Redskins coach Jay Gruden has mild praise for Kirk Cousins

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden offered lukewarm praise for Kirk Cousins' season in his year-end-review news conference, saying the quarterback played well at times but pointing to the bottom line: The Redskins were 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs.

Gruden also said, once again, that he hopes the Redskins re-sign Cousins but that they must plan for life without him just in case.

Cousins will become a free agent once the league year ends in March. The Redskins must decide whether they want to use a franchise tag for a third time or apply the transition tag. They can also start negotiating on a long-term deal at any time. It's the third straight season Cousins enters the offseason facing possible free agency.

Cousins threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions on an offense that did not have its primary target, tight end Jordan Reed, for 10 games. The Redskins also lost running back Chris Thompson and left tackle Trent Williams for six games apiece.

Gruden made it clear he had not yet finished evaluating Cousins or any other players. But in discussing Cousins' season, Gruden mentioned players he felt stood out: Williams, Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Scherff.

"It's hard to say, 'Wow, this guy really was outstanding,'" Gruden said, speaking in general. "Kirk had his flashes where he was really good. From a consistent standpoint, over the course of 16 games, we're 7-9. He did some great things, threw for over 4,000 yards and [27] touchdowns. He's a very, very good quarterback without a doubt, but as far as getting us over the hump from 7-9 to winning the division with all the injuries we had, he competed and did some good things."

Gruden has praised Cousins' growth throughout the season and said earlier this year that people "were blind" if they couldn't see his improvement. But Gruden and the Redskins know that Cousins might not return and must plan accordingly.

"We have to," Gruden said. "There are ways to plan for it. We have to make sure we have all our ducks in a row whether he's here or not. We have to make this team better."

Part of that discussion will center on whether the Redskins can fix other holes while still paying Cousins in the neighborhood of $25 million per year on a long-term deal. The franchise tag would cost them $34.5 million; the transition tag is $28.8 million. If the Redskins move on from Cousins, one option is to go with veteran Colt McCoy, the only other quarterback on the roster. Gruden said he's "always been comfortable with Colt."

"He's been in the system for a while," Gruden said. "You can see him do some things. We're not appointing anybody a starting quarterback now. I'm not saying Colt is the heir apparent and he'll start tomorrow. I just know Colt has been in the building, and I have total faith that if he was given an opportunity, he'd be ready to produce. That's how I feel about Colt. We're not going to give him the keys right now. We're still trying to work things out with the other quarterback, and hopefully things will work out. But I know Colt is ready to play."