Ask Boswell: Redskins, Nationals and Washington sports

Nov 20, 2017

Washington Post Sports Columnist Tom Boswell answered your questions about the Redskins, Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, the NFL and more.

Past Ask Boswell chats

Is there a groatsworth's of difference?

The Turner teams were entertaining at times and he waqs a great guy, fine offensive thinker. But his teams drove me crazy with their lazy fundamentals, tons of penalties and prima donna players (often signed by Snyder).

IOW, they were almost the opposite of this Gruden in '17. Despite tons of injuries, these guys are playing their hearts out but are only 4-6 (not 5-5 or 6-4) almost entirely because they have played an insanely tough schedule.

The teams they have played have a 52-30 record. The teams the Skins have left on their schedule at 17-37.

If they don't lose that "heart," and Cousins stays upright, they will finish 8-8 or 9-7. That probably won't make the playoffs. But it will certainly earn my respect. I'm not a fanatic Skins fan, though I'm certainly a lifelong watcher. The fanatics, and where would sports be without them, bless 'em, much less sportswriters,  just CARE so much that every loss just HAS to be viewed in terms of "who is to blame?" and "how much are they blame?" Unfortunately, Dan Snyder, a fan, thinks EXACTLY this way. I find it easy to view them very much as I would a team from a city 1,000 miles away. There are things to "blame." But, man, on Sunday there were far more things to praise and appreciate. Yes, I know all about the third-and-one call that got stuffed and how Joe Fan could have called a better play in real time, and I know about the intentional grounding penalty that Jane Fan thinks she'd never have thrown.

I watched the game again and despite the plays that led to losing, and the complete collapse of the exhausted under-manned defense, trying to hide D. Hall somewhere, anywhere, and always having Brees find him, I still thought they did the town, and fans that they represent quite "proud."

THEY can't be proud. They're pros and they lost. But that doesn't define my reaction. That belongs to me. I love teams that refuse to accept what they are supposed to be (bad) and battle to be as good as they can be, shaking off endless disappointments along the way. My favorite Nats team, more than all the current "winners," was the Manny Acta crew that was told it would lose 120-to-130 games, then went 73-89 and celebrated when it avoided 90 loses just out of cussedness. These Skins are anything like that bad. But they are maxing out __and play a huge physical price. YOU can ask for more if your conscience will allow it. I just watch 'em, feel bad for 'em and tip my cap.

If you'd like Cousins to return, it might be wise to express how much you value his guts, accuracy and toughness, not his few (bad) mistake. He's the best QB in this town since Sonny J. Joe T can only dream of being this good relative to his own era. If they let him get away, and I bet (in his own mind) that he is already "gone" THEN they have huge problems. 

Yesterday's loss may well set back the team for years. Snyder and his non-football experts (Allen) will use yesterday's loss to as an excuse to move on from Cousins. They will argue that they are losing with Cousins so why pay him? This will cause the team to essentially start over. Kirk is not the problem and may actually be the solution. Poor receivers, lack of talent on defense and injuries are much more to blame but Snyder will not see it that way. Neil Greenberg rated the Skins as having among the worst talent in the league. Probably only four members of the defense could start for other teams. Until the team gets the equivalent of Mike Rizzo, this drama will continue as it has since Snyder bought the team.

Amen.

This is a team that has only one star: Cousins.

Other D.C. teams have three-time MVPs (Ovechkin), three-time Cy Young Award winners (Scherzer), an N.L. MVP (Harper). 

Gio Gonzalez ('12) and Strasburg (this year) have been CYA finalists (best three). Daniel Murphy was runner-up for MVP in '16. Anthony Rendon has been sixth-or-better for MVP in two of the last three years. Holtby is on the short list for best NHL goalie. Backstrom is deep into a fabulous career. The Wiz now probably have THREE of the best 30 players in the NBA in John Wall, Bradley Beal and (maybe) Otto Porter.

Who do the Skins have? Ryan Kerrigan, a very good pass rusher, but hardly a great one. Josh Norman, hoighest paid NFL cornerback, who was almost never in the frame on Sunday, unless he was missing a tackle. Trent Williams, an All-Pro tackle. But he's not going to the HOF. Ovechkin will, Max very well may, Harper just needs health to do it, etc.

The Skins always talk up their talent, but that doesn't mean it's real. FINALLY, Josh Doctson and Perine showed that they are not all "potential." In fact, their play, both of them,  was probably the biggest reason I felt positive overall about the New Orleans loss.

Let me rephrase that. With sensible ownership/front office, I'd have felt positive. But the Skins have bad patterns. Not Gruden. Not these particular players. But the "other way" to take this loss is to conclude: Our season is dead. We've lost any sensible playoff chance and Thompson for the year, too. It's hopeless. Why keep giving these massive efforts?

You can turn that game into 8-8 with pride and some hope of making Cousins feel like the organization isn't nuts, that he loves Gruden's offense and wants to stay. Or you can turn that game into a path to 6-10 with a "shock loss" or two like a loss to the (hated) Giants, who've won a couple now, either on Thanksgiving or up there on the last day of the season. Then Cousins looks around and thinks, "Why would I want to stay here for years and get beaten up from head-to-toe every week?"

This is when you may need leadership, and support, from people ABOVE the coach. Not "blaming." We'll see how that works out.      

As Jimmy Johnson said on Fox halftime: "How much money is Kirk Cousins gonna make? We don't even know who he's playin' with... a bunch of these 'other guys.' He's gonna make him a buncha money."

You can bet Jimmy, ex-Pokes legend, thinks (hopes) it will be in a town other than Washington with that dope Snyder.

I suppose the Redskins are technically alive in the playoff race, but given the loss of key players to free agency, all the injuries and the performance issues with some key recent draft picks, shouldn’t the team do what any not-so-great NBA team would do in similar circumstances, i.e. play the younger players and subs to see if they are any good, and tank to get a better position in the draft?

Way too late for that. They've already won four games. They'll be favorites at home against the Giants, Cards and Broncos, at least. Even if they kinda-sorta tried to lose they win five or six games. And if you play subs, what do you do with Cousins, put him out there to get slaughtered? Then have him, disgusted, leave town. Or do you sit him for his health __with fabulous stats, no injuries and a "Highest Offer Accepted" sign on his back, so you can play Colt McCoy?

Nope, you gotta suck it up and play 'em.

What a shame about Thompson. That's when the NFL kind of makes you sick. Of course, the CTE issue is the gorilla in the room. But the REST of the game seems to be generating more and more major injuries as the years go by.

 

I confess the debates and columns over Harper’s proper worth annoy me a bit for a few reasons. We can debate whether it’s advisable for the Nats to keep Harper, but it’s a little silly to offer up reasons why he is or isn’t worth $400 million over the next 10 years, or whatever, without drawing upon the relevant projection data we have AT OUR FINGERTIPS. The fact is, the most sophisticated player projection algorithms used in baseball (like ZiPS to just name one) all agree Harper WILL be worth $400 million over the next 10 years. These systems aren’t foolproof of course, but they have been proven more reliable and accurate than expert picks and predictions, and take into account everything from stats, to similar player comps, to injury history and Bryce Harper is projected to be average about 4.7 WAR/year for the next 10 years ranging between a high of 6.3 and a low of 3.0 in the last year at age 35 (in reality a guy who has been injured and also had a 10 WAR year will be more volatile, but projections are moderate both ways by nature).

But the point is, he is projected to accumulate a WAR in the high 40s in his age 25-35 seasons. Because we know 1 WAR is worth about 8.7 million dollars this offseason and will be worth probably around 9 million dollars in 2018 offseason, we can calculate that these mathematical models, which take into account everything we could think of and offers the best guess, think Harper will be worth over $400 million over a 10-year contract. So... it’s not marketing or hype. Bryce is going to make $400M because that’s what he is worth. (By the way, only Trout, Correa, Lindor, Bryant and Seager are projected to accumulate that much WAR over the next 10 years, although others like Machado, Bellinger, Altuve, and Judge are vaguely close). You might say, why does Harper break the bank like this and not them? Well, if those guys all hit the free market at age 25, many would earn comparable pay days. But only Bryce is going to. That’s what makes him special. Stop saying it’s all due to hype and marketing. That doesn’t hurt any, but I doubt you think you’re better at valuations than the algorithms GMs use.

Who is this "you" person that you reference. It's certainly not me.

Harper is a fascinating subject for discussion. And his injury pattern is coming into focus more each year. But, within the last week, I've done a similar analysis to what you wrote above and came to a similar conclusions. He's PROBABLY a Hall of Famer who probably will be worth $400M. But the most statistically similar player to Harper at the same age are now Andruw Jones, then Frank Robinson, then Justin Upton.  Jones had some great years after 25. But that still shows the wide range of outcomes and is another reason why talking about his "value" is hard to escape. Especially when the Nats STILL seem to make so little progress toward getting their fair share of the MASN money. Also, does he WANT to stay in D.C.? I'm sure he likes it. Does he love it?

No! No! No! Tom, the knee-jerk reactors are out in full force, calling for Gruden to be fired, for Cousins to be canned. It's ridiculous. These Redskins beat a team (Seattle) everyone, including the naysayers, expected them to lose to. Then they almost beat (last week) a team they were supposed to get shellacked by, and yesterday did the same thing, barely losing to a team that was heavily heavily favored and led by a HOF QB. And they did it with tons of injuries!! Yes the "D" choked at the end. But when you're this improved, and are surprising the reasonable onlookers and professionals who see past the temporary disappointment of losing a game you were supposed to lose, now is exactly the time to stand pat! Consistency is the one thing these Redskins have needed for years, and they now are beginning to feel it. If David had failed to slay Goliath, would you fire his slingshot trainer? No! Those who would aren't reading the book correctly.

Nice.

Why do I write answers when we have chatters who say, "If David had failed to slay Goliath, would you fire his slingshot trainer?"

You folks are priceless. Thanks.

Your colleague Chelsea Janes recently reported that any resolution of the MASN dispute between the Nats and Orioles is nowhere in sight. Isn't it a disgrace that Bud Selig, and now Rob Manfred, have allowed this to fester for all these years? Will no-money-due-them impact the Nats ability to re-sign Harper and others?

Read that story if you want to spoil your Thanksgiving week mood.

This reached the point of being outrageous long ago. Selig didn't have the guts to take on the litigious Angelos, especially because Bud was part of setting the whole thing up. He wanted to retire, live happily ever after, have a nice HOF ceremony and so he just handed the 1,000-degree hot potato to Manfred. Who acts like: What is this? And why should I touch it? Just because it is a perfect example of an 'integrity of the game' issue that is supposed to be my No. 1 job.

So, Angelos gets just what he wants, a legal morass that allows him to delay paying what he owes because nobody can get to a point where it is decided WHAT he owes. By the way, I'd consider saying that he has "welshed on the deal," except that Boswell is Welsh. Apparently, my ancestors invented ,or were accused of inventing, this technique of reneging by whatever means possible, including delay. So, I won't use such a derogatory term. (I'll just think it.) 

The Lerners have a few billion bucks. They should be able to turn up the legal heat, make demands, state their case, raise some hell. But, year after year, they don't. They just HATE to be in the spotlight... any light. So they "go through the process" while Peter plays stall ball. It DOES look to me like the long-term outcome is clear. The Nats get paid handsomely. But WHEN? And will the Lerners use these delays as a real reason, or a convenient excuse, for not extending Harper or, a year further down the line, Rendon.

We constantly talk about coaches, managers and players being "accountable." Explain yourself. Tell the fans who pay the freight why you did what you did, what your thinking was and what comes next. Shouldn't ownerships be held to the same standard of publicly accounting for their behavior, their inaction or their poor results at reaching a solution? Yes, it IS their business. But the customers, if you want to keep them as customers, have a vested interest, too. In the case of the Nats and such accountability, "That'll be the day." Their position comes down: We are aggrieved; but we do not wish to expand on the subject.

This is one of the all-time quagmire stories. I don't have an answer. The Lerners actually are following ONE of the methods to reach a solution. Get the fight back within the "custody," so to speak, of an MLB dispute resolution framework. But how many more years does that take?

How much of that is on Kurt, I mean Kirk, based on what was said after the game? ;) Also, another bad official call hurts a D.C. team. Otherwise, even though some are trying to pin this loss on Kirk, it is really on the defense and maybe the coaching in the last two drives of the fourth quarter. Depending on how you explain that intentional grounding throw, he does have some culpability, but what he did without any big names on the field and after Thompson was out is really amazing. It is a shame that this game will always be colored by it's ending when they played a great game until the end. As an aside, was the hands to the face penalty on the interception a good call or not? Thanks

The hands to the face was a good call. Ironically, it was just his little finger that got hooked in the mask. But it was enough to jerk the receiver's head.

I will second-guess Gruden on one thing. (It's pretty easy when you have minutes or hours to form an opinion, not split seconds.) The Skins had a first down at the Saints' 44-yard line with 31 seconds left. You don't want to just line up for a 52-yard field goal and take a shot at the win. If you miss, Brees gets the ball at it's own 42-yard line and is one 15-to-20-yard completion from a New Orleans potential game-winning kick at the gun.

So, you want to eat clock before you kick and give Brees NO chance. The obvious choice is just dive off tackle with Perine, try to gain a couple of yards, "clock" the ball, then try your field goal. A pass, any pass, has risks. A quick blind-side sack. A leaping lineman deflects the throw and it's intercepted. No, you never dream of a bizarre accidental and even questionable intentional grounding call. But you do know that pass equals risk.

IMO, Gruden doesn't trust Rose very much, even though he's shown a 55-yard leg already this month. And he's kicking indoors. Gruden just wanted a FEW more yards. And "pass" is always going to jump to his pass-oriented brain first. The problem is that switching to a pass involves communication under intense time pressure. Gruden said he wanted to throw a bubble screen to Crowder to try to gain a few yards and get out of bounds, then kick the field goal. My second guess: TOO CUTE. There are too many moving parts to get that play into the game, into the minds of the pertinent players and not have some unexpected FUBAR moment. Just run it. If you lose a yard, then it's a 53-yarder. Rose is either going to drill it, and it'll be plenty long enough, or he won't square it up well enough and he'll miss whether it's from 52, 53 or 54.

Just run it, clock it and kick it.

Easy to say now. But as incredibly good as NFL kickers are these days, especially indoors, it's probably 50-50, or better, whether Rose kicks it from 52, 53 or 54.

Okay, class quiz. What is the NFL's league-wide percentage this year on FGs of 50 yards or more. I just guessed 50-50. I just looked it up. It's 73-for-101 from +50!!!!

This was indoors. The Skins HAD to get a field goal try off. Even if Rose is below average, aren't you looking at a 65% chance to win? So, Crazy Jay went a little crazy and pass happy. He wanted to "help" his guys. Just like he helped 'em with the shock run from punt formation from the Skins own 15-yard line earlier in the game. That was brilliantly intuitive, elite coaching stuff for sensing what the moment required after a star had just broken his leg. In a much easier coaching spot, he over-coached. You don't have to help 'em win. You just to make sure you don't help 'em screw it up. Run it, clock it, kick it and take your chances.

BUT Gruden had a truly exceptional play-calling game. He had almost NO weapons. Yet his team scored 31 points against a good defense, after 30 points last week against a good defense, and against the Saints they gained 456 yards. Tons of that is Cousins. But plenty is to Gruden's credit, too. 

Boz, I'm sure you were thinking the same thing I was thinking at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon: my God, Max Scherzer may have been worth every penny! After his second Cy Young as a National, are we now safely in territory that we can say from Ashburn to Landover (to pick two random metro area locations) that the Scherzer contract was a GOOD contract? And how close are we to saying the team got a deal on him?

FanGraphs estimates that Scherzer's first three years as a Nat were worth $144.6M in free agent currency. His seven-year salary is $210M, but half of it is pushed so far into the future, years eight through-14, that it's probably worth (present value) more like $180M-to-$185M.

So, Max has almost "paid out" the investment already.

Among the pitchers "most comparable" to Scherzer through age 32, and the one whose career arc seems most similar to me, is the late, great Roy Halladay. At ages 29, 30, 31 and 32, he finished third, fifth, second and fifth for Cy Young. He only lasted four more years before his arm gave out, similar to what may happen to Max. But, like Scherzer, Halladay kept the peddle to the metal until he blew. At 33, he was 21-10 with a 2.44, at 34 he was 19-6 with a 2.46 and finished first and second for Cy Young. Then came the end: 11-8 and 4-5 (and then retired) at ages 35 and 36.

If Max has 55 more wins in him over the next four years, like Halladay, and that number would be a pretty decent guess of less than 14-a-year, he'd be an enormous bargain.

The big year is next year, because that tormenting "window" is still open, even if it is also open for three or four other exceptional teams. 

Another Max comp thru age 32 is Tim Hudson. The next four years he went 2-1 (hurt), 17-9, 16-10 and 16-7. The idea that Max will be pretty much used up by the end of this contract is quite likely (historically), but there's plenty of precedent for him to have two or three more good years. 

Or, of course, he could be more like Roy Oswalt who had a 2.76 ERA in 211 innings at age 32, then went: 9-10, 4-3, 0-6, then retired.

Is the game of football going the way of boxing when it seems that we can't watch a whole game without a debilitating injury? For a short time, it looked like we even had two on the same play but somehow Kirk guessed the right answer to "How many fingers am I holding up?" while Chris Thompson is done for the year.

Yes, it sure feels that way.

The NFL's trend line has definitely rolled over. It's just a question of how much its popularity falls and how fast. But I'm not in the Extinction Camp. To me, that's mostly just a Hot Take. Predicting the future, based on the assumption that the average American functions primarily as a moral being with a conscience has proved to be quite an unreliable tool.

I feel like this was something of a statement game from Cousins. Snyder will regret not signing him to an extension sooner.

This was Cousins' 42nd straight statement game. They can't all be equally good. This guy is SPECIAL. I wrote in December of '15 that he was most similar to Drew Brees and the Skins should build around him. That was the year that Cousins was caught on mic saying to a teammate during a game, "WWDB"... What would Drew Brees do?

The last three years, Cousins and Brees are almost identical. IMO, it's Case Closed.

Brees is 22-19 in W-L with 12,8612 yards on 1143-for-1641 passing (69.7%) with an 84-31 TD-to-INT ratio. His QB rating is 102.0. He seldom runs.

Cousins is 21-20-1 in W-L with 11,879 yards on 1015-for-1494 passing (67.9%) with a 71-28 TD-to-INT ratio. His QB rating is 99.9. Cousins has also scored a DOZEN rushing TDs in that time, which I think is second (or third) highest in the NFL. So, passing and rushing he has 83 TDs. Brees has Zero rushing TDs.

Sure, Brees, 38, is old. Brees is also great. And Cousins, 29, might still get better. Especially with a better team (somewhere else) next year.

The Skins totally blew this one (the franchise QB issue). It's the biggest single decision on your plate. Now, can they somehow get Cousins... "How Do You Like Me NOW"... to love 'em and stay in DC?

Harper means a lot to the future of the Nats. But Cousins means a WHOLE LOT more to the future of the Skins because no one everyday player can impact MLB as much as a top QB can impact the NFL.

Here are the NFL's leaders in passing yardage.

Brady...3,146

Cousins....2,796

Brees....2,789.

Cousins is 7th in QB rating (101.8) behind Brady  (110.9), Smith, Brees, Wentz (103.4), Rodgers and Watson.

But, in various games, Cousins has done it with o-linemen he has never met, with wide receivers who are inept, etc. He has had to throw to 14 different receivers.

He has TD passes to Maurice Harris and Jeremy Sprinkle.

Go on, say something bad about him to me.

And he (knock on wood) never gets hurt, and I don't know how.  

 

After the reality check of the Saints game, isn’t it finally time for Redskins fans to wake up and realize the team is not only not playoff caliber, but ranks in the bottom third of league? The most realistic comparisons are to Chicago or Indianapolis, teams with multiple deficiencies and a long, long way to go before achieving sustainable success. The gift win at Seattle may have lulled the fans into dreams of glory, but a wide awake view of the team should show that the the recent improvements in professionalism can’t make up for the talent gap that took years to develop and will take years to close. Instead of thinking “we’re Almost there” the more accurate and less painful view would be "we have a long way to go, but at least we’re getting better."

"The more accurate and less painful view would be 'we have a long way to go, but at least we’re getting better.'"

I think you just summed up my view, and/or advice, thus far throughout the entirety of the Twenty-First Century.

Sorry, sort of, for so much Skins. But that was such an INCREDIBLE game. And now that their  playoff chances are pretty dead there'll be plenty of time for other things soon.

Will the Redskins ever win a Superbowl under Dan Snyder's ownership?

"Ever" is such a long time.

But your question is just so easy.

No.

 

Mr. Boswell,

You are a great writer in the tradition of Red Smith. I just read your comment on the Redskins loss. Thank you. It nearly moved me to tears. I have followed the team since 1953 and have never been prouder of them than I was yesterday. I have no question, just happy Thanksgiving to my favorite Post writer.

Well, I'll give a little thanks for such a generous reader. Thanks very much.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. (But I don't know whether you should watch the Skins-Giants game.)

I don't want him to come back. I like him too much. I hope he signs somewhere else where he won't have to deal with Snyder and the team. That's the point I'm at as a Skins fan. Sad.

Headline: "Skins Lose Heartbreaker. Cousins Plays Game That Sets Him Free."

Hey Boz, I have been shocked at how good and gritty this Redskins team is. I thought they would be awful going into the season, but I was dead wrong. Cousins has been so good, defense has played above their pay grade, and the team just seems deeper with talent given all the injuries. If they can keep Cousins and even just maintain some of the talent they have, I feel like they are going to be really good next year. It feels like they're actually building something. What do you think? Also, feels like the loss of Jonathan Allen was huge.

You know, amid the Monday gloom, I see your point and have felt that several times this season. Especially with Perine and Doctson showing so well Sunday. In many respects, no, no, no, not all respects, Gruden is really a very fine coach. Aikman fell all over himself saying what a remarkable, original offensive thinker Gruden was. Troy said everything except, "This guy could coach up 11 circus clowns and they'd score 24 points."

But those are such huge words: "If they can keep Cousins."

He is not only carrying the team, at times, he is inspiring it. He's not your typical leader, but it sure feels like he is one. 

This year, the defense WANTS to hit somebody. Finally. But they are just chewed up by injury all the way back to preseason with Murphy & Cravens. Then the list just grows: Allen, Compton, d-linemen with clubs for hands. When you have to call D-Hall back from the bone yard to START at safety you are a desperate bunch. 

 

An astute chatter says: "If David had failed to slay Goliath, would you fire his slingshot trainer?" Um, doesn't this analogy imply Snyder is God? The horrors!

Hmmmm.

You have to be so careful in chats. And my instinct is not to be careful. Not my natural habitat.

See you next Monday.

After beating the Seahawks and almost beating the excellent Vikings and Saints, the tradition in D.C. is to then play down to the competition in their next game and lose to the lowly Giants. And then blame the short week, as if the Giants have a full week off. And then blame all the injuries that only the Redskins have. Only then will I feel like I'm back home in D.C.

Yup, that could happen.

But, as I mentioned last week, their last six games are with teams that are 17-37. Lotta POTENTIAL for W's out there IF they hold together. Can they, now without Thompson, too? The Cowboys just got stomped by the Eagles. Of future foes, only the Chargers looked good killing the Bills and Skins must face them in LA.

There's far too much talk about "character" in sports. But some athletic character will be required this week after taking such a loss.

 

So far Skins have shown lots of heart, punching above their weight which causes some to see them as better than they are, but for the most part, they compete HARD. This will be another big test for the coaching staff, can they keep the locker room believing and not lose the locker room. Sure hope so!

I agree.

As I've written, the Giants and Skins ownerships hate each other. There is no such thing as an easy game for the Skins, even/especially at home. With NYG coming off an inspiring OT win and the Skins off a depressing OT loss, with a short week, the Giants game will be a TEST. If they win, even by one point on a miracle, the Skins should get a lot of credit.

That's it for this week. Sorry to be monochromatic. I'll try for more variety next week. Thanks again for all the passion and perception in your questions/comments. Much appreciated.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

In This Chat
Thomas Boswell
A Washington Post columnist since 1984, Thomas Boswell is known for the many books he has written on baseball, including "How Life Imitates the World Series" and "Why Time Begins on Opening Day."
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