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How Jay Gruden Approaches Free Agency, Upcoming NFL Draft

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With the free agency window still open and the NFL Draft quickly approaching, here's a look at how head coach Jay Gruden assesses potential new players.

On a recent, wide-ranging interview with The Team 980’s Chris Cooley, head coach Jay Gruden provided some insight into his offseason and the process that goes into acquiring free agents and drafting prospects. Here’s a look at some of his answers from Wednesday’s conversation.

If Gruden wants a player in free agency, his coaching staff wants him, too.

Very rarely does Gruden vouch for a free agent player he loves without the rest of his coaching staff agreeing with him. He does, however, hold some strong influence over who the team pursues in free agency.

“We try to make an effort,” Gruden said. “And usually when I say something like that, it’s not just my opinion, it’s the coaches opinion, its coach [Jim] Tomsula’s opinion, its coach [Greg] Manusky’s, its coach [Matt] Cavanaugh’s, coach [Kevin] O’Connell, Ike Hilliard. Whoever it is, the position that we’re talking about, it’s a group effort and we all have the same type of grade on him. Very seldom do I have an ‘I gotta have this guy’ and then the majority of everybody else says ‘this guy’s not very good.’ We’re usually all together on the same page. Now we don’t always get that player, there’s cost involved, like you said, unfortunately. But we do make an effort to get the guys that we all like.”

Gruden likes when coaches and scouting departments disagree on certain players.

“I think we all understand the more opinions you have on players, actually, the better it is.” Gruden knows that there can be a disconnect between rationales of thinking but believes this helps provide a fuller perspective to the evaluation process.

“We’re going to have some arguments, we’re going to butt heads from time to time but at the end of the day when the decisions are made, we’re on the same team and we’re all trying to get better,” Gruden said.

He also understands that it’s the coach’s job to adapt to players that the personnel departments find and grade. It’s rare, Gruden said, to find a player such as Aaron Donald or Antonio Brown, that a staff feels comfortable inserting into the offense or defense, regardless of scheme or situation.

“Now you’re talking about towards the middle of the roster, towards the end of the roster, now we have to figure out can he help us as a backup and more importantly, where does he fit on special teams, and that’s where we have to start to really look right now,” Gruden said. “We have to add some depth to our roster, we have to add some special teams players and really help out our group. But overall, our scouts are going to give us the best athletes, the best possible players at their positions, our coaches will grade them and figure out if it’s a system fit. If he’s not a so-called system fit, we’ll figure out ways to play him and adapt him to our system.”

Paul Richardson is going to get some shots downfield.

The speedy deep threat was missing from the Redskins offense last year, a product of DeSean Jackson signing with Tampa Bay and the team addressing the wide receiver holes with bigger, taller receivers in Terrelle Pryor Sr. and Brian Quick.

Richardson’s signing in some ways is a direct rebuttal to the missing home run target last season, and Gruden is optimistic about the production he can get from Richardson, who has battled a couple of ACL injuries in his college and pro career.

“I loved him coming out of Colorado," he said. "He was an explosive guy, he could run, he’s a good kid. But you know, he’s had a couple injuries and hasn’t had quite the production at Seattle that you’d like. But we actually like his speed and the ability for him to take the top off cause he can really run. He’s overcome the injuries and he needs an opportunity to get some balls, some shots down the field. And if I think if it’s one thing you could say our receiving corps probably did not have was a blazing speeder, speed guy last year and this guy gives us that element.”

Gruden admitted there were a couple players in free agency he wanted but couldn’t get.

Every coach has a couple of players he'd love to have on his team. It’s only natural. Gruden admitted as much to Cooley. But because missing a few always happens each year, he’s learned how to refocus after a disappointment and concentrate of the players he did acquire.

“You kinda kick the can for seven days, ‘gosh dang it, gosh dang it, I didn’t get this guy, I really wanted this guy,’ but then you gotta get over it and you have to coach the guys you have and be excited about it,” Gruden said. “I’m excited about the team we have right now, the core that we have right now and then the ability to add some key elements in this draft. Because there’s some good players in this draft, not only in the first round but the second round, fourth, fifth, I think we can find some decent players.”

Speaking of the draft, Gruden believes the “best player available” approach goes hand in hand with “need.”

This is always the debate when the draft approaches. Should a team draft a player that fills a need on the team, or should it just draft the best player it has graded? Gruden doesn’t necessarily provide clarity on his answer, but believes both should be factored into the decision.

“I think you look at need initially and then see where the players are in that particular position and if there aren't any or if there’s a lot of them or you might be able to get one in the second round, then maybe you go to best player available but I think it works hand-in-hand,” he said. “You’d be an idiot if you have a major need on your team to ignore that need and go take the best player, if there’s a good one at that position. But you’d also be an idiot to just take a player at that position of need when there’s way better players available. So it goes hand-in-hand. You have to look at need, and hopefully our biggest need is the best player, that’s our intent.”

There’s at least 20-25 players that could be drafted with the 13th pick.

One of the challenging parts about drafting outside the Top-10 is the amount of variable and options that will present themselves on the opening night of the draft. Right now, the Redskins have a rotation of several players being mocked to them by experts, but head coach Jay Gruden believes there could be as many as 25 players taken at No. 13.

Understandably, Gruden has spent considerable time watching tape of all those possibilities, but has dedicated more time to the large swath of players that will be available in the mid and later rounds. Those selections are just as valuable, to Gruden, as his first and second round players, and so he’s spending a large amount of time – because there are so many – this month reviewing tape on them.

“But now, with the access that you have, it’s pretty cool now,” Gruden said. “So if you’re watching a running back for instance, say Saquon Barkley, with all this ability to cut up and just watch their touch tape, you know ‘just give me all of Barkley’s runs’ and ‘give me all his pass protections,’ bam, it’s all in order. It’s not like when I first got here, you had to watch all of every game to find a pass protection like ‘can I see this guy pass block just once?’ You’d go through, it takes you two hours to find one but now it’s just the click of a button. So the process of evaluating is a lot easier now than it has been.”

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