Making Call on the Washington Redskins' Hardest Remaining Cuts
Difficult choices loom at the skill positions for new Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. Two running backs and a veteran wide receiver are among Gruden's hardest remaining cuts.
For the receiver, the performances of a fifth-round rookie might actually make Gruden's decisions easier. However, he'll have to weigh those performances and the potential they represent against losing a veteran leader.
At running back, Gruden obviously has to thin the crowd. Only Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. have clearly defined roles among a group featuring as many as four more potential options.
Defensively, a try-hard lineman could finally find himself pushed off the roster.
Here are the five hardest remaining cuts facing Gruden, along with the calls he should make.
All statistics and rankings via NFL.com.
Evan Royster, RB
Evan Royster represents a conundrum for Gruden. He's become an afterthought since Morris was drafted in 2012. However, the 2011 sixth-rounder has starting experience and finished his rookie year with consecutive 100-yard games.
Yet somehow, the team always seems to be looking for options ahead of him. Ex-head coach Mike Shanahan drafted Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison in 2013, while Gruden used a 2014 sixth-round choice on Lache Seastrunk. He also added Silas Redd as an undrafted free agent.
First, he flashed on a 24-yard catch and run, which he immediately followed with a two-yard touchdown run. Royster makes plays when he's given the opportunity, however limited they may be, and if he doesn't stick around in D.C, he could catch on fairly quickly with someone else. After his strong showing against the Browns, though, his chances of making the cut had to have improved at least somewhat.
What could really help Royster, aside from proficiency in the red zone, is his knack for inside running. Washington will likely still operate the zone-stretch scheme on Gruden's watch. However, the former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator will likely tweak things to include some of the inside concepts he's favored in the past.
As a capable runner on inside zone plays, Royster could be a more useful option in a more varied scheme. However, Gruden may well feel he can trust the bruising Morris on inside runs, while his bigger priority will be finding work for Helu and a speedy third-down option.
Verdict: Royster gets cut. Gruden won't go to bat for a player he didn't draft. Adding two rookies to an already bloated position speaks volumes.
Chris Thompson, RB
The Redskins have to be getting tired of waiting for Chris Thompson to show what he can do. The 2013 fifth-rounder has endured rotten luck with injuries, but his versatility and speed remain enticing qualities.
Thompson is a natural weapon from spread sets. He's a pint-sized pace merchant who looks like your classic third-down back. That is probably the only thing this offense lacks at the skill positions.
As a nifty runner with receiving and return skills, Thompson fits the mold. At least he would if he could ever make it onto the field.
CSNWashington.com writer Peter Hailey has noted how prolonged spells on the sidelines are putting Thompson further behind at a fiercely competitive position:
Thompson missed crucial reps as he was forced to sit out tonight's game with an ankle injury, and therefore, his stock took a pretty big hit. It is clear that Gruden likes Thompson's potential, but it's also clear that he is frustrated with the running back's penchant for being hurt.
The second year back will need to get back on the field as soon as he can so he can start making up for the vital lost time.
While Thompson is out of the fray, a back such as rookie Seastrunk is taking advantage. Seastrunk doesn't offer the receiving element Thompson might, but he can match him for speed.
The ex-Baylor standout showcased his fast feet and quick cuts against the Browns, per Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler:
Lache Seastrunk ran for 35 yards on seven carries (5.0/carry), mostly in the late going. He was the only Redskins running back to average over four yards per carry. He’s showing that he knows how to use his speed with the ball in his arm as opposed to being just a fast guy. He may not have achieved “lock” status yet but he’s getting close.
Gruden will have to decide if Thompson's versatility is worth waiting for or if he's ready to start working on adding more elements to Seastrunk's game.
Verdict: Thompson gets cut. Like Royster, Thompson wasn't drafted by Gruden, who will opt to go with his own choice in Seastrunk.
Kedric Golston, DE
Defensive line is actually one of the more loaded positions on the team. However, the strength in depth can be deceptive. Big offseason acquisition Jason Hatcher has already undergone surgery since signing. Meanwhile, fellow former Dallas Cowboys starter Stephen Bowen is coming back from a serious knee injury.
That means there could still be room for a player like Kedric Golston. He's been on the team since 2006 and is one of the few defensive players who remember when Washington operated a 4-3 front.
Golston has always been a functional rather than dominant trench warrior. His thick 6'4", 318-pound frame suits the demands of playing two-gap end in a 3-4.
However, coaches are likely to be looking for more impact plays up front this season. Coordinator Jim Haslett has made bolstering the pass rush a top priority, per ESPN 980 (h/t ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim).
That could mean there's no room for Golston, a lineman with just 1.5 sacks in his last four seasons. By contrast, Bowen has shown he can be a capable inside pass-rusher, particularly in nickel situations.
He notched six sacks in 2011 and also remains a stout run defender. It's significant that the team recently worked to restructure his contract rather than simply dumping it, per Mike Jones and Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
That indicates Gruden, Haslett and general manager Bruce Allen still see value in the 30-year-old, which means there's likely to be no place for Golston in a more aggressive scheme.
Verdict: Golston is cut. The scrappy veteran won't fit at a position where Bowen, Hatcher, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker can all offer more dynamism.
E.J. Biggers, DB
On the surface, this should be an easy cut to make. Biggers was a disaster in 2013, while the team has subsequently added Bashaud Breeland via the draft and Tracy Porter in free agency.
However, Biggers has managed to stay ahead of both players this offseason to emerge as the team's current nickel cornerback. While Porter has nursed injury and Breeland has run into trouble off the field, Biggers has been earning reps with the sub-package defenses.
That's not to say his position is secure, far from it. Breeland rebounded from a recent citation for marijuana possession to deliver a pleasing performance against the Browns.
Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler detailed Breeland's solid night:
Bashaud Breeland was in little danger of having his status affected by his marijuana arrest a week ago but he made sure of it on Monday night. He tied for the team lead in combined tackles with five, most of which delivered some pain to the ball carrier, knocked down two passes, and recovered a fumble.
Like Biggers, Breeland has the size to play in the slot. The 5'11", 197-pounder can also flip-flop to safety, just like Biggers.
However, don't discount the value, real or perceived, of Biggers' experience in the schemes of secondary coach Raheem Morris. It's also true that even with Breeland and Porter in the fold, this team needs all the secondary help it can get.
Verdict: Biggers survives. The veteran's experience, versatility and scheme fit will all be deemed useful qualities for a secondary set to face intense scrutiny this season.
Santana Moss, WR
This may only be a tough call for sentimental reasons. However, it's hard to deny what Santana Moss has meant for the franchise.
He's been consistently productive during his nine seasons in D.C. He's topped 1,000 yards receiving in a season three times. Moss has also featured on three of the only four Washington teams to make the playoffs since 1992.
The speedy veteran has also routinely destroyed the archrival Dallas Cowboys. That alone has to merit pause when it comes time to make the cuts.
However, Moss is now 35 and facing major competition at the most crowded position on the roster. His main threat comes from 2014 fifth-round pick Ryan Grant.
The rookie isn't wasting a single opportunity to wow coaches with his savvy and ability to work underneath. Mike Jones of The Washington Post highlighted Grant's most recent efforts:
We’ve talked before about the effectiveness of Grant’s route running. He turned in another consistent and effective performance with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. He’s always seeming to find a way to get open, whether it’s by selling the deep route hard and then stopping on a dime and making the catch on the comeback route, or putting a move on a defender at the line to create a three-yard gap as he runs upfield and hauls in a pass. Grant doesn’t have electrifying speed, but he has great instincts and learns quickly.
Grant's form should worry Moss. The veteran knows he's no longer ticketed for a primary role, especially when the team can rely on playmakers such as Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, as well as the solid and versatile Andre Roberts.
Moss no longer has the speed to successfully stretch defenses vertically. That's bad news considering the team brought back young burner Aldrick Robinson.
It's tough to find an obvious role for a player once lethal in the red zone and a source of big plays. Moss knows he'll have to fight to make this season's roster, per Mark Maske of The Washington Post. It's a fight he could finally lose.
What's in his favor is his presence as a veteran leader. Moss has been a model pro for this team, and his example would be a good one for a rebuilding roster.
Gruden must decide how much he values that intangible over wanting to get young players like Robinson and Grant more involved.
Verdict: Moss stays. This one will go right to the wire, but ultimately, Gruden ought to think of the positive impact Moss will have on the locker room.
It's encouraging that Washington could waive goodbye to every player on this list and still feel good about the depth at each one's respective position. That speaks to the solid work Allen and Gruden have already done beefing up what was a thin roster.