ASHBURN, Va. — They’re making the money, but not the plays. And that has been an issue for the Washington Redskins. Too many of their big-money guys are either sidelined or not doing enough on the field, and it all adds up to an 0-2 record and endless questions about where the team is headed.
Of the Redskins’ top six players in terms of salary-cap space, three haven’t been on the field this season.
“It’s a bummer, that’s all I can say,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
Quarterback Alex Smith, left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed haven’t played. Smith might not play again; Williams remains a holdout and Reed missed two games with a concussion. That’s $43.072 million in cap space.
“That’s three pretty good ones that are not available to us,” Gruden said.
Here’s a closer look at the three big-money players who haven’t seen the field, plus one who isn’t playing up to his salary.
Smith ($20.1 million): He’s walking without crutches, but his leg remains in a cast (he broke his tibia and fibula in November 2018). It will be a long time before he can think about playing again. It’s not that he was irreplaceable on the field — though players still talk about his leadership skills — but it’s the cap space he occupies. It prevented the Redskins from perhaps adding another player or two in the offseason and it’s obvious now that they clearly needed more help. Case Keenum has thrown for 601 yards and five touchdowns. While big plays have been missed, Keenum hasn’t turned it over and isn’t the problem.
Williams ($13.302 million): He does not count against the cap now because he was placed on the reserve/did not report list, but he is one of their big money guys. It is uncertain as to if or when Williams will report. The Redskins continue to say they won’t trade him and certainly don’t want to move him for the sake of doing so. He needs to be on the roster for at least six games to get an accrued season, or his contract — which has two years remaining — will roll over. Donald Penn has replaced him at left tackle and has been fine.
But Williams’ speed getting to linebackers or defensive backs in space enables Washington to run different plays — or have better success with them.
“Trent’s Trent,” Gruden said. “Penn has done a really, really good job. Hopefully he can hold up; he’s long in the tooth.”
Or, as running back Chris Thompson said, “When teams see Trent is in at left tackle, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I’m in for a long day.'”
Reed ($9.67 million): He has missed the first two games with a concussion, after looking as good this summer as he has looked in several seasons. He was healthy and showed an explosiveness that had been missing. But the concussion Reed suffered on Aug. 22 slowed him and, after looking like he would return last week, he sat out again. He has had seven concussions since he started playing college football.
Vernon Davis has caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. He is more fast while Reed is quicker to win his routes. That makes Davis dangerous over the middle, an area the Redskins want to exploit. They hope pairing an inside threat like Reed with a downfield threat such as rookie Terry McLaurin, makes them tougher to defend. Having Reed and Davis enables Washington to use more two-tight-end sets with both serving as receiving threats.
“The hard thing with Jordan, you have to devise a game plan … and then when [you learn] he can’t play on Friday, you do a lot of work for nothing,” Gruden said. “It’s hard because he’s a special guy.”
Corner Josh Norman ($14.3 million): He has been available, but he hasn’t played to his cap number. The Redskins have surrendered three long touchdown passes and Norman has been involved in each one, though he is not always directly to blame. On two occasions he was supposed to have help in the deep middle, but did not. One of those plays occurred Sunday against Cowboys receiver Devin Smith, but Norman needed to do a better job staying with Smith. On the third play, Norman never got a defensive Audible, so he wasn’t able to play the new coverage. But teams aren’t shying away from him and that’s not going to change.
All of this adds up to a team that needs more from its big-money investments.
“Guys don’t look so much at the money side of it,” Thompson said. “It’s just, obviously the guys that get paid the big bucks are the big players. So you always want those difference-makers out there.”
For Thompson, the shame of it is that the three who haven’t played all are on offense.
“It sucks because we don’t have those guys there,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, this was the year I was like, ‘All right, we’ve got a new quarterback but we’ve got everybody on offense.’ And then the situation with Trent and then one tackle affected Jordan Reed and it was like, dang, man, will there ever be a time when we’ve got every single person healthy? Just to be able to see it for at least a game.”