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Future looks bright, if Washington Redskins re-sign Kirk Cousins

By The Sports Xchange   |   Jan. 14, 2016 at 12:50 AM
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ASHBURN, Va. -- Few expected the Washington Redskins to contend in 2015. By the end of the season, not only was the team in the playoffs, but it had identified a starting quarterback for the future and implemented a solid rookie class.

It was a good start for general manager Scot McCloughan, who decided against making sweeping changes in the front office when he took over last January. He also allowed coach Jay Gruden to make his own decision at quarterback and Kirk Cousins had a breakthrough season to reward that faith.

That is a huge step forward looking toward 2016, although the Redskins still have to sign Cousins to a new contract. He's an unrestricted free agent.

Don't expect too many staff changes in the offseason. Gruden overhauled his assistant coaches after 2014 and was happy with the addition of quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, offensive line coach Bill Callahan and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

McCloughan made his name as a talent evaluator in Seattle and San Francisco, and his first draft class paid dividends with five of 10 players contributing as rookies and two (Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith) leading NFL rookies in receptions and sacks, respectively.

McCloughan's reserved free agent philosophy paid off, too. He added nose tackle Terrance Knighton on a cheap, one-year deal and upgraded the defensive line's depth (Stephen Paea, Ricky Jean Francois).

But he was aggressive about adding talent any way possible. That's why Washington took a risk on outside linebacker Junior Galette, who was cut by the Saints for off-field transgressions last summer despite 22 sacks in two seasons.

It's also why the Redskins traded for veteran safety Dashon Goldson, a player considered a free agent bust in Tampa Bay.

McCloughan's top free agent signing was Chris Culliver, who patched a massive hole at that position before he sustained a season-ending knee injury on Thanksgiving.

But the front office helped during the season, too. Crippling injuries struck, with 13 players who made the opening day roster -- or would have -- ending up on injured reserve. A lot of those came early in the season.

To keep its roster competitive, Washington signed veteran cornerback Will Blackmon and inside linebacker Mason Foster, former starters elsewhere, along with running back Pierre Thomas.

Blackmon and Foster were starting by season's end.

The pivotal moment of the season? A comeback from 24-0 down at home against Tampa Bay that ended with Cousins directing the game-winning touchdown drive and spawning a catch phrase -- "You like that!" -- afterward.

Instead of falling to 2-5, the Redskins stabilized at 3-4. After powering through a tough stretch that included road games at New England and Carolina, Washington was 4-6.

But the downtrodden NFC East gave it a chance and the Redskins won five of their last six games to take the division title at 9-7.

Now, the question is how Washington builds on that. Gruden and his coaching staff are secure for now. It's no secret that McCloughan inherited that group, but so far he's empowered Gruden to do as he sees fit.

The Cousins decision was one of several where the coach's input was taken into account.

But it's also true the roster still requires upgrading. The Redskins need another large, solid draft class. The overall internal depth just isn't there.

But with two NFC East teams firing coaches (Philadelphia, New York Giants) and Dallas coming off a 4-12 season, there is still a window to compete, too. This is rebuilding on the fly.

Washington needs to get younger at safety, upgrade at inside linebacker, add depth at cornerback and decide if it wants to retain running back Alfred Morris or -- if not -- find a capable replacement to team with Matt Jones.

The Redskins could also stand to add a big, young wide receiver. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are approaching 30. The offensive line has plenty of youth, but could still add another piece, too.

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