Injuries make another mediocre Redskins season hard to evaluate

Jay Gruden appears a safe bet to return, but there are plenty of question marks facing the Redskins heading into the offseason. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins ended the season with a 24-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles to finish at 7-9. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Average. It’s hard to view their season in a traditional way because of the injuries. Based on record, points scored and points allowed, the Redskins were below average. Their 6-3 start allowed them to stay in playoff contention until late in the season. They could have helped themselves by being far more disciplined -- the Redskins committed more penalties on offense than any other team -- and lacked the firepower to overcome the constant loss of yards.

Season in review: It was the second consecutive season they were decimated by injuries; 24 players ended up on injured reserve. Is that the only reason they stumbled? After all, the defense was far healthier, yet regressed mightily. After Week 8, the Redskins ranked fourth in yards allowed and fifth in points. By Week 17, they were 18th in yards and 14th in points. The Redskins started four different quarterbacks for the first time in franchise history and there’s concern about whether Alex Smith will play again after his leg injury. The Redskins' final six weeks were filled with injuries and a few stories -- claiming Reuben Foster; Montae Nicholson’s arrest, D.J. Swearinger’s release -- that brought negative attention. They did not come close to selling out a home game this season. The Redskins entered the season with legitimate playoff hopes; they exit with many questions about the future.

He said it: "You come in on a short week, you learn there's so many moving parts. For me, I played Madden. I was able to get on the Madden and learn my teammates. ... I learned their names.” Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson

Offseason questions

Will they change the power structure? Team president Bruce Allen has been in charge for nine years; in that time the Redskins have made the playoffs twice. He’s involved in every move and often trades get made without consulting coaches, even when it involves quarterbacks. But he’s tight with owner Dan Snyder and a key figure in getting a new stadium built. Allen has become public enemy No. 1 among the fan base. The organization is well aware of the fans' feelings toward Allen. There’s a chance he could be moved out of the football side, but would that be for optics to placate fans or real? Coach Jay Gruden’s job appears to be safe with little smoke about his ouster, despite a third straight non-playoff season. The heavy injuries, plus two more years on his contract with $10 million guaranteed, would be factors in his return. Snyder wants to keep him; the question is will he feel compelled to make a change? The Redskins could opt to retain Gruden but make changes to his staff. There are mixed opinions on defensive coordinator Greg Manusky -- Swearinger’s release came two days after he ripped him following a Week 16 loss. Regardless, his group had issues after a strong start -- and they were relatively healthy. There needs to be changes, whether in personnel, scheme or coaching.

What will they do at quarterback? The good news is Smith was released from the hospital before Christmas. His health matters above all, regardless of whether he returns to football. But the reality is there’s uncertainty over his future in football. The Redskins need to plan as if he won’t be back. So Washington must look at adding another quarterback, whether in free agency or the draft. The latter makes more sense given their financial situation. Colt McCoy is expected to return from his broken leg and he has another year left on his contract. The Redskins don’t have a lot of cap room (around $25 million after Swearinger’s release) and cutting Smith would be prohibitive ($40 million in dead money). That’s why drafting a quarterback would be the best solution. The Redskins do have nine picks, but they won’t pick in the top 10, so it could be hard to get one they like. And trading a lot of picks would be difficult considering they need this capital to improve given the lack of cap room. They could add a low-cost veteran -- at this point, some favor keeping Josh Johnson around -- as well.

What veterans might be released? The Redskins need to address multiple positions and need cap room. Considering Zach Brown lost his starting job late in the year, he’s an easy candidate and it would save the Redskins $5.75 million in cap space. Corner Josh Norman has played well for most of the season but has a $14.5 million cap hit in 2019. They could save $11.5 million if he’s released post-June 1. The problem: It creates a big hole. Other high-priced veterans -- tight end Jordan Reed ($7.9 million in savings), defensive end Stacy McGee ($2.4 million if pre-June 1 release; $4 million after) and tight end Vernon Davis ($5 million). There’s a chance only one or two of these players gets released. Veteran linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is 31, would save $10.75 million if released, but he’s coming off his fifth Pro Bowl and the coaches prize his consistency. Of course, every move creates a hole to fill, whether with lower-priced players in free agency or the draft. The Redskins also must decide how much they want to pay free agents such as linebacker Preston Smith (could be too costly) and receiver Jamison Crowder (possibly the same, but he’s high on the priority list).