Here's five takeaways from Redskins head coach Jay Gruden's media session with reporters on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, from the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
1. Gruden knows there's some uncertainty ahead for Kirk Cousins' future, but he likes how the quarterback has progressed over the last two seasons.
Just as was the situation last year, the Redskins enter the conclusion of the season with Cousins set to become a free agent off a winning season.
Despite the Redskins' 8-7-1 record not being quite good enough for a second straight playoff appearance, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 yards and threw 25 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions.
In eight different games, Cousins also collected a passer rating north of 100.
"He's done a lot of great things, no doubt about it," Gruden said on Monday. "Any time that you throw for almost 5,000 yards in an NFL season, there's a lot of positives there. He didn't take a lot of sacks, he did a much better job of protecting the football up until last night."
While Cousins has proven to possess starting quarterback talent, he's still far from a complete product. As he continues to start NFL games, though, the Pro Bowl alternate will be able to enhance his overall skillset.
"This his second year, full year playing and he's learned a lot, but he's got a lot more to learn, both from a mental side, and then from a physical side, maybe the ability to create some plays once in a while would be good – like he did against Chicago, a couple scramble first downs, some off-schedule plays that you see some of these guys make," Gruden said. "Athletically, he's not like Russell Wilson, or some of those guys, but still, maybe if he can buy time in the pocket, something that he can continue to work on, get a feel for it [and] take his game to the next level. He's already at a very high level."
Cousins has also benefitted from some continuation within the coaching staff, as Sean McVay was once again the offensive coordinator and veteran quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh has been by the Michigan State product's side during his two seasons as a full-time starter.
Like all of the players that were on the roster this season, Cousins will be evaluated before any sort of contract talks begin.
"I'm sure he's got to have some goodwill towards this organization because they've put him in some good situations to succeed," Gruden said. "But as far as what he's feeling as far as negotiations are concerned, I'm sure he's going to leave it up to his agent. That's what most people do. And if they come up with a deal, if we feel like it's fair and they feel like it's fair, and we come up to one that'd be great. If not, then we'll see what happens."
2. "Every member of this building" will go through an evaluation.
Alongside the players, the coaching staff will also be examined in the coming weeks as the front office and Gruden determine the best group of people to lead the roster during the 2017 season.
"We're going to always look at every staff member in-house and that'll take some time," Gruden said. "That won't happen overnight. We're going to go through all that – every member of this building, thorough evaluation – and we'll go from there."
Gruden added that he'll have some input on how everything is assembled along with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, President Bruce Allen and general manager Scot McCloughan.
"I think you have to assess both [players and coaches], and that's what we're going to do here for the next couple of weeks," Gruden said. "I think we got a lot out of the players that we had. The players played hard. We had some injuries to key players back there – guys fought and battled -- but we still have to evaluate everybody, player and coach alike."
For the players, the decision makers will look at how they approach being a member of the organization.
"We're going to go through them very closely each player from a play standpoint, from an off-the-field standpoint, leadership standpoint, weight room standpoint, all of those, training room and really do a good job, thorough evaluation more so than has ever been done," Gruden said. "And then schematic, we're going to get our scheme broken down, make our cut-ups for the next couple weeks, take a little bit of time off and go from there."
3. Gruden feels the roster is in good shape thanks to synchronization with McCloughan.Gruden believes that the coaching staff and the front office is on the same page when it comes to building up the roster for the Redskins.
Check out these photos of Universtiy of Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, the Redskins' fifth-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Not only do the Redskins already have a strong core of players already on the team, but they enter free agency with quite a bit of salary cap space and 10 draft picks.
"We have a very good view of what we look for in a football player – very similar – and that won't change," Gruden said. "I have a lot of respect for the work that he [McCloughan] puts in, and he does also. I think together we'll come up with a plan and get the right players in here."
As McCloughan has mentioned before during press conferences, he views the draft as the organization's foundation for building a strong roster.
Washington has gotten contributions out of the last few draft classes (Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Jordan Reed and Brandon Scherff were all recent draft picks who were named to the 2017 Pro Bowl), and that must continue entering McCloughan's third draft weekend at the helm.
"We have got to utilize our picks. We have got to make sure we do well in the draft the next year or two and make sure that we continue to add to the talent that we have," Gruden said. "We've had some good drafts, but we have to add to it, obviously."
*4. The team showed flashes of brilliance but remained too inconsistent in key stretches. *
Before the Redskins played their final game of the season, they had already managed to accomplish a winning record for the second consecutive year. Still, head coach Jay Gruden didn't find much solace in that trend, noting the high standards set by the organization to win championships.
He reiterated that Monday at his final press conference, noting that 8-7-1 is "just barely above average," and that it reflected an inconsistent year full of highs and lows.
"Any time you end the season after your 17th week, there's a lot of work to do and it's not good enough," Gruden said. "The standards are set high around here. We didn't reach any of them other than getting a winning season, which is one of our goals that we wanted. Other than that, we failed on a lot of accounts. We've got to coach better, we've got to play better, and turn the page and try to do some better things."
Among the things Gruden feels were strengths this year included most obviously the offense, which saw quarterback Kirk Cousins throw for nearly 5,000 yards as well as a running game emerge in the second half of the season with running back Robert Kelley. The defense remained inconsistent throughout the season – Gruden noted third down and red zone defense in particular – but also managed to make some big stops late in games.
"The passing game had its flashes of brilliance, but then we struggled in key situations and key times in the red zone and big games," Gruden said. "Defensively, Ryan Kerrigan had double-digit sacks, [Trent] Murphy almost had double-digit sacks, Preston [Smith] came on late. We have to get more pressure on the quarterback, and then obviously we have to be in the same page in the secondary. There's some issues out there that we know, that we have to correct, which is good and we can correct, but we have to go do it."
As for himself, Gruden knows this year wasn't good enough.
"I have a lot of room for improvement, as do the majority of the people in this building," he said. "So as long as we all realize that and understand that and recognize that, there is room and we can do it."
5. Robert Kelley will be the featured running back moving into the offseason.
Arguably one of the biggest surprises of the year came from the undrafted free agent from Tulane, who was hastily fastened with a portly nickname and made a big impact throughout the second half of the season.
Kelley finished with 704 yards rushing, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and scored six touchdowns, popping onto the national scene in the Redskins' Sunday night victory over Green Bay in which he ran for 137 yards and scored thrice.
Accordingly, Gruden was ready to declare him the team's featured back heading into the offseason for his body of work and competing hard through the last couple of games through a lingering knee injury, which will probably get scoped in the coming weeks.
"I think great, great year for him as far as a rookie coming in as a free agent, being thrown into the fire like he was and performing like he did," Gruden said. "I think there's a lot of improvement that'll be made with Robert. He's going to get stronger, even get in more better shape. He's going to understand the 16-game season, what it entails, how demanding it is on his body. He's going to get himself ready to go."
Gruden praised Kelley for his ability to find holes and keep the ball secure, something Matt Jones still struggled with despite an increased emphasis on it during the offseason and training camp. With Mack Brown and Chris Thompson, Gruden said that the best thing Jones can do to earn a spot back into the rotation will be to compete.
"We have depth charts," Gruden said. "But, like I said, they're all written in pencil. We have an eraser. We can erase it and change it. If he comes out and outperforms [Kelley], it'll be his job. But he's got to work at it and prove to us that he's the guy for the job."