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Washington's biggest offseason challenge is tuning out a messy situation it created

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After an ugly split with its general manager and discord with QB Kirk Cousins, Washington’s biggest task is keeping the self-inflicted wounds from infecting the locker room.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Once the Scot McCloughan fissure began to surface, Washington muzzled him. The franchise muzzled itself, too. It shut up about noise that McCloughan, having dealt with alcohol abuse, might be drinking again. Then it opened up at the combine and said that McCloughan was dealing with family matters and would return. Then it shut up again. Then it fired him last Thursday on the first day of free agency. Then it spoke anonymously in a Washington Post report about its view of McCloughan’s drinking issues.

Now it is shut up time again.

It’s a top-down edict from owner Dan Snyder and president Bruce Allen. Besides, they are bracing for possible court action by their former general manager.

NFL team business can be messy. It can be petty. It can be bungled.

This was. This is. The problem for Washington is it took a half-step in, half-step out approach with McCloughan. It knew of his prior alcohol issues but did not have a fair, firm plan in place if it felt the issue required addressing. It wanted his personnel acumen and input but only to a certain level of influence. It figured he was nice to have around as long as the leash was clenched and tight.

The Washington front office views this entire matter now as a matter of perception versus reality. Others’ perception, their reality. Others see them as villainous in their dealings with McCloughan. They see McCloughan as an executive who warranted firing.

Messy, petty, bungled.

Yet, Washington has conducted business in a no-wait, non-slumber league. Free agency is here. NFL owners meetings arrive soon. The NFL draft after that. Camp work throughout. All of this offseason business and activity every year affects what happens during the season. The team building and the product. The fabric and the look.

Here is how Washington has tackled that in the middle of its self-made, degrading typhoon:

THE COACH -– Jay Gruden’s contract has been extended. This is good. He has navigated the dysfunction of Washington, waded through his early years of Robert Griffin III discord, won a division title, and created a competent rival when matching wits with other NFC East head coaches.

THE QUARTERBACK -– Kirk Cousins has signed his franchise-tag contract. Again. This is good. It keeps in concert Washington’s view of him and the viability of a potential trade. He was the talk at the combine. Teams constantly and curiously chatted about what he is and what Washington should do.

Washington views Cousins as “sexy.” He’s the one to take to the dance -– but maybe not to dinner afterward. He has not been able to finish. They do not view him as a quarterback who has been able to pull them through — thus far. Big numbers, yes. Big dividends, no. Short term, yes. Long term, at the contract numbers he wants, no. Washington has asked itself this continual question: Is Cousins, indeed, a franchise quarterback? Yes, he can win games, but can he win them a Super Bowl? The team is simply not convinced, at least not at franchise quarterback contract numbers.

GONE AND ALREADY FORGOTTEN -– Receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and defensive tackle Chris Baker bolted in free agency. Washington hardly blinked. Especially when Jackson and Garcon, both older players, wanted big contracts. Cap restraints were considered. And so was this -– did we accomplish a Super Bowl with them? No. Do we have receivers we believe are ready to step forward? Yes. Okay. Keep it moving.

WELCOME ABOARD -– Free agent defensive linemen Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee. Safety D.J. Swearinger. Receiver Terrelle Pryor.

McClain and McGee are younger players who Washington believes are ready for increased roles. They help prop a defensive line that has been too feeble. Swearinger is the former Arizona Cardinals safety who Washington targeted in free agency’s earliest stages. They believe he can play with power near the line of scrimmage and with flexibility and muscle on the back line.

Pryor is their most intriguing signing. Washington was impressed with how this former college quarterback embraced his move to pro receiver. How he mentally adjusted and physically put in the work. How with six different Cleveland Browns quarterbacks last season, he caught 77 balls for more than 1,000 yards. He is 6’6. They know it is hard to find a receiver that big and that fast who is this kind of athlete. It is a one-year prove-it deal. They are expecting Pryor to soar.

THE DRAFT -– The focus must be on defensive linemen, inside linebackers, and cornerbacks.

Gruden has a major task of pulling all of these pieces together and keeping his players on point. The drama, the mind games, and the franchise’s brutal criticisms can seep into the locker room and create a disconnect if not discord.

Cousins’ brutal assessment of one facet of his team’s business is revealing, as he told ESPN reporter Adam Schefter in a recent podcast when asked if he doubts he will be with the team this season: “Well, I think you never know in the sense that, in this league, things change so fast and players can get blindsided all the time with decisions. They’ll cut you on your birthday, they’ll cut you on the day your child is born, they’ll cut you on Christmas Eve.”

Ouch! It was a general league assessment but it was Washington-centric.

Perception or reality, McCloughan could tell you that.