The Washington Redskins are on the brink of excellence, said head coach Jay Gruden with his fingers spread one inch apart. Somebody should tell him close only counts in horseshoes.
The Redskins blew their chance to return to the playoffs by losing, 19-10, to the New York Giants Jan. 1. Washington was driving late for the potential game-winning drive when quarterback Kirk Cousins was intercepted after throwing awkwardly downfield.
Boom -- season over. So close, yet so far away.
"Well, you evaluate yourself wins and losses and playoffs and Super Bowls, and I think, you know, going 9-7 and winning the division last year, 9-8 after losing the playoff game to 8-7-1, you know, we're kind of stuck right here. You know, we're stuck," Gruden said. "We have been a little bit. We haven't been able to get over the hump, as far as winning those close games consistently, and it's not easy, but we're going to keep working at it."
The Redskins have plenty of challenges for the coming offseason. After deciding whether to replace defensive coordinator Joe Barry, general manager Scot McCloughan must franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins for a second straight year at $24 million, agree to a long-term $100 million-plus pact or let the passer pursue free agency. The Redskins can designate Cousins as a franchise player Feb. 15.
By March 9, the Redskins should open free agency after retaining nose tackle Chris Baker, tight end Vernon Davis, running back Chris Thompson and either receiver Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson. Most likely, Jackson doesn't return.
The NFL Draft April 27-29 has the Redskins picking 17th overall. Surely, McCloughan will look for defensive line and safety help, but also running backs and offensive linemen.
Overall, it's another busy offseason that will likely reshape the roster by 15 or so players. Still, Gruden doesn't see the need for major changes.
"We have a good core of players," he said. "Offensive line I feel great about, really. Those guys are all war daddies. They play hard; they're physical; they're well-coached. You know, we have a great tight end [in Jordan Reed.]
"Defensively, we have core group of guys that I feel good about. We have to add ... obviously in the draft and maybe free agency, but I think we have a group of guys that work. You have [linebacker Ryan] Kerrigan, you have two Pro Bowlers in Kerrigan and [cornerback] Josh [Norman]. We have [cornerback Bashaud] Breeland, who is a young player. You have, obviously, [linebackers] Trent [Murphy] and Preston [Smith], who are good, young football players. [Cornerback Kendall] Fuller is going to get a lot better from year one to year two. [Quinton] Dunbar is continuing to get better as a corner."
Gruden walked away knowing every year is different. A roster that produced a roller coaster season will always be tweaked looking for free-agent upgrades and potential stars in the draft. But it was a season lost vying for the title. And Gruden probably knows it was more than just one inch away.