For Redskins, what could go wrong went wrong

Jan 2, 2018 - 3:11 AM ASHBURN, Va. -- The excuses were there if the Washington Redskins wanted them. A crippling rash of injuries to key players and one of the NFL's toughest schedules made 2017 a miserable slog that ended with a 7-9 record.

But few players were biting on breakdown day after an ugly 18-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday ended the season. The Redskins head into the offseason uncertain about the contract status of quarterback Kirk Cousins and knowing other roster changes could take place as the organization has stalled.

"Obviously, you saw what happened, 2017. You obviously saw what happened, 2016," Washington cornerback Josh Norman said. "In 2018 we cannot allow it to happen. We've got to take ownership of that."

A coaching change is unlikely after Redskins head coach Jay Gruden signed a two-year extension in March that was tacked onto the final year of his contract. Washington improved from 4-12 in Gruden's first season to 9-7 and an NFC East title in 2015.

The Redskins have hovered around .500 since, however -- 8-7-1 in 2016 and 7-9 this season. No Washington coach has started a fifth consecutive season for owner Dan Snyder since he bought the team in 1999.

The Redskins played five of the eight division champions, had six games against teams with at least 10 wins and played 10 games against teams with winning records.

The offense still managed to stay relevant with Cousins under far more pressure thanks to the offensive line injuries and a reduction in weapons with tight end Jordan Reed, running back Chris Thompson, running back Rob Kelley and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor all on injured reserve for six weeks or longer.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The offense still managed to stay middle-of-the-pack in the NFL despite critical losses on the offensive line, tight end, running back and wide receiver. Kirk Cousins topped 4,000 passing yards for the third year in a row and had 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. The defense was much improved in the first half of the season against the run, but after a season-ending injury to rookie defensive end Jonathan Allen (Lisfranc sprain), that changed for the worse. Safety D.J. Swearinger and inside linebacker Zach Brown were excellent additions in free agency and helped stabilize the defense.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Injuries. The Redskins had 20 players go on injured reserve, which was third-most in the NFL. But it wasn't the number that hurt, it was the quality of players lost. Losing left tackle Trent Williams, who played hurt much of the season, running backs Thompson (broken leg) and Kelley (knee), and tight end Reed (hamstring) proved unsustainable. An inside linebacker unit that featured limited depth lost Mason Foster (shoulder) and Will Compton (Lisfranc sprain), and Allen, the No. 17 overall pick, was having a wonderful rookie season before his injury. The outside wide receivers (Pryor, Josh Doctson) weren't as good as they needed to be, either.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year, $8 million contract and was supposed to help ease the burden on second-year pro Josh Doctson, a first-round draft pick in 2016. Instead, Pryor never got on the same page with Cousins, lost the trust of his coaches and didn't play after Week 9 before going on IR. An ankle injury in Week 2 didn't help matters. It's almost certain Pryor won't be re-signed.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Tight end Vernon Davis, at age 34, helped ease the sting of losing Reed. Davis faded some at the end as defenses could focus almost entirely on him as injuries mounted. But he was a force in the middle of the season and finished with 43 catches for 648 yards. That was his most receiving yards since 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers (850). Davis' three touchdowns and his 15.1 yards per catch were also his most since 2013 (13 touchdowns, 16.3 yards per catch).

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Wes Phillips, the tight ends coach, should get plenty of looks this offseason at a higher level with other teams. He could have left with former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay last January to join the Los Angeles Rams staff and his dad, Wade Phillips, who is the defensive coordinator there. But Washington wanted Wes Phillips to stay. He has been on Jay Gruden's staff since 2014 and gradually taken on more offensive responsibilities.

--The Redskins signed cornerback Quinton Dunbar to a three-year contract extension on Monday, which could signal their plans for free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland.

Dunbar, a wide receiver who converted to cornerback during training camp in 2015, didn't play much down the stretch. He was limited to 10 or fewer snaps in four of the final six games and was inactive for another. But Washington's coaching staff likes his upside and is clearly ready to move on from Breeland, an inconsistent player who will likely command a higher wage than they want to pay.

The Redskins have invested draft picks at corner, too, in recent years with Kendall Fuller (2016) and Fabian Moreau (2017) both third-round picks and Josh Holsey (2017) a seventh-round selection.

--The Kirk Cousins saga will continue for a few more months. He will become a free agent in March unless the organization uses the franchise tag on him again ($34.4 million) or the transition tag ($28.7 million) or signs him to a long-term deal. Cousins didn't speak with the media on Monday, but his teammates did. It's clear they'd like a resolution, too.

"I know that's the story right now -- if Kirk will be back or not. But we'll see how all that unfolds," linebacker Will Compton said. "There's about three months until free agency opens. I'm sure there'll be a bunch of headlines out there, but everybody's going to try to do what's best for the ultimate goal. ... It is the same old story, but now it's more real than ever and everybody's going to do whatever they can right now to try to dissect the situation, nitpick everything."

NOTES: QB Kirk Cousins became the first Redskins quarterback to start every game for three consecutive years in a 16-game schedule. ... OLB Ryan Kerrigan became the first Redskins player to start every game in his first seven seasons. He reached 13 sacks for the second time in his career. ... DE Anthony Lanier's extra-point block on Sunday against the Giants was Washington's first since 2007.

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