4-year career), Antonio Gibson (zero NFL experience, 77 combined rushing & receiving attempts in 2 years at Memphis).

What’s the most likely outcome here for 2020? That AD can deliver the goods at age 35? That Guice and Love show up healthy and stay that way? That the light suddenly comes on for Barber, Ferguson or McKissic? That Antonio Gibson single-highhandedly takes over the offense? Or that the Redskins limp through the season with a pieced-together group of veterans and youth as they struggle to figure out how to implement the brand-new Scott Turner offense in DC?

On defense, the Redskins are likely to have a fearsome pass rush, and that’s good, but 13 of a defense isn’t good enough.

Speaking of “not good enough”, have you spent any time thinking through what the linebacker group will look like? The leader of the group is likely to be 37-year-old Thomas Davis — a guy who has had a distinguished NFL career and has overcome more than most NFL players in his career — but a guy who is really here to teach culture and scheme. Is the nerve damage to Reuben Foster’s leg going to be okay? We saw what happened when we had to rely on Dunbar’s recovery from nerve damage. Does the team have the depth and speed at linebacker to compete in 2020 playing a 4-3 defense? It feels like the team needs another season to fill out the roster.

Here’s the question – can anybody cover a tight end on a sideline route because no one did the last two years.

Cornerback is another position that is paper-thin, with Kendall Fuller looking like the ‘star’ of the group. As things stand right now, we appear to be one injury away from having to rely on Greg Stroman, Ronald Darby, Jimmy Moreland or Danny Johnson to start. Hell, what am I saying? The group is so thin that we could see one of those guys on the field regularly even without an injury.

Far too much of what will be strengths for the Redskins in 2021 define the weaknesses of the team in 2020. It starts with a head coach who is, because of the pandemic situation, daily losing the opportunity to achieve his primary goal of establishing culture.

The coordinators are handicapped by having to implement a new offense and a defensive scheme and philosophy change via the internet, with no opportunity to get out on the field and work on it.

The off-season that should have been Dwayne Haskins’ best friend deserted him. He is home alone in his room with his playbook.

The “weapons” that he should be able to rely on are not complete. The most notable skills in the tight end group are the blocking of of UDFA Moss and the passing skills of former QB Thomas.

The running backs could be good, but that’s like having a bullet that might fire. You’re still gonna be nervous if you’re pulling the trigger in a time of need.

Nobody can feel great about the left side of the Redskins’ offensive line — especially since nobody knows who will start at either position. If nobody is the clear cut starter, that says a lot, and not in a good way.

An incomplete defense that is thin and loaded with questions at LB and CB simply won’t be able to stop many NFL offenses.

The Redskins may be the only team ever to come out of the draft with more salary cap space than they had prior to the start of free agency. The 2020 free agency period was largely inexpensive show-me deals and the draft was mostly about one player. This is a front office and coaching staff getting ready for the future, not a group focused on winning games now.

With a season of learning and another off-season of roster-building, this Redskins team is going to be very very good in 2021.

But that’s more that a year away. The 2020 version of the Redskins looks like the not-ready-for-prime-time-players. This is a team that will be disadvantaged for the entire first half of the season, and simply won’t have the chance to achieve much.

With a normal off-season program, I could see Rivera and his guys achieving 6 wins, but with the incredible disadvantage that this off-season has brought to teams with new head coaches trying to change culture and instill new schemes, the Redskins will be locked in a small group of bad teams that won’t make much progress this year. The competition for worst in the NFL will include the Bengals, Panthers, Lions and Giants, but, perhaps ironically, I see the two teams most closely associated with Coach Rivera, the Redskins and Panthers, picking 1 & 2 overall in the 2021 draft.

This is a team destined to win 4 games in a season when the offense will be put up a lot of passing yards playing from behind, and the defense will struggle to stop opponents from scoring because of an incomplete roster that’s just too thin at the second and third levels. The 2020 season will be one of transition and struggle that will test the faith and endurance of Redskins fans.

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Poll

Where will the Redskins be picking in the 2021 draft?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Top 3
    (642 votes)
  • 48%
    4-10
    (1213 votes)
  • 19%
    11-18
    (503 votes)
  • 6%
    19-32 (a playoff team)
    (168 votes)
2526 votes total Vote Now