Upgrading defense is a top offseason priority for Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Will Compton figured the Washington Redskins' defense wouldn't be a quick fix, and he was right.

The middle linebacker hoped for the best, but the unit ranked 28th in the NFL for the second straight year as its struggles contributed to what coach Jay Gruden called a ''barely above average'' 8-7-1 season. Slow starts and inconsistent offense hurt Washington down the stretch, but retooling the defense - again - is a top priority.

Cornerbacks Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will be back, but the Redskins could have a cast around them and possibly even a new coordinator if Joe Barry takes the fall for breakdowns and blunders that cost them a playoff berth.

''We didn't do a great job of executing in certain areas of our defense, but we've just got to find a way to get better, whether it's coaching or new players,'' said defensive end Chris Baker, one of more than a dozen pending free agents. ''You can always get more talent, get more depth at each position.''

More than just struggling against the run and pass, Washington was worst in the league in third-down defense and among the worst teams in the red zone. Whether that's scheme or personnel is a matter of debate but most likely a combination of the two.

''The reason he's taking heat is because the people that don't execute his play,'' defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. ''It's going to make it seem like `Well he doesn't know what he's doing, he's not adjusting, he's not doing this.' Sometimes he may not have done that, but the majority of times when he did do it, did we follow him? And when we didn't, now he's in the hot seat. Now his job is on the line. So I really don't blame it fully on him.''

Gruden said every player and coach would be evaluated and that Barry's status would ultimately be his call. Compton said he felt Barry put players in the right position to succeed ''a majority of the time.''

On the personnel side, the Redskins could use a defensive lineman and a linebacker or two and have to figure out their safety situation. Hybrid Su'a Cravens could be a boon to the defense as a strong safety in his second NFL season.

Some other things the Redskins need to resolve:

COUSINS' CONTRACT STATUS: The soap opera drama over quarterback Kirk Cousins' contract has been renewed for an encore after he played this season on the $19.95 million franchise tag. Because of the uncertainty on each side about a long-term fit, the Redskins' most likely course of action is tagging Cousins again at a cost of $23.94 million and evaluating again.

In his weekly radio appearance, Cousins was noncommittal when asked about his desire to stay and didn't know if the team wanted to commit to him for the long haul.

''We haven't been able to talk since July 15, so I don't know if they've bought the engagement ring, if you will,'' Cousins said.

WHAT YA GOT, ROOK: A lost year for rookie receiver Josh Doctson because of Achilles tendinitis means he could get thrown into a big role in his second season, despite just two catches in two games. The Redskins could lose DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency and don't know what they have in Doctson, a first-round pick out of TCU.

That unknown could force general manager Scot McCloughan to pay a premium to retain Garcon or Jackson.

JONES' FUMBLED OPPORTUNITY: Matt Jones was given the No. 1 running back job and fumbled it away, becoming inactive for the final nine games of the season as undrafted rookie Robert Kelley took over. One season isn't evidence that Kelley can be a top-flight starter, but the Redskins have to decide whether to keep the very affordable Jones around to compete or cut ties.

''Matt, with what people call his issues with fumbles and everything, he'll get that fixed,'' said third-down back Chris Thompson, who showed his value as a change-of-pace runner, pass blocker and receiver. Fumbles are ''going to happen a time or two. But it's all about how you respond to it.''

BACK TO THE VETS: Pending free agent tight end Vernon Davis would like to be back with him hometown team for another season, and fellow 33-year-old DeAngelo Hall is willing to restructure his contract after tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 3. Center Kory Lichtensteiger is probably as good as gone, and defensive tackle Kedric Golston's return is a major question mark as he'll be 34 and Anthony Lanier and Matt Ioannidis could step up as second-year players.

Hall knows being back isn't a sure thing.

''If they come to the conclusion that, `Hey we don't want you or `You're too injury-prone,' then it is what it is,'' he said. ''I'll sit back and try to figure out, hey, do I want to go somewhere else and play because I do feel like I can still play, I can still be great.''

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AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich contributed.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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