NFL

Redskins getting it right, NFL power rankings, Telvin Smith and more

The Washington Redskins have been a dysfunctional mess for the better part of 20 years. Finally, a few hours of function might save them.

The Washington Redskins did something smart. Now the question becomes whether Washington can make two correct decisions consecutively.

After showing great restraint to land quarterback Dwayne Haskins at No. 15 overall, will the Redskins now show the patience to stick with Head Coach Jay Gruden through Haskins’ development?

Yes, the Redskins. A team defined by disaster over the past two decades, pulled off something of a coup. Washington owner Daniel Snyder finally did the best imaginable thing during April’s NFL Draft. He stayed out of the fray.

The result? The team didn’t panic and trade up to No. 3 or 4 and reach for Haskins. While the NFC East-rival New York Giants panicked and took quarterback Daniel Jones at No. 6, Washington uncharacteristically held firm. Then it took Haskins, potentially giving the Redskins a franchise quarterback for the first time since Sonny Jurgensen.

With Haskins, the Redskins have a chance to finally develop correctly. In the 2012 draft, they traded three first-round and one second-round pick to move up four spots, selecting Robert Griffin III. The immediate return was a division title. However, a knee injury for Griffin, his failure to develop as a pocket passer, and the complete dearth of draft capital saw Washington immediately sink back to the abyss.

Now the Redskins have Haskins, all their future draft picks and a head coach with a pedigree of elevating quarterbacks. In Cincinnati, Gruden was the offensive coordinator for Andy Dalton’s first three years. Dalton and the Bengals reached the playoffs each of those years, with the TCU product improving each year in passing yardage and touchdowns.

In 2014, Gruden arrived in Washington to find a disaster. He and former General Manager Scot McCloughan transitioned the team to Kirk Cousins and help turn a young starter into a player the Redskins franchised twice and then was worth $84 million guaranteed on the open market. Last season, Washington was 6-3 before Alex Smith got hurt, perhaps ending his career.

Now, for the first time, Gruden gets his own guy. While there are concerns about Haskins’ feet and ability to play outside the pocket, there are clear tools to work with. The New Jersey native was terrific at Ohio State, throwing for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore with the Buckeyes.

Again, all this comes back to Snyder. The day before the draft, rumors swirled about Snyder commandeering the situation and forcing Washington to trade into the top four picks. Factor in the late-first round pick of edge rusher Montez Sweat — a terrific value at No. 26 — and this class could set up Washington for the foreseeable future. While both Haskins and Sweat could be boom-or-bust players (all quarterbacks have risk and Sweat is a medical issue with a reported heart condition), if Washington hits on both players, it could be an amazing draft class.

However, Snyder has to exude understanding and patience this season. The Redskins aren’t a good team. It would be surprising if they make the playoffs or even seriously contend for them, whether Case Keenum or Haskins starts under center. There will be calls from the fanbase to fire Gruden if they don’t make the postseason. Snyder needs to stand by Gruden.

Gruden is currently a lame-duck coach, serving the last season of a two-year extension. The Redskins would be wise to extend him for another two campaigns before training camp. The move would provide stability and allow Haskins to grow in tandem with his head coach. The worst scenario is Haskins shows potential, the Redskins stink and Snyder fires Gruden, setting everything back. Washington has to be prudent and consistent, even if those traits are unpopular in the midst of losing.

For once, the Redskins have shown patience. They were smart, and it paid off. Now they have to prove those actions weren’t a fluke.

Power rankings

Top 10 rookies poised to make immediate impact

1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
2. Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills
3. Josh Allen, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
4. David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
5. N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
6. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
7. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
9. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions
10. Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Quotable

“We’ve got a three-headed monster that’s going to be able to make huge plays for this offense. Very talented guys and pretty much handpicked by (general manager) Ryan Pace and Coach (Matt) Nagy. I 100 percent believe in those guys.”

– Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on his team’s running back situation

Chicago needs its offense to produce at a higher clip than a year ago to sustain the team’s success. After losing defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, safety Adrian Amos and slot corner Bryce Callahan, the Bears will be a bit more reliant on Trubisky and Co. to score. If David Montgomery. Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis can pave the way, all the better.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill talk about all the latest NFL news and notes each week on Stacking The Box. This week, the guys discuss each team’s Vegas win total and go over or under. Please make sure to subscribe on iTunes to get all the latest episodes downloaded directly to your devices.

Random stat

The New York Jets and New York Giants have shared a stadium in the Meadowlands since 1984. There has never been a weekend where each team has hosted a playoff game.

Info learned this week

1. Telvin Smith stepping away from football this season

The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be without one of their best players in 2019.

On Thursday, Smith surprised both his team and the NFL world by announcing on Instagram that he wouldn’t be playing football this year. Smith cited “getting my world in order” as the reason, and didn’t shut the door on returning in 2020.

Without Smith, Jacksonville’s vaunted front seven takes a significant hit. As pointed out by Warren Sharp, Smith is one of 13 players in NFL history to record at least 100 tackles in each of his first five seasons. One of the best off-ball linebackers in the game, the 28-year-old was terrific in coverage, taking away backs and tight ends.

The Jaguars don’t have much depth in the area. Smith may be replaced by rookie Quincy Williams, a third-round pick out of Murray State. If so, he would join fellow rookie Josh Allen on either side of Myles Jack. Jacksonville still has a very strong defense, but the loss of Smith is significant.

2. Plenty of big-name free agents still available in May

The crux of free agency ended two months ago, but some of the league’s biggest names remain on the market. With their signings no longer counting against the compensatory pick formula, it’s a bit stunning defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Eric Berry and wide receiver Michael Crabtree are still available, among others.

With Suh, the Los Angeles Rams would like to re-sign him, but don’t believe he’ll play for an incentive-based contract. Still, the best move could be no move at all. The Los Angeles Chargers added Jerry Tillery inside but could use more help on the interior of the line. Suh isn’t the All-Pro player he once was, but could still be a force in the right situation.

As for Berry, he should get the classic prove-it contract. Including the postseason, Berry has played in four games over the past two seasons. While he did play every snap of January’s AFC Championship Game, there’s real concern whether the 30-year-old will ever hold up for a full season again. While the Cleveland Browns have been a trendy landing spot, what about the Atlanta Falcons? Berry is a Georgia native and his former defensive coordinator, Bob Sutton, is now an assistant with the Falcons.

Looking at Crabtree, the former Ravens wideout still has value. Crabtree, 31, has notched a pair of 600-yard seasons in ’17 and ’18, making him a potentially cheap option. He’s not a top weapon at this stage, but he could help a team like the New Orleans Saints. Beyond Michael Thomas, New Orleans doesn’t have a litany of options on the outside.

3. Seahawks have busy week with Ansah signing, Baldwin release

The Seattle Seahawks welcomed one impact player Wednesday. They released another on Thursday. After months of being on the market, edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks worth $9 million. Ansah turns 30 years old later this month and may miss the first month of the season because of shoulder surgery.

For General Manager John Schneider, the move makes plenty of sense. Seattle traded away Frank Clark to Kansas City for a pair of draft picks, leaving a gaping hole in its pass rush. Ansah isn’t Clark, but he has posted double-digit sacks in a season on two occasions.

Less than 24 hours after signing Ansah, Seattle made the release of Doug Baldwin official. Rumored to be retiring since the draft, Baldwin leaves the Seahawks as the franchise’s second-best all-time receiver behind Hall of Famer Steve Largent. In eight seasons, Baldwin amassed 6,563 yards and 49 touchdowns along with two Super Bowl appearances, two Pro Bowls and one title.

The Seahawks are prepared to replace him, though, with second-round pick D.K. Metcalf. It’s likely Metcalf will start opposite Jermaine Kearse, giving Russell Wilson a pair of deep-ball threats.

4. Panthers move practice facility to South Carolina in interesting development

Getting $115 million in tax breaks will always help move along decisions.

The figure is exactly what the South Carolina Senate is promising Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper for the construction of team headquarters and a practice facility in its state. The Panthers, who play their home games in Charlotte, North Carolina, will continue to play there, for now. But a short move south could be in the future.

One wonders how much all this factors in when it comes time for the Panthers to get a new stadium. South Carolina will be pointing to the fact that it was very generous on this project, while North Carolina will likely be expected to step up to prove it wants to remain an NFL state. It may not be Tepper’s main thought at the moment, but this funding sets him up well in the future.

The Panthers have been playing in Bank of America Stadium since 1996, making it one of the older venues in the league.

5. Dolphins make Howard the highest-paid corner in football

The Miami Dolphins have started their rebuild. First Josh Rosen. Now Xavien Howard.

After trading for Rosen during the second round of the NFL Draft, Miami General Manager Chris Grier locked up cornerback Xavien Howard to a record-setting five-year, $76.5 million deal. Howard, 25, is the centerpiece of the Dolphins’ secondary alongside safeties Reshad Jones and Minkah Fitzpatrick. A former second-round pick out of Baylor, Howard made his first Pro Bowl in 2018 after notching a league-high seven interceptions.

While the Dolphins are rebuilding the roster from scratch, Howard signals the first serious signing of the Grier regime. Rosen could become significant as well, although Miami could easily move on from him to draft Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert in 2020.

The Howard deal also sends a message within an organization that long has spent lavishly on outside talents. Grier is paying one of his own after eschewing big-money contracts in free agency.  It’s a culture change in Miami, and a much-needed one.

History lesson

The 1975 AFC Central was one of the great divisions of all time.

That season, the Pittsburgh Steelers took the division crown with a 12-2 record, en route to their second consecutive Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals earned the wild card slot at 11-3, while the Houston Oilers narrowly missed the playoffs at 10-4.

Incredibly, Pittsburgh went a combined 4-0 against Cincinnati and Houston. Take away the two games they played against each other and the Bengals and Oilers combined to go 19-1 against the rest of the NFL.

This was the first time three teams in the same division had double-digit victories.

Parting shot

In many ways, 2019 represents the last stand for this era of the Green Bay Packers.

The arrival of first-year Head Coach Matt LaFleur means no more excuses. Mike McCarthy and his slant-flat combinations are gone. The shackles Aaron Rodgers supposedly has been wearing? Gone.

At 35 years old, the time is now for Rodgers. The organization has been active in free agency, spending more money this winter than any other team on outside talent. Green Bay brought in edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, guard Billy Turner and safety Adrian Amos. In the draft, General Manager Brian Gutekunst further bolstered the defense with Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage in the first round before giving Rodgers a third-round tight end in Jace Sternberger.

Looking around the NFC North, there’s a window. The Bears remain a threat, but it’s hard to be phenomenal defensively in consecutive seasons. The Minnesota Vikings are talented, but Kirk Cousins is a question mark behind a leaky offensive line. Detroit has a quarterback in Matthew Stafford, but there are concerns all over its roster.

If the offense is again stale, and the defense again unable to get an important stop, it will be tough making any case that Green Bay is a serious contender moving forward.

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