A cloud of uncertainty hung over linebacker Mason Foster after being placed on Injured Reserve in the middle of last season. A couple months later, he signed a new contract and cleared things up.
When inside linebacker Mason Foster's season ended in late October, after weeks of playing through a separated shoulder, he immediately began to think his time in Washington might be over. The team had placed him on Injured Reserve and his upcoming free agency made the future cloudy.
He had been through a similar situation, prior to joining the Redskins, right after he was released by the Chicago Bears before the 2015 season. Upon being cut, Foster drove to South Dakota to visit his strength coach and former frat brother, Matt Houston, and told him he felt like moving on to something else – coaching or working, saving money for some time. But Hughes challenged him. "Somebody is going to believe in you," he told Foster.
One month later the Redskins did, and less than three years later those initial doubts have evaporated, and the words of encouragement have meant everything. On Thursday, Foster re-signed with the Redskins, the team that gave him another chance, turning a midseason acquisition into a mutually beneficial and long-lasting relationship.
"I feel like I owe it to them to finish on a good note and leave a mark here in D.C., and it meant a lot to me when they picked me up," said Foster, entering his eighth season in the league.
The road to that second contract with the Redskins had its potholes, notably the last several months rehabbing the shoulder he injured against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2, when he sealed the game with an interception in the final minutes.
Foster competed in pain for the next four games but the small time frame for recovery caught up with him, and the team couldn't afford to have his shoulder get progressively worse.
"All these guys have an unbelievable amount of toughness to them and Mason is probably the tip of that spear, as far as that stuff goes," inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. "He was playing through stuff from, you know, the second quarter of the L.A. Rams game all the way through until it just couldn't go anymore. He did a great job and he continued to prepare and continued to play with toughness, and on some days it wasn't showing up and I think all of us knew what he was trying to get through week in and week out and you just respect the heck out of the guy for stuff like that."
It pained Foster to end a season prematurely that started so strongly – in six games he collected 31 tackles and a half sack working in tandem with Zach Brown –and he voiced his frustration on Twitter as he negotiated his situation.
"It was the same type of feeling like 'Is it over? What do I do?'" Foster said. "I worked my way back and we have great trainers, Larry, Doug, Mark, Jimmy, everybody down there, Elliot, really helped me get back and made me feel confident in my arm and my strength and everything and I felt like, 'Why would I leave here?' I mean they helped me get to where I am today. I've been here for three years, I might as well ride it out. This is where I want to be, this is the best situation for me, and I want to do something big here before I leave."
Those feelings emerged as his shoulder healed and he began looking at the next step of his life. He had the opportunity to wait until free agency opened, to negotiate with other teams and seek more money. But Foster had more reasons to stay than leave.
Over the course of three seasons, Foster accumulated 192 tackles over 34 games, establishing himself as a fan favorite on social media and indebting himself to the organization. He immediately responded to head coach Jay Gruden's coaching style and gained confidence under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's scheme and personality.
"It was like he gave me the keys to a Ferrari, like 'Here Mase, take it, you make the calls, you get people lined up, you do it,' and they let me do it," Foster said.
And then there was raising his two young boys, Rylan, about to go to kindergarten, and Kannon, a couple years younger, both of whom have enjoyed their time in Loudoun County, Va. Foster has embraced the neighborhood, too, he said, playing all-time quarterback for lots of the local kids and attending block parties.
"That was probably one of the biggest roles in it," Foster said of his decision to stay. "I love playing football, I love it death but you can get that football and you can have the same environment, the nice neighborhood, the nice people, diversity out here, so it was a no brainer by the time when I really sat down and thought about it. It's a no brainer this is where I want to be."
Foster isn't sure if this will be his last contract. He always envisioned himself playing seven to nine years, which is what this new deal will accomplish. At 28 he still feels good, which is a positive sign for a linebacker that makes a living being physical and playing through things like separated shoulders.
His "unfinished business" with the team is more specifically tied to bringing the Redskins back to the playoffs, and with his contract settled, he's hoping other free agents will follow suit. "Money is money but at the end of the day I want to win and I want to leave a legacy so people will say, 'I remember when Mason, Zach [Brown], whoever, [Will Compton], Kirk [Cousins], whoever came back and did this thing for one, two more years,' and then you know, walk off into the sunset and go teach high school, or be a firefighter or something," he said.
For now, he'll focus on being a linebacker in Washington.
"I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and be the best person, best player, whatever I can be to help anybody else out," Foster said. "And this team and this organization gives me that platform to show kids in my neighborhood that you can go to school, you don't have to be the best student, you don't have to be the best athlete, but if you work hard enough and you really follow your heart, you'll have a chance to make something happen for real. It's a lot bigger than me and I feel like this is the place that I wanted to be."