The Washington Redskins did what they needed to do, which was provide a sense of stability and sign coach Jay Gruden to a two-year extension. They couldn't afford to enter free agency with so many unanswered questions surrounding the franchise.
The reality is that free agents choose teams based in large part on money. But the head coach is up there on the list, too -- he matters more than the general manager, that's for sure.
That doesn't mean players might avoid a situation because of appearances, but the head coach -- knowing how long he'll be in place -- matters. Players want to know who they'll be playing for now and in the future. Here's a key: Gruden's two-year extension is all for guaranteed money. This is not a move for appearance only.
If the Redskins had done this shortly after the season, it might have made a difference in the pursuit of some defensive coordinators. If they wanted Gus Bradley, as was often been reported, certainly it would have helped. Bradley opted for a place where he'd have time to build the sort of defense he wanted. He could go someplace where the head coach had a new contract, or where the head coach was entering a pivotal season. Job security matters to everyone.
If you're Gruden, this makes sense and was needed. He has two new coordinators, might have his starting quarterback for only one more season, might lose his top two receivers, and might lose his general manager. That's not the way to enter the fourth year of a five-year deal. His agent, Bob LaMonte, is one of the savviest around. That's why Gruden received a fully guaranteed contract in the first place, knowing what a tough place this has been for coaches. Getting him two more years in this situation was a must.
Gruden still has to prove he can take a team deep in the playoffs. But the Redskins have gone from winning a combined seven games in 2013 and '14 to winning 17 the past two years. They appeared to be a mess after his first season. It's progress. Someone here is doing something right. That next step, though, can be the toughest.
But from the get-go, it's been clear that Gruden's main passion is just coaching. It helps him stay above any situations that appear messy, allowing him to move forward with what he must do. Maybe after the Redskins have more success he'll become more centered on gaining power. But he's not a power-hungry coach. Perhaps having to do everything for years in the Arena League -- as coach, GM and everything in between -- made him realize all he wants is to coach. Power comes with winning, so maybe that will change in the future. Certainly it would give him more clout and say -- why wouldn't he use it?
Still, his focus hasn't been on acquiring more power. That's why a number of people I spoke to after GM Scot McCloughan was hired two years ago said Gruden was optimistic about the future. Someone he could trust would be acquiring talent.
Will that guy still be McCloughan? For how long? Given McCloughan's absence from the combine and the surrounding noise, that's a story about which we don't yet have all the information. We all know the appearances. So does the NFL.
The other question becomes the impact of Gruden's extension on the Kirk Cousins talks. It's both hard and easy to give an answer. It's easy because the desires have been known for a while in terms of salary. Having Gruden around for four more contracted years won't suddenly lessen Cousins' leverage, thereby lowering his salary wishes. But it's hard, because stability does matter to Cousins -- and any quarterback. How much is that worth? As an organization, how much is that worth to you -- to know who your coach and quarterback will be for the next several seasons?
The Redskins still face certain questions over the coming weeks: What's up with McCloughan? Will they sign Cousins? Gruden's extension, whether intended or not (it came together rather fast), at least diverts the focus for the time being. How long that will be the case is up for debate. It remains a pivotal offseason for the franchise. But this was a necessary attempt at stability.