For many NFL fans the success of a season is judged purely by wins and losses.
That should not be the case for the 2020 Washington Redskins.
If, as expected by most observers, the Redskins aren’t contending for the playoffs, what are the things that fans can point to that would indicate a successful campaign?
There are a number of outcomes that don’t show up in the wins/losses column that can make Ron Rivera’s first season a success and build the foundation for future contention in 2021 and beyond.
If some, or preferably all of the following wishlist become a reality, the long awaited return of the good times may not be far away.
1) Dwayne Haskins becomes the unquestioned franchise QB
It is virtually impossible to win consistently in the NFL without at least an above average starting QB. There are exceptions (Trent Dilfer with the 2000 Ravens), but if your QB cannot be the difference-maker in a positive way, you won’t ever be a consistent winner.
Dwayne Haskins has become something of a polarizing figure following his rookie year, and with patience for QBs in short supply, year two promises to be critical in determining whether he is the long term answer. Detractors point to his bumpy rookie season, and the early performances were underwhelming. However, as the season progressed and he received more practice reps and became more comfortable with the offense, the on-field production was considerably better.
By all accounts Haskins has been working hard in the off-season, being a regular sight around Redskins Park before the lockdown. He’s lost weight and the early reports are that he’s picking up the new offense well in the virtual meetings.
Nobody is expecting Haskins to become a top 10 QB in 2020, but if he can establish himself as the unquestioned face of the franchise and put together a solid season, it sets the table nicely going forward.
2) Win some divisional games
Yes, I know I said it’s not about wins and losses, but the Redskins are 3-15 vs the NFC East over the past 3 seasons. That has to change, otherwise an endless vicious circle will continue. If the recent average of one divisional victory a season can be improved to 2 or 3 this year, then a psychological barrier will be lifted and movement towards parity with the immediate competition will be closer.
It won’t be easy, as both the Cowboys and Eagles look strong, and the Giants although mostly dire themselves in 2019 did sweep the Skins. Week 1 will present the first opportunity to put down a marker in the division, as the reigning kings of the East, Philadelphia, visit FedEx Field.
3) Be ready to contend in 2021
Expectations are understandably low for 2020 following a turbulent 3-13 season that saw the coaching staff, the training staff and the majority of the front office removed. An anemic offense, and a defense that couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down doesn’t on the face of it engender huge optimism.
However, the green shoots of recovery were emerging offensively towards the end of the season, and the defense has added the best player in the 2020 NFL Draft, Chase Young. Ron Rivera and Kyle Smith seem to have hit it off and the organisation appears to be finally operating like a functional franchise.
Rivera’s patient approach in free agency, not throwing out huge contracts but creating depth and competition, and the addition of some intriguing weapons in the draft, could begin to answer some of the multiple questions that hang over the team.
Can a clear number two receiver emerge to complement Terry McLaurin? Will Antonio Gibson and Antonio Gandy-Golden become reliable weapons? Will the additions to the secondary make the defense more secure on the back end? Can one or two of the multiple offensive linemen added this off-season become solid starters? There are many other questions, but the more that are answered positively the rosier the outlook will be. If this time next year, the careful, long term planning of Rivera is beginning to bear fruit, there may be fewer questions and contention in 2021 could be a realistic goal.
4) Better health
Every team has injuries, it’s an unavoidable consequence of the game, but the Redskins seem to have been cursed with the injury bug for a number of seasons. Prior to last season, Football Outsiders recorded that the Redskins lost more minutes of playing time by starters due to injuries than anyone else for the previous two seasons, and things didn’t seem to improve much in 2019.
From the minute that Reuben Foster blew his knee out in the very first practice of OTAs a familiar pattern of major injuries beset the squad. Derrius Guice was sidelined once again for long periods and Brandon Scherff also succumbed. There were many, many more.
The much maligned training staff were fired, and it will be interesting to see if the change has a positive impact. Even a league average number of injuries will give the Redskins a better chance of developing as a team in 2020.
5) Re-engage the fans
FedEx Field in recent seasons has become a depressing, sparsely populated stadium that has on many occasions been totally taken over by visiting fans. The proud record of consecutive sellouts and years long wait for season tickets is way in the rear view mirror. Uninspiring on field product and increasing frustration with off the field matters eroded a once fanatical fan base to the point where all home field advantage was lost.
The change in regime both on and off the field already seems to be reaching out to the fans more, with a transparency and visibility that was absent in the mysterious days of the Bruce Allen empire.
The fan-base is still there, but is currently latent. The job of mending fences with them is a big one, as a lot of trust and faith needs to be re-built. A season of progress both on and off the field will bring the fans back in their droves (assuming stadiums are open of course) and restore a proper home field advantage.
So there we go. There is much work to do to restore the Washington Redskins to their former glories, but 2020 can be the launchpad for a brighter future. The number of wins may not contend for a playoff spot, but scratch beneath the surface and there may be a number of building blocks being laid to suggest that success is not too far away. If that is the case, then 2020 will have been a success.
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