PHOENIX -- There’s the outside perception: The Washington Redskins are coming apart, having fired their general manager, unable to sign their quarterback to a long-term deal and with no big-name talent joining the defense. Then there’s the perception from the inside: Life isn’t as bad as it appears.
In fact, for Redskins coach Jay Gruden, life is pretty good.
“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I know it's not great, but we’ve had back-to-back winning seasons. There's no reason for us not to be optimistic.”
Skeptics will point to the general manager situation -- Scot McCloughan was fired and the team doesn’t plan to hire a replacement until after the draft (and the role remains undefined). Quarterback Kirk Cousins will play under the franchise tag, barring a surprise turn in any efforts to procure a long-term contract by the July 15 deadline.
But Cousins’ status doesn’t affect the 2017 season; he’ll be here regardless.
Gruden, upbeat by nature, points to players returning from injury such as tight end Niles Paul, who provides depth at a key spot for them. Gruden said safety will be upgraded with the addition of free agent signee D.J. Swearinger. They’re also moving Su'a Cravens to safety. Gruden also said “hopefully” DeAngelo Hall returns from another injury and shows he can still play. But it’s not as if they’re counting on him to start.
Gruden obviously liked signing defensive linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee. They also added receivers Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick, but lost the productive Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Josh Doctson continues to recover from his Achilles issues and Jamison Crowder will have a bigger role.
They also have a new defensive staff, firing Joe Barry and Perry Fewell and promoting Greg Manusky to coordinator and hiring Jim Tomsula (defensive line) and Torrian Gray (secondary).
That might not move the needle as much for the fan base -- it’s a different outlook than previous offseasons, when big moves led to optimism, leading to grand failure. This time, the moves have led to pessimism and doubt. That's not shared by the Redskins’ head coach.
They’re not a finished product by any means and any changes they made in the offseason will be justified, or second-guessed, by how the team performs this fall. So March pessimism or optimism will be replaced by whatever their reality becomes. If a coach doesn’t like the direction his team is headed at this point in the year, there’s trouble ahead.
“We have a lot of reasons for excitement around here. Don’t know why everyone is so doom-and-gloom around here,” Gruden said. “We’re excited. I know our players are going to be excited to work. Kirk’s excited, I'm excited, so let’s go.”
Gruden also certainly feels more secure, having signed a two-year extension earlier this month; he would become the first coach under Redskins owner Dan Snyder to last more than four years. The subject was raised a month or so before it happened. The team also named offensive line coach Bill Callahan an assistant head coach.
“I think it’s good for the players that like me that there’s stability. For the ones that don’t...” he said, laughing. “But it’s always good to have stability, especially with your assistant coaches, too. It just makes for a better environment working without the stress of looking over your shoulder every five minutes.
“Hopefully I can make them right by the decision and do the best I can moving forward and continue to build this franchise the way it’s supposed to be.”