One day last month Jay Gruden fielded questions about winning the NFC East division and dealing with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Literally 48 hours later, queries focused on the next season because the current campaign ended earlier than hoped. Lose in the playoffs, especially at home in a matchup many predicted you wouldn't, and the season ends abruptly. The Washington Redskins coach experienced that emotional swing.
The pain of losing surely doesn't disappear completely, but with time to process the overall season, good feelings remain with Gruden -- and for good reason.
"We're obviously happy we won the NFC East, which is big," said Gruden, who spoke exclusively with Breaking Burgundy recently.
The coach continued.
"I'm happy with the progress that we made and I'm happy with the way our guys came in and competed every day and worked hard. We fought through with some adversity with some injuries. Our guys stuck together, played hard. We still have a long way to go, but we're happy with the progress and the direction we're going."
Led by improved quarterback play from Kirk Cousins and fortified by an impressive rookie class, Washington won its final four regular season games before falling to Green Bay 35-18 on Jan. 10 in the Wild Card round.
Since then, there was time to lick wounds, ponder all the "what ifs" and simply relax. With free agency around the corner and the NFL Draft in April, time for chill is no more.
"We had a couple of weeks which was good and now we have to get right back into it," Gruden said. "Breakdown our free agents and the other free agents around the NFL and then really start to get our feet wet in the draft process."
The next couple of months are truly that simple though obviously rather complex. Washington's own free agent list is long with notables Cousins, Terrance Knighton and Alfred Morris the headliners. Tackling all the league-wide names requires far more time. How the Redskins address their various needs, from an aging defensive line to secondary depth to running back help while balancing the salary cap will dictate some draft thoughts.
Once players are added, retained or released, then the coaching kicks in, starting with various offseason workouts and practices all the way through training camp in Richmond.
Clearly whatever Gruden and his staff did last season worked. Then again, it took a late surge for Washington to finish 9-7 and various woes from all of their division rivals to finish atop the NFC East. Simply repeating last season may not be enough for another division pennant. The Redskins only finished with a plus-9 scoring differential and now face a first place schedule.
There's also no denying that progress was made. Gruden and company need more for true Super Bowl contention. Break over.
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