cravens' return is far from guaranteed

BY BEN STANDIG | MARCH 1, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — The headline is “Jay Gruden says Redskins not trading Su’a Cravens.” Looking closer at what the Washington Redskins coach actually said about the second-year safety who stepped away from football last season suggests something else.

The Cravens topic came up during Gruden’s lone media availability with Redskins media at the NFL Combine. Recent reports claimed Washington is engaging in trade talks specifically with the Denver Broncos for the 2016 second-round selection. Cravens, 22, stunned the team back in September when he announced his retirement shortly before the regular season opener.

The Redskins eventually placed Cravens on the reserve/left squad list. In December, Cravens’ agent told reporters that his client “received medical clearance to resume all football activities” after dealing with “Post Concussion Syndrome.”

The trade rumor popped between public comments made by Redskins senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams on Wednesday and Gruden’s comments on Thursday.

“We’re not trading him, from what I know,” Gruden said. “I just saw that on the ticker. I think [Cravens is] still a member of this football team and we have every intention of seeing where he’s at. I’ll have to talk to him and see where he’s at mentally, and physically I know he’s going to be in great shape. The big thing is, is this something that he wants to do? And he has to commit to it full time. But he’s a good football player, no doubt about it. He’s a great kid. I’m sure it will work out for him.”

Let’s parse this section again. “We’re not trading him” speaks for itself — until Gruden said more. “From what I know,” sounds like plausible deniability. The front office could certainly test Cravens’ market without Gruden knowing or, more likely, bother focusing on the matter. He is in Indianapolis for a business trip.

Oh, and did you catch the part where he has not spoken with Cravens?

“I’ll have to talk to him.”

Later when asked directly when he might speak with the former USC product, Gruden said, “I don’t know. Probably when I get back, I guess. We’ll see.”

Probably. I guess. We’ll see. Gruden is married in real life and therefore presumably not  a commitment-phobe. These are the types of words used with, say, iffy dinner plans, not real-life working relationships with hope.

Wait, there’s more. Check out that last line.

“I’m sure it will work out for him.”

That tone and phrasing screams “Good luck elsewhere” and not “Welcome back.”

Gruden was also asked about any potential challenge to bringing Cravens back.

“He had personal matters he had to tend to last year and chose to tend to them. What can you say about that? I think a lot of people were disappointed in that because we spent a lot of time with him in OTAs and training camp. We had a purpose for him and a role for him in certain packages and wasted some time practicing those and repping those. But, at the end of the day, it’s about the player and the individual, and he has got to have the right state of mind in order to play pro football and hopefully he does now.”

On whether players in the locker room would have a hard time accepting Cravens back, Gruden was more definitive.  

“No, I don’t think so,” Gruden said. “He’s a young kid. He’s [22] years old, for goodness’ sakes. He made a decision that he thought was right for him and his family, and at the end of the day, nobody really can put themselves in his shoes. He had to do that for himself and make that decision himself. People make decisions and we’re not the judge and jury. It’s up to him to come back and I think guys will accept him back.”

These are sympathetic words from the head coach and seem sincere. Gruden said a few things that hint at an easy homecoming. The Redskins need more safety depth beyond projected starters D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson. Also, that depth chart at safety is reason alone to let the past be the past, especially considering the potential Cravens flashed as a rookie. The Redskins hold his rights through 2019.

If personal and physical issues led to the need for time away, one hopes the Redskins organization would understand. Cravens missed time in 2016 with concussions, too.

None of this means the door is open for a return. Leaving the team just as the season started bruised the brotherhood. Such scars are not automatically permanent, but memories last. The Redskins already decided they were tired of waiting on quarterback Kirk Cousins despite three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons. Moving on from a player who left the team last season is much easier.

There is the headline and there is the context. Take a closer look at what Gruden actually said and don’t just assume that Cravens is part of the team’s future.

Lead photo by Keith Allison, Flickr
Secondary photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol

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