ASHBURN, Va. — One question has been posed to Ron Rivera repeatedly since he was hired to coach the Washington Redskins: Is he confident owner Dan Snyder will not interfere? Rivera, clearly, has answered that one in the affirmative.
But other questions remain for the franchise, including some that will have a big impact on next season. Here’s a look at some of the biggest decisions facing the new staff:
What happens at quarterback?
Dwayne Haskins played well in his final two starts and, after being picked 15th overall last spring, remains a big part of the team’s future. But with a new staff, nothing is guaranteed for anyone on this roster. And Rivera said he wants to go through the offseason before settling on a starter.
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The Redskins haven’t ruled out Alex Smith‘s possible return. Whether that’s out of respect or reality remains to be seen. Those close to Smith, who is still recovering from a broken fibula and tibia in his right leg suffered in 2018, say he’ll push it as far as he can in order to see whether a return is possible.
If Smith can’t play, the Redskins need to have another quarterback to pair with Haskins. Case Keenum and Colt McCoy are pending free agents, so the Redskins will likely need to find a low-cost veteran or draft a QB.
Regardless, the staff will be focused on Haskins’ development. Rivera said he wants Haskins to become more of a leader, having seen QB Cam Newton grow into one in Carolina. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner mentioned the level of commitment it requires to develop into an elite QB.
“He hasn’t played a lot of football. He was a one-year starter at Ohio State and then just kind of played sparingly this past season,” Turner said of Haskins. “All of the physical tools that you want are there, and I think he needs to keep getting experience and will be a really good player.”
What will happen with Trent Williams and the O-line?
Williams held out last season, citing issues with the medical staff and team president Bruce Allen. The Redskins haven’t yet talked to their Pro Bowl left tackle, according to a source close to the player, but the sides will presumably try to sort through any lingering issues.
Williams had cancerous tissue removed from his scalp and was upset about how the situation was handled by the team. But he would have reported had the Redskins guaranteed the final two years of his contract. He now has one year left at $12.5 million, none of it guaranteed.
In December, Williams told ESPN that if Allen were fired he wouldn’t rule out a return to Washington, but that “it would be hard to see that as far as how far both sides were apart.”
However, Allen has since been fired and Washington’s chief negotiator, Eric Schaffer, left the organization. The Redskins also fired longtime head athletic trainer Larry Hess.
They could try to trade Williams — the feeling in the organization during last season was the Redskins might get a better return before the draft, once teams have a better feel for the available talent at tackle. The Redskins lack a second-round pick, so trading Williams could fill that hole. Cleveland was one team mentioned often in pursuit of Williams, though both organizations have undergone massive change. However, Williams’ former line coach, Bill Callahan, now has the same role with the Browns.
Rivera knows he must build a strong offensive line to protect Haskins, and Williams would help accomplish that. So, too, would keeping pending free-agent guards Brandon Scherff (28 years old) and Ereck Flowers (26). They could be viewed as cornerstones of the line. But before the organizational changes were made, it was hard to imagine both wanting to stick around. Flowers, playing guard for the first time, did well enough to create a market. With Scherff, the Redskins could opt to use the franchise tag. They have another young interior lineman they like in Wes Martin, but keeping Scherff and Flowers would result in something unusual for the Redskins: line depth.
Will tight end Jordan Reed retire?
The veteran looked terrific in training camp last summer. But in the third preseason game, he suffered his seventh documented concussion since entering college. It sidelined Reed the entire season. During the season, people close to Reed said they thought he would continue playing, but that remains uncertain.
The Redskins centered their passing attack on Reed because of his unique skills. But Reed has never played more than 14 games in his seven seasons and has missed a combined 29 games over the past three years because of injuries. He has two years left on his contract, but the Redskins could save $8.5 million by releasing him. He’s now a year older and coming off a concussion. For too long the Redskins have paid big money to players who aren’t available enough. That must change.
Will Rivera alter cornerback Josh Norman‘s future in Washington?
Norman’s best seasons occurred while playing for Rivera in Carolina, helping him earn the largest contract ever for a cornerback after the 2015 season. But Norman is four years older and was benched late last season. Players signed off the practice squad or street played ahead of him.
There was a definite faction in the organization that wanted to unload Norman last season; it’s hard to imagine that changing despite Rivera’s arrival, considering Norman’s base salary of $12.437 million. The Redskins placed him on the trading block before the Oct. 29 deadline, but had no takers. It would be hard for the Redskins to justify his return.
Maybe in part because he knew Rivera might end up in Washington, Norman never sounded off about his benching or the organization.
Nor did he lose his confidence. When asked in December if he still believed he was a top cornerback, he said: “I don’t believe anything. I am. When you are something you don’t believe it, you go out and do it.”
Could they really move on from defensive end Ryan Kerrigan?
The Redskins aren’t close to finalizing this sort of decision — or any other personnel move, for that matter. But the question must be asked because of Kerrigan’s age (31), his 2020 base salary ($11.5 million) and the possible/likely arrival of defensive end Chase Young with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Kerrigan has one year left on his contract and moving on from him would save Washington $11.687 million against the cap.
With the Redskins going to a 4-3 base front, Kerrigan would play end — just as he did at Purdue. And considering how much teams use a nickel defense, the Redskins will have a need for more pass-rushers. Look at San Francisco with ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, among others. Kerrigan also fits into the sort of culture Rivera wants with his work ethic and preparation. But will that be enough?
The Redskins could always move on from Kerrigan and sign a situational pass-rusher at a lower cost to pair with Young and Montez Sweat, who recorded seven sacks as a rookie this past season. The Redskins had discussed an extension with Kerrigan during the season; now his future here is to be determined.