This article is part of our Team Previews series.
A year after winning the division, the Redskins slipped to third in the NFC East and fell just short of making the playoffs. After some major offseason changes, the key focus will be revamping the defense, which ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major statistical category.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
CAN COUSINS CONTINUE TO DELIVER?
Kirk Cousins is back for another season in the nation's capital and doing so again under the franchise tag. His third campaign as the unquestioned starter in D.C. will be the most pivotal if he hopes to land that elusive long-term contract, whether or not it's with the only organization he's ever known. While he'll have reliable tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis at his disposal, Cousins heads into the year with a wideout corps sans DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. To top it off, Cousins won't be working with his offensive coordinator from the past two seasons, Sean McVay, now the coach of the Rams. Fortunately for Cousins, McVay's replacement, Matt Cavanaugh, is familiar with the quarterback. Cavanaugh served as Washington's QB coach the last two years, playing an integral role in Cousins' rise to NFL relevance. These changes will have fans questioning which form of Cousins they'll see under center. Will it be the QB from 2016 who racked up 1,086 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions against the Vikings, Packers and Cowboys between Weeks 10 and 12? Or will the player who threw just two touchdowns while committing four turnovers over the final three games of the season show up? No matter what, one thing is for certain: 2017 will serve as Cousins' biggest challenge yet.
REVAMPED RECEIVING CORPS
The Redskins enter the season with a revised receivers room. Long-serving contributors DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon bolted for different locales when their contracts expired this offseason, leaving behind a glaring gap at wideout. The most important holdovers include 2015 fourth-round pick Jamison Crowder and 2016 first-rounder Josh Doctson. With no DNPs in two pro campaigns, Crowder is the more accomplished of the pair, breaking out last year with 67 receptions for 847 yards and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Doctson sustained an Achilles injury within his first month in Washington and was subsequently contained to brief appearances in Weeks 1 and 2 before his placement on injured reserve. As recently as mid-June, he was able to work in a team setting at OTAs, but whatever he's able to give the Redskins in 2017 may be gravy due to their primary offseason pickup. After losing Jackson and Garcon, the front office responded by inking Terrelle Pryor to a one-year deal. In his first extended dalliance as a wide receiver, Pryor burst onto the scene for the Browns in 2016, recording 77 receptions for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns without a consistent quarterback. Expect Crowder and Pryor to serve as Cousins' new inside-out duo at receiver, with Doctson and free-agent signing Brian Quick rounding out the corps.
BACKFIELD BY COMMITTEE
A lot can change in a year. Last offseason, it appeared as if the Redskins had found their new go-to back in Matt Jones. The 2015 third-round selection began the season as the clear starter but found himself on the bench by its midpoint due to ball-control issues. Jones' woes gave rise to Robert Kelley, an undrafted rookie who took over the No. 1 job in Week 8. Finishing with 704 yards and six touchdowns through 15 games (including nine starts), Kelley will open training camp as the lead rusher. However, the waters could be muddied after the Redskins drafted Samaje Perine from Oklahoma in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Like Kelley, Perine is a bowling-ball type rusher who is difficult to bring to the ground. No matter how the starting reps break down, Chris Thompson will assume third-down responsibilities. Easily the best pass catcher of the group, he recorded 84 receptions for 589 yards and four touchdowns over the last two campaigns. Not to be forgotten, the Redskins boast inexperienced talent at the bottom of the RB depth chart, but Mack Brown and Keith Marshall will be hard-pressed to earn large roles this season. While the Redskins lack a true every-down rusher at the moment, a backfield by committee could be the best approach for Washington's high-flying offense.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Kirk Cousins
After an offseason of swirling trade rumors, Cousins once again signed a franchise tag with the Redskins in negotiations that didn't result in a long-term contract. He followed his breakout 2015 campaign with the third-most passing yards (4,917) in the NFL, to which he added 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on 67.0 percent passing.
RISING: Jamison Crowder
Crowder was efficient with his opportunities in 2016 and now will get a real chance to shine without DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The 24-year-old is slowly but surely becoming a well-rounded receiver in the league.
FALLING: Matt Jones
Jones went from being the running back of the future to benchwarmer in eight games last season. With a variety of backfield options in D.C. this year, his value is expected to remain next to nonexistent.
SLEEPER: Samaje Perine
The 2017 fourth-round selection is a dark horse to become the Redskins' main back. A 1,000- yard rusher in all three seasons at Oklahoma, Perine eagerly will be waiting in the wings should Robert Kelley stumble.
KEY JOB BATTLE – GOAL-LINE BACK
Washington's backfield is emerging as a two-way competition during training camp, as incumbent Rob Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine are set to duke it out over the next month. While the starting role remains Kelley's to lose, Washington may opt to use either Kelley or Perine, both of whom weigh in around 230 pounds, in goal-line situations. Meanwhile, third-down specialist Chris Thompson lacks the battering-ram rushing ability Kelley and Perine have showcased in the past, making the duo the likely candidates to receive carries near the end zone.
Terrelle Pryor – WR (from Browns)
In move from Cleveland to Washington, QB upgrade could pay dividends.
Brian Quick – WR (from Rams)
Veteran security blanket amongst young receiving corps.
Samaje Perine – RB (Rd. 4, No. 114 – Oklahoma)
Bruising back figures to compete for carries off the bat.
Jonathan Allen – DE (Rd. 1, No. 17 – Alabama)
At 6-3, 286 pounds, rookie will provide pass rush inside and out.
DeSean Jackson – WR (to Buccaneers)
Speedy vet goes south after three years in D.C.
Pierre Garcon – WR (to 49ers)
Heads west after leading Redskins in receiving yards last season.
Chris Baker – DT (to Buccaneers)
With many D-line additions, the 29-year-old bolted for Tampa.
Ricky Jean-Francois – DE (to Packers)
Longtime defensive lineman begins a new chapter with Packers.
THE INJURY FRONT
Josh Doctson, WR – Doctson only took the field twice during his rookie season due to Achilles issues but is expected to head into training camp with no physical restrictions.
Jordan Reed, TE – Reed has managed to hold down the title as one of the league's best tight ends, despite his vast injury history. This time around, his lingering shoulder injury will be something to keep an eye on throughout training camp.
Brian Quick, WR – The longtime Ram is looking for a fresh start in DC, but Quick has an extensive injury history over his five-year career, which has resulted in only two complete 16-game seasons.