With Redskins training camp fast approaching, 106.7 The Fan will take a look at each position group before practices begin July 28 in Richmond. Today we break down the quarterbacks, where three players vie for…two or three spots.
A year ago the Redskins entered camp with Robert Griffin III as the announced starter and Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins fighting for the backup job.
Shows what we knew. Griffin’s hold on that job was far more tenuous than the coaching staff let on. That was in part to bolster his own confidence and in part to keep distracting questions to a minimum.
How fast things change. Cousins is the starter now with Griffin off to Cleveland to try to resurrect his career. McCoy earned some stability himself with a three-year contract signed this offseason. And Washington finally added a developmental quarterback in Nate Sudfeld, a sixth-round draft pick from Indiana.
All eyes are on Cousins, though. He set a franchise record for passing yards (4,166) and led the Redskins to an NFC East title and a playoff berth. Pretty good timing. Cousins was set to be a free agent. Not wanting to risk losing him on the transitional tag for nothing, the Redskins bit the bullet and used the non-exclusive franchise tag.
It took Cousins two days to sign that deal ($19.953 million), which not only gave him a massive pay increase, but set his market for the future, too. That future, however, remains murky as the two sides failed to secure a long-term contract extension by the July 15 deadline.
Cousins is betting on himself that he can be just as good in 2016 and earn even more money. The Redskins get to see if last year was a fluke. And if there is another impasse after the season, Washington can always use the franchise tag again ($23.94 million) — albeit at a steep rate.
For better or worse, every game this year becomes a referendum on the paths the two sides chose. Cousins figures he’s under the microscope anyway as an NFL quarterback so what’s the difference. The Redskins cost themselves money if Cousins has a big year, as they could have gotten a cheaper deal done this summer. Or they find out last year was a fluke and they need to find an alternative quarterback.
Doesn’t seem like a win either way that coin lands, but they’d prefer the first, obviously. With an exploding salary cap and the price for quarterbacks always rising, they don’t think it will cost them players in other areas.
It’s still a risk. Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon need new deals. Defensive end Chris Baker is a free agent, too. Not to mention outside linebacker Junior Galette, robbed of a contract-year performance when he tore his Achilles tendon last summer. He’ll try to make good on that in 2016. Cross that bridge after the season, though.
For now, Cousins is the man under center and it will be fascinating to watch if he can live up to last year’s surprise. The contract stuff takes a back seat.
McCoy, too, is an interesting case. Remember, this coaching staff was ready to roll with him in the late stages of 2014. McCoy won a game at Dallas on Monday Night Football after taking over for the benched Cousins. Then Griffin returned from a severe ankle injury and was terrible for three weeks before McCoy was back on the field.
Unfortunately, a neck injury ended his season in December and a frustrated McCoy was left wondering what might have been. Last summer he struggled to match Cousins and was never really in play to be the starter once Griffin faltered.
But it’s clear the coaching staff has trust in McCoy. Gruden turned to him in 2014 and organizations don’t go handing out three-year contracts to players they deem expendable. With Cousins on a one-year deal right now, it’s not inconceivable a rough few months to start the year could give McCoy another shot. And, of course, he’ll be there in case of injury. It’s likely you’ll see him at some point this season. He’s become the forgotten man.
Meanwhile, Sudfeld is your classic project. At 6-foot-6, he’s a Joe Flacco type. Big arm. But he struggled in the East-West Shrine game and needs to work on everything from his mechanics to his footwork. He was the 11th quarterback taken in the 2016 draft class. This will be a nice project for quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.
The Redskins never added a young player at this position after drafting Griffin and Cousins in 2012. GM Scot McCloughan is going to take a scatter shot approach to adding talent here. With Cousins’ future uncertain — for now — and McCoy turning 30 in a few weeks, that’s an imperative. Maybe Sudfeld isn’t the answer. But they will take another shot in the draft next spring. And you never know when a young player becomes available via trade.
Last year the Redskins kept three quarterbacks, but all thought they should play so there was some awkwardness there. Sudfeld wouldn’t pose that problem. His job is to shut up and listen. But there’s always a chance Washington could try to sneak him onto the practice squad instead and use that extra roster spot on player who will actually see the field.
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