INDIANAPOLIS — Jay Gruden sweated during his lone media availability at the NFL Combine.

“Whew,” the Washington Redskins coach exclaimed after the final question from a small contingent of reporters. Gruden immediately grabbed a cold bottle of water parked in a small bucket on the table inside the conference room at the JW Marriott where he held court.

The grilling was hardly intense, though the nearly 20-minute session began with inquiries about the spicy quarterback change. Gruden told some jokes and shared some laughs during the exchanges, which took place several hundred steps from the Indiana Convention Center, site of the 2018 NFL Combine. Room temperatures and the overhead lights led to perspiration and the need for brow wiping.

He denied rumors of a Su’a Cravens trade. He discussed the importance of offensive line play and reminded all that the voluminous amount of injuries among that unit helped crash the offensive plan. He drew comparisons to the unique importance of oft-injured tight end Jordan Reed on one side of the ball with rising second-year safety Montae Nicholson on the other. All good topics. None of them bring the bright lights like quarterback talk.

Kirk Cousins’ expected exit once free agency opens later this month will lead to the third different starting quarterback in Gruden’s five seasons as head coach. The former Bengals offensive coordinator arrived in 2014 with impressive offensive-minded credentials and a knack for developing quarterbacks. The fits and starts, beginning with Robert Griffin III, were not part of the plan.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Gruden told The Sports Capitol during an exclusive interview following his group availability. “I first got here we had a couple of young quarterbacks in the building. It just didn’t work out (with Robert). Then free agency hits us (with Kirk) and we have to move on again.”

Technically the Redskins did not have to move on from Cousins. The option of slapping a franchise tag for a third consecutive year remained. Washington had little interest in that route yet again. Prepping one year at a time in a sport where most contracts are not guaranteed long-term is the norm. That approach at quarterback reeks of instability. Gruden was tired of the stink.

“We’ve played this tag game for a couple of years now,” Gruden said. “I think it’s time to get stability at the most important position in sports and that’s quarterback. It’s very important for us to move forward and let Kirk move on. If Washington is not a place he wanted to be, it’s time for us to move on, get some continuity at quarterback.”

That continuity comes in the form of veteran Alex Smith once the deal becomes official some time after the 2018 NFL year kicks off on March 18. Since that date is two weeks away, Smith’s never came up Thursday. Reporters and Gruden danced around using one of the most common names in American history.

“Once everything becomes official we’ll move forward and get with the quarterback,” Gruden said. He later told The Sports Capitol, “Fortunately we’ve addressed – we will address it,”

Gruden said, correcting himself quickly. “Move forward with a quarterback we feel good about and we can win (with) whenever we step out on the field on Sunday.”

The Redskins reportedly agreed to a four-year extension with Smith, 33, that includes $71 million in guarantees and runs through 2022. Kansas City receives cornerback Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third-round pick. Gruden hopes they receive stability from the next quarterback, whoever that may be (wink, wink).

“It means a lot not just for me but a lot for the team and the organization,” Gruden said. “Knowing where we are and who we’re going to prepare with for the next 3-4 years. It’s an important process for us where we’re going to have a quarterback grow with the football team. We can grow with him and then move on.”

The Redskins ended the Cousins relationship in January with the Smith deal rather than wait for their 2012 fourth-round pick to walk away. Gruden expressed no hard feelings about the Cousins break-up. “I’ll root for him except when he plays the Redskins,” he said.

Gruden’s current contract runs through 2020. After missing the postseason in each of the last two seasons, he might struggle seeing the end of his deal if the postseason void turns into a hat trick. For his own head coaching life, keeping Cousins would have been the easier path. For the long-term, another one-year-and-we’ll-see plan at quarterback, pass.

That meant another quarterback change. Smith is a proven option coming off the first 4,000-yard campaign of his career. That doesn’t mean Gruden avoids the hot seat with another middling season or worse. Though, he has survived this long. Gruden is the first head coach under owner Daniel Snyder to receive an extension.

Gruden did not make the call on the quarterback swap alone. But, he will be the one out front answering questions under the bright lights whatever happens with his new guy. Whether he sweats under the pressure comes down to how quickly this offensive-minded coach can get his latest starting quarterback heading in the right direction.

Photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol

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