It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Football is back, and with lots of off season changes. Big free agency signings came in waves, and suspensions were thrown around like putty. But the regular season is here. That means teams will be battling on the field rather than off.
In Part 1 of my NFC East Preview, I’ll take a look at the Redskins and Eagles. These two teams are the most interesting in the division; one is trending towards Super Bowl-or-Bust, while the other is scrambling to get out of its own purgatory.
You can guess which is which.
DE/DT Stephen Paea, DE/DT Ricky Jean-Francois, NT Terrance Knighton, CB Chris Culliver, S Dashon Goldson, S Jeron Johnson.
Early Draft Picks:
G/OT Brandon Scherff, DE/OLB Preston Smith, RB Matt Jones, WR Jamison Crowder, G Arie Kouandjio, LB Martrell Spaight.
RB Roy Helu, WR Leonard Hankerson, OT Tyler Polumbus, G Chris Chester, DE/DT Jarvis Jenkins, DE/DT Stephen Bowen, NT Barry Cofield, DE/OLB Brian Orakpo, CB E.J. Biggers, S Brandon Meriweather, S Ryan Clark.
Ah, its time for another season of ‘Skins football.
What do the fans have in store this year?
To begin, lets take a look at the FedEx Field grass in late 2014.
It’s dirty and mismanaged. Neglected and cheap.
Players say they slip on that grass more than most other stadiums in the NFL. Pierre Garcon, Washington’s second-best wide receiver, said the conditions were “bad all year.”
Somehow, the quality of the field is worse than the team that plays on it. Maybe that’s why President Bruce Allen said that the team was “winning off the field” at the end of a press conference last year. No, not on the field; that seems impossible due to the quality of the surface.
Combine terrible free agency decisions with convoluted and backwards methods of ownership, and you have the Washington Redskins; Allen’s quote and the state of FedEx are two excellent rubrics by which to judge this franchise.
Nevertheless, let’s look at two “Good” and one “Bad” for 2015.
Robert Griffin’s Last Chance (Good)
Yes, the Redskins did pick up the $16 million team option on his contract for the 2016 season. This shows that they still believe RG3’s rookie season is still hidden under his myriad of lower-body injuries. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, and the majority of the team’s fans share in that opinion.
With both Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy sitting behind Griffin, this year is his last chance at the starting job. You can’t have a confidently organized team with three quarterbacks capable of starting (and making starter money) on the roster.
The rosters of all successful franchises over the past few decades boast a top-ten starting quarterback followed by a capable backup. That’s it. Too many distractions are created with three around equal skill.
Therefore, Griffin getting one last shot in both the fan’s and coaches’ eyes is a good thing for the franchise. His play might not improve as much as it would have without the 2016 option, but it will naturally due to increased pressure from the bench.
Three Season-Ending Injuries — Already (Bad)
Five minutes into the first preseason game, starting tight end Niles Paul was carried off on a stretcher, holding an air cast onto a fractured ankle. Paul had put on 15 pounds of muscle over the off season in preparation for the starting tight-end job, and looked increasingly agile and spry.
His presence on the field was sorely needed due to absolutely no depth behind him — backup Logan Paulsen is already out for the year, and the rarely-healthy Jordan Reed is dealing with multiple injuries.
A few hours later, Paul was declared out for the season. Even his career is in jeopardy. But life goes on, and the game continued.
In the third quarter, running back Silas Redd Jr. took an awkward fall during a carry. Redd projected to be the #2 or #3 back on the depth chart behind Alfred Morris, and was planning to build on his decent performance last season after being signed as a free agent.
Well, as is the Redskin’s luck, Redd was declared out for the year.
Three season-enders before the real season even starts? No bueno.
A Top Offensive Lineman — Other than Trent Williams — Will Be on the Field (Good)
Scott McCloughan made a good impression throughout his first draft as the ‘Skins GM. Taking Scherff — regardless of which position he plays — was a great move. This franchise was mired in terrible draft choices over the past decade, with the only highlights being Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Williams, and Alfred Morris.
You have to consider the amount of picks that were lost in the RG3-swap with the Rams, but throwing away their limited opportunities has pushed this team into the dungeon of the NFC East.
Scherff, who was pinned as the best blocker in his class, largely played guard in college. He’s projected to be at his best in that position in the NFL. But the ‘Skins want him to play right tackle, opposite one of the NFL’s better lineman in Trent Williams.
His short arms and tendency to get blown by, even on the inside, could prove troublesome this year. Nevertheless, he is an upgrade over anyone the Skins would have put there.
Even if tackle doesn’t work out, this pick is a good sign for the future. Scott showed that he knew what he was doing with the 49ers, and brings that experience and expertise to Washington.
It’ll Be Another Year in the Doldrums
The Redskins have been the NFL’s worst for a while. Maybe not in final record, but in professionalism and decision-making. The owner doesn’t care about winning as much as he does revenue, so its unlikely the franchise will get anywhere with such an attitude.
However, the addition of Scott McCloughan is a step in the right direction. He’s already made some good moves (see above). But until consistent quarterback play and semi-reliable defense returns to the nation’s capital, this team will continue to lose. A lot.
QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Ryan Mathews, WR Miles Austin, ILB Kiko Alonso, ILB Brad Jones, CB Byron Maxwell, CB Walter Thurmond, CB E.J. Biggers.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Nelson Agholor, CB/S Eric Rowe, LB Jordan Hicks.
QB Nick Foles, RB LeSean McCoy, RB Chris Polk, WR Jeremy Maclin, TE James Casey, G Evan Mathis, G Todd Herremans, DE/OLB Trent Cole, ILB Casey Matthews, CB Cary Williams, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Nate Allen.
CHIP KELLY: CRAZY!
CHIP KELLY: GENIUS!
These headlines will grace the top of Philly sports pages at the end of this season, at least in some form. The Chip Kelly experiment has begun, and now its up to the players to decide whether he gets cast in a favorable or negative light.
Trading away Nick Foles and LeSean Mccoy? An extremely risky gamble, but one that he believes will only improve his squad.
The questions are aplenty. Is Sam Bradford a better choice than Foles? Can DeMarco Murray succeed with Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans gone? Was Kiko Alonso worth McCoy?
Lets look at one “Good” and two “Bad” for 2015.
Top of the Roster Turnover (Good?)
The new additions look great on their own. Bradford, Murray, Ryan Mathews, Miles Austin, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell. These cover a wide range of positions that Kelly thought weren’t working out.
Looking at it in a purely objective sense, he’s right. The Eagles haven’t made any noise since the 2008 season, when they lost to the Cardinals in the championship game. Since then, they’ve lost three wild card games, and seen great players come and go (McNabb, Westbrook).
However, the lost list outweighs the adds. Foles, McCoy, Mathis, Trent Cole, and Jeremy Maclin all gone — among many others. These guys were the center of the roster and locker room. How will the team and city deal with the subtractions? It’s Philly, so probably not well.
There isn’t really any way to know whether the moves will work. But considering where this franchise is at, it was one of the better offseason strategies they could have committed to.
Below-Average Defense Replaced With More Expensive, Average Defense (Bad)
The Eagles offense was a machine last year, scoring 30 ppg. Their defense is what lost them games, allowing 25. One of the more infamous members of that unit is in Nate Allen (even though their secondary was atrocious, he was the least bad). Kelly and Co. attempted to replace him and others lost by handing big money to Byron Maxwell (6 years, $63 million) and drafting Eric Rowe with their second pick.
I’m not sure I like these moves. Sure, it didn’t work out before, so change was needed. But why give more money to new players (two more cornerbacks were signed in free agency) when other areas could be improved to give a “crutch” to the secondary.
For example, more money could be used to grab a better backup running back with the loss of McCoy. Kiko Alonso (above) came in that deal, and will greatly improve that front seven if he can stay healthy. Kelly saw a need in his defense, and filled it.
But in exchange for his star running back? The defense allowed four less points than the offense did last year, but that gap might close with McCoy gone and no other reliable back besides Sproles. Why? I explain in the next “Bad.”
Injuries, Injuries, and more Injuries (Bad)
LeSean McCoy declined greatly in 2014, and looks to only have three good years left in him. But one good thing about him was that he rarely got injured. You could count on him to be in the backfield, and that is crucial for coaches.
Now he’s gone, and in steps Murray, along with Alonso, Ryan Mathews, Sam Bradford, and Walter Thurmond. Some of the bigger additions meant to replace losses are extremely injury prone. Murray has an extensive injury history, and carried the ball almost 400 times last season. That’s a big workload.
Bradford isn’t much better than Foles, especially in a Chip Kelly offense that focuses on tempo and movement. Bradford can’t even move on his own at this point (he was limping around at OTAs) and his injury odds are greater in Philly than in St. Louis. Matthews is a bust due to his injury history, and its almost a sure thing that Sproles will get more carries.
Kiko Alonso missed all of last year with a Torn ACL, and that can really hurt a linebacker’s ability to get in good position for tackles. Walter Thurmond, a cornerback, was hurt almost his whole career with the Giants.
I could see this tweet coming out in many forms throughout the season. Its not just that the Eagles are relying on their top players to stay healthy, their backups are injury prone. Kelly is relying on the injury bug to bite another team, and that is a battle coaches rarely win.
It’s a Tossup
If this works, Kelly will paraded around as Philly’s savior.
If it doesn’t, they’ll probably end up even worse in 2016, and he’ll be fired.
18 year old Washington sports fan and Penn State freshman. I'll cover the MLB, NFL, and NBA.