ASHBURN, Virginia -- The Washington Redskins' starters won’t play; that doesn’t mean all is settled.
As the Redskins play their final preseason game Thursday night at Tampa Bay, they still have more decisions to make, starting with how many quarterbacks do they want to keep? There also are some veterans on the bubble.
Here are the key battles remaining:
Quarterback: Nate Sudfeld will play all four quarters Thursday -- and he must prove that he warrants a roster spot for a second consecutive season. He’s definitely on the bubble. A lot of it will come down to whether the Redskins want to keep someone at another position -- defensive line, secondary, tight end -- as well as the possibility that Sudfeld would be signed to another team’s active roster if cut. It’s not just about having a good showing vs. Tampa Bay, it’s about whether the Redskins feel he could develop into a starter at some point. Coach Jay Gruden is comfortable having just two quarterbacks.
Tight end: The Redskins have five players at this position they’d like to keep, but know it would be tough to justify more than four. The complicating factor: Starter Jordan Reed has missed a combined 20 games his first four seasons so it’s right to wonder how much he might sit out in 2017. So quality depth would be important. As of now, they’re reluctant to cut rookie tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. That’s not because he’s necessarily one of the current top four, but rather because he’s unique. Most of the college tight ends are "move" guys who are first and foremost receiving threats; Sprinkle is a big guy who can line up along the front and block. The Redskins would be afraid another team would sign him to their active roster. They have tried to trade Derek Carrier.
Receiver: They likely have three players fighting for two spots: Robert Davis, Brian Quick and Maurice Harris. The latter hasn’t done much of anything this summer because of a knee issue and the other two are considered more physical and, therefore, can do more on special teams. Davis, like Harris, is a young wideout they’d like to develop. The Redskins have added a lot of size at receiver -- that’s something Harris provided them in 2016.
Running back: It would appear the Redskins will keep four -- Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Mack Brown. That means releasing Matt Jones. However, the Redskins also could decide that with four tight ends (and Niles Paul as the de facto fullback), and greater needs elsewhere, they need only three backs. Brown, whom they'd like to be more consistent in all areas, would be the odd man out. No one claimed him last summer when he was released. Again, if the Redskins decide on three quarterbacks -- and want to keep extra help on defense -- they have to cut from somewhere. Players such as Brown always live on the edge during final cuts. He does have value on special teams, but he was one of three backs active on game days last season. If they plan to keep only three active again, then it's likely that would be Thompson, Kelley and Perine.
Defensive line: If they keep seven, it’ll come down to Joey Mbu and A.J. Francis. Both will get one final shot Thursday night to prove what they can do. Phil Taylor Sr. would have won this job but his season-ending torn quad changed those plans. Mbu and Francis not only have to prove they’re better than the other, but also that they're more valuable than, say, a third quarterback or an extra defensive back.
Secondary: The Redskins really like rookie corner Josh Holsey, who can play inside or outside, so there’s a good chance they’ll keep six cornerbacks (they're not cutting anyone in front of him; they've been pleased with how Quinton Dunbar continues to develop). It's a position of importance -- and one of strength for Washington. But if they keep seven defensive linemen and four tight ends, it would be tough to keep 11 defensive backs. That means they might keep just four safeties and, if that happens, then veteran Will Blackmon would be in trouble. They'll keep DeAngelo Hall on the physically unable to perform list, pushing back any decision on his future by at least six weeks.