ASHBURN, Va. -- The message sounds so basic you would think it’s followed all the time: Start the guy who deserves it most. That’s what the Washington Redskins have said they’re doing and will continue to do.
Problem is, that’s not always what happens. Sometimes players stick in the lineup because of where they were drafted or how much money they make. But the real problem is when you don’t have legitimate competition to make changes. It’s not as if the Redskins have a team loaded with depth. But they’ve had enough at some spots to be able to push aside higher picks or bigger-money players.
The Redskins had that at quarterback, so they bumped former first-round pick Robert Griffin III, who counts $6.7 million against the cap, to the bench and inserted former fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins, who counts $778,172 this season. It was the right move.
Another one: Defensive end Stephen Paea was a key free-agent signing in the offseason, but he was limited to 12 snaps Sunday. Why? Because Chris Baker has been playing well since camp opened and nudged him aside. Baker recorded two sacks and disrupted several other plays. Right move.
The Redskins also cut a former second-round pick in cornerback David Amerson, who was not drafted by this general manager or coaching staff. Still, he’s only in his third season. They felt he couldn’t play; gone. They could have kept him outside and moved Bashaud Breeland inside in nickel. Instead, they found an alternative by using safety Kyshoen Jarrett in the slot. Perhaps if those who had drafted Amerson were still here, this move wouldn’t have happened. But they’re not so it was -- and the Redskins move forward.
One reason the Redskins inserted Cousins into the starting lineup stemmed from being true to this philosophy. When players see another guy doing better and he doesn’t play, it sends the wrong message.
“You try to play the best player, and I think the players understand that and they appreciate that and they understand that every day they have to earn the right to be a starter on this football team,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Every game they have to perform to keep their job. That’s the only way it can be. That’s the only way it should be in pro football, and I don’t think this is the only place that handles it like that.”
Linebacker Trent Murphy is a former second-round pick, but he has to play well to keep the job ahead of another second-round pick in Preston Smith. If Spencer Long doesn’t perform at left guard, they won’t let him continue because they have other options. A handful of others are on that list. Not every player has someone directly behind pushing them; no one is going to bump a healthy Chris Culliver from corner, for example. The Redskins aren’t that deep.
It’s great to talk about playing the best guys, but when someone isn’t getting the job done you need a legitimate alternative.
“It’s a performance-based business," Gruden said. "In order to keep your job, you have got to perform at a high level. That’s what we’re expecting from all our guys.”