- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2017

PHOENIX — The NFL owners meetings are for more than relocations and rules, believe it or not. The meetings are a good chance for the league’s leaders to get together and, though there’s plenty of PR-speak dished around, there’s plenty to be learned about each team’s plans by keeping both ears open and, sometimes, knowing how to read the tea leaves a little bit.

On that note, here are five Redskins-centric observations from last week’s meetings in Arizona:

Franchising Kirk Cousins a third time has entered the discussion.

Throughout Cousins’ entire contract saga, the idea of franchising the quarterback a third time, to the tune of $34 million, has been dismissed as inconceivable. It is still relatively inconceivable, given that the Redskins would have to be willing to sink nearly 20 percent of their salary cap into one player in order to pay Cousins that salary. The difference is that it is no longer being dismissed as such.

“Obviously we have an option for next year on him,” team president Bruce Allen said.

Allen said so while explaining that the team still wants to get a long-term deal done with Cousins, but he’s not a man to waste words. Maybe he’s bringing up the third year option as a threat — trying to soften Cousins’ negotiating position by reminding him that the Redskins can still own him for multiple years to come. Maybe it’s a peace offering — a message to Cousins that the team wouldn’t be totally closed off to upping its offer under some circumstances. Whatever it is, it’s not the moot point it used to be.

There’s a chance the team doesn’t hire a new GM.

While the Redskins will address the vacancy created when Scot McCloughan was fired in early March after the draft, they won’t necessarily do it by hiring one person to replace him.

“We’ll assess where we’re at as a team and whatever type of personnel needs we have,” Allen said.

Allen also said that he believes the Redskins front office currently employs several talents who “in a few years are going to be a general manager, a director of player personnel.”

With Allen maintaining a major say, people he views as future-GMs in-house, plus a coach who likes being involved in personnel, there are a number of ways McCloughan’s duties could be spread around that wouldn’t require a single, big hire.

The Redskins will take the best players available to them in the draft. Basically.

During his Tuesday afternoon media session, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said he doesn’t feel like the team has any glaring positional needs that will significantly alter its draft board.

“No,” Gruden said. “I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think we have to panic and say oh my gosh no matter what we have to take a defensive tackle or a defensive lineman or whatever it is.”

It’s very rare that players grade out identically, and it would take a situation like that for positional needs to dictate Washington’s choices.

“I think we’re in a pretty good place in a lot of spots,” Gruden said. “I think they’re may be one or two spots we might lean towards if everything’s equal and we like someone at certain positions. We might lean towards here or there, but I feel good about all the positions that we have right now, it’s just a matter of picking the right people.”

The Redskins got their pick in Greg Manusky (and Jim Tomsula).

The Redskins conducted their defensive coordinator search before Gruden’s contract was extended, so the prospective job they were offering came with some uncertainty. Apparently, that wasn’t an issue for the candidates.

“The guys that I interviewed all wanted the job. It’s not like anybody turned it down,” Gruden said. “I think they’re all very experienced guys, all had great qualifications and all did great job in the interview. It just came down to the [Greg] Manusky/[Jim] Tomsula combo was very appealing to me.”

Manusky and Tomsula worked together on the 49ers staff from 2007-10 with the same titles they have now, Manusky as defensive coordinator and Tomsula coaching the defensive line.

The Redskins also interviewed Mike Pettine and Gus Bradley but Manusky, with the addition of Tomsula, was the top choice.

The specialists will see some competition.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins and punter Tress Way will have to earn their jobs back. Gruden said that, after the draft, the Redskins will probably bring in a punter or a kicker “here and there.”

“I love Tress [Way] and [Dustin] Hopkins, they’ve had good years,” Gruden said. “I think both of them would tell you that it wasn’t their best year, not what they expected. But they’re both young talented guys that I think will continue to get better also the more confidence and work they get.”

Hopkins ultimately missed eight field goals (he went 34-42 overall) after starting the season a perfect 12-12. He struggled in the middle of the season, including in Week 8 when he missed a potential game-winner in overtime against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hopkins made 36-of-39 extra points.

Way and long snapper Nick Sundberg both had strong seasons, though Sundberg missed two games with a back injury.

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