ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden didn't hesitate when asked if he viewed next season as an important one for his job security. It'll be his fifth year in charge -- the most of any coach under owner Dan Snyder. More important, the franchise hasn't made the playoffs the past two seasons.
So, yes, it'll be a big season for Gruden and the Redskins.
"Oh, yeah, without a doubt," Gruden said. "Every year is its own entity and every year is important. And we have to be competitive. We have to do better in our division -- we have to do better against the Cowboys, the Eagles, without a doubt, the Giants, moving forward."
The truth is, it's a big year for the organization and not just Gruden. Team president Bruce Allen has been in charge since 2010; in that time the Redskins have four last-place finishes and two division titles. Their record since that season is 52-75-1.
The Redskins showed progress after 2014, winning a combined 17 games the next two seasons. They might have won more this year if not for injuries -- they looked good early in the year when healthy -- but that can't be assumed, either.
At some point the NFL becomes a bottom-line business for everyone unless you own the team. No one understands this better than Gruden or Allen; both of their fathers were in the business. As Gruden said last week, his brother Jon was fired after a 9-7 season, so nothing would ever surprise him.
But a third straight non-playoff season would not be good for job security. A fan base that wants to believe, has tried to believe, will continue to be tested, to put it mildly.
"The nature of this business is [that] you've got to perform," Gruden said. "You've got to have success or you're going to have a short-lived tenure. So it's very important for us to get off on the right foot, get a fast start, really, really be good and diligent in who we're bringing in here and bringing back here from a personnel standpoint, a free-agent standpoint, and making sure we get the right pieces in here to compete."
They have more decisions than what to do with quarterback Kirk Cousins. But it certainly will be a decision that, moving forward, helps shape this regime. If they sign him to a long-term deal and win? Good for all. But if they let him get away and don't win? And he goes elsewhere and does? Good luck to all involved. Of course, there are multiple scenarios -- they keep Cousins and don't win; they lose him and do. Still, that decision looms largest because it dictates where they'll go next. Go with Colt McCoy and a rookie and spend more on other parts of the roster? Trade for another veteran?
The Redskins changed their front office last offseason. It's not about whether they should have fired Scot McCloughan or not; it's about their solution to that move and to promote from within. Nothing wrong with that, but the move must pay off. It's not as if the Redskins were awful this season, and their record in the last three years combined is 24-23-1. Their winning percentage since 2015 ranks 17th (and third in the NFC East). But can they take that so-called next step under Gruden?
Or can the front office do enough to help him do so? The Redskins' .410 winning percentage under Allen ranks 26th. It's never about one person, but when that person sits in a leadership position, he's the one who ultimately must be held accountable.
Next year is a key year for the Redskins. That makes this, yet again, a pivotal offseason.