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How to Revive an NFL Franchise: the Washington Redskins

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In this series, I continue to play a quasi-NFL General Manager and try to resurrect some of our more celebrated NFL franchises who have fallen on seemingly irreparable hard times.  I give you…the Redskins.

The Washington Redskins present an interesting case: here’s a large market team that manages to be very competitive in one of the NFL’s most unfair divisions, but always seems to struggled to be good at all things at once.

Two seasons ago, the Redskins rode a fierce passing defense to the playoffs, managing to win 9 games without their best defensive player, Sean Taylor who missed the last seven games with a knee injury, followed by being murdered during a botched robbery.  Then Joe Gibbs retired, the team brought in Jim Zorn, and found an offense behind an effective running game and a play action passing attack.  Then the offensive line fell apart, the Redskins lost the running game, and collapsed to miss the playoffs.

All the while, the passing defense went from excellent, to mediocre, to horrendous in a two year span.  The Redskins struggled through the first eight games of this season on offense, but have re-invented their passing game, using the actual tenets of the west coast offense that they were supposed to employ at the beginning of last year.

For the future, the Redskins are looking at the end of a few careers of offensive players who defined the Joe Gibbs era:  RB Clinton Portis, RG Randy Thomas, and LT Chris Samuels might all be finished with professional football.  C Casey Rabach might be forced to retire by a general lack of interest in his services, but hey, he had a good run.  If DE Philip Daniels or LB London Fletcher choose to hang it up after the year, it wouldn’t be all that shocking.

If it looks like the Redskins might turn over 80% of their offensive line in the offseason, that’s because they probably will.

Point #1:  Shake up the coaching staff It’s more critical that the Redskins shake up their defensive coaching staff than make  a change at the top as the mis-management on that side of the ball has been astounding.  But while the tenet’s of letting the head coach and the quarterback get another go at it together in 2010 with a different defensive scheme are certainly not without merit, the Redskins have to avoid a situation where 2010 ends up being another 2009.  The status quo is the problem in Washington, not the solution.  The Redskins can go one of two directions with the head coach:  1) they can chase an established offensive guru such as Mike Shanahan, Brian Billick, Steve Mariucci, Gary Kubiak, or Jim Fassel or 2) they can go for a “young-gun” defensive coach such as Ron Rivera (Chargers DC-LBs Coach), Rob Ryan (Browns DC), Ron Meeks (Colts DC), Jerry Gray (Redskins DB Coach), Mike Zimmer (Bengals DC), or Greg Manusky (49ers DC), and pair them with an experienced NFL playcaller such as Kubiak, Darrell Bevell, Charlie Weis, Jeremy Bates, Marty Morningweg, or Mike Mularkey.  This way, they can avoid having an established defensive guru who might tear apart the defensive talent structure instead of using it for the best, or another offensive young-gun who has the same game management and trust issues that de-railed the Zorn era.

Point #2:  In the best interest of all parties involved, either give Jason Campbell a long term deal, or trade him The hot rumor right now is that the Redskins are just going to non-tender Jason Campbell, allowing him to be probably the most highly paid free agent on the market, and well, that would be uncharacteristically kind of them.  Maybe they are planning to throw in a smear campaign just for good measure.

It’s in the best interest of the Redskins to leverage Campbell into a selection: 3rd round at worst, probably a pair of seconds at best, though he’s probably too old (28 on New Years Eve) to return that much.  Getting fair market value for one of their players, however, would also be out of character for the Redskins.  Depending on who the head coach is, it may be prudent to give Jason Campbell the extension it appears he’s earned, but a Brian Billick or Steve Mariucci might be more willing to throw his eggs in Campbell’s basket, where as a Shanahan type might prefer to bring in his own guy.

I just despise the idea of using Jason Campbell as a placeholder for a second or third round quarterback selection in the 2010 draft.  You can commit to Campbell for 2010 without giving him a long term deal, but then it’s got to be an unconditional year-long commitment.  Not a commitment that lasts until the next “name” becomes available.  And then I wouldn’t draft a quarterback in the top three rounds of this is the option chosen.

Point #3:  The Redskins should trade LaRon Landry now Landry is incapable of giving the Redskins the coverage safety they require in their defense, but he still does enough other things well to be worth about a second and sixth round pick on the market.  You’d probably have a line of teams willing to pay at least what the Redskins gave up to get Jason Taylor prior to the 2008 season.

The alternative is that the Redskins could move Landry back into the box, but that would create a personnel dilemma.  Unless they begin running the “Rex Ryan Special” 4-2-5 defense, moving Landry back into the box would move two of the more valuable defensive players on the team: Chris Horton and Reed Doughty, to the bench.  Either way, the Redskins need to find a free safety…

Point #4:  Move DeAngelo Hall from corner to free safety and sign Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark in free agency DeAngelo Hall is the team’s most significant defensive playmaker, but tries to play the corner position like a free safety.  On a team with a gaping hole at free safety, this is back-asswards.  The Redskins need to get back to playing aggressive at the corners and passive at the safety level, which means that Hall can’t play corner in the ideal Skins defense.  If anything, his interception total would accelerate at free safety.  Would he hit anyone?  Probably not, but he can push ’em out of bounds.

Ryan Clark would be the other safety in the defense, a veteran former Redskin who really came into his own as a Steeler, he brings coverage skills to the free safety position, but he will also go into the box and pop someone.  This means he complements both DeAngelo Hall, and the Chris Horton/Reed Doughty combination well, and can be an every down player in this defense.

Point #5:  Extend the contract of CB Carlos Rogers Rogers is very old for an RFA — the 2005 draft choice was a 24 year old rookie, and thus shouldn’t be given a six or seven year contract extension.  I would offer a 4 or 5 year extension at between 6 or 7 million per year.  This contract is made possible only by Hall’s move to safety and a Landry-trade, as that redistributes the salary structure from the corner position.

The Redskins need to add only a limited amount of depth at the position because Kevin Barnes can step in and be the No. 2 corner while Justin Tryon remains the NB.

Point #6: The Redskins can be a 4-3 or a 3-4 team as long as they have a vision for success In a 3-4 front, the Redskins can play Lorenzo Alexander, Kedric Golston, and Jeremy Jarmon at the end positions, and big Albert Haynesworth at Nose Tackle, backed up by either Anthony Montgomery, or a similar free agent or draft choice.  This defense would make long-time productive veterans Corneilus Griffin and Andre Carter expendable.  The advantage here would be to parlay the linebacker experience gained by Chris Wilson and Brian Orakpo into the edge rushers necessary in this defense, with HB Blades, Rocky McIntosh, and London Fletcher manning the middle.

In the 4-3 however, Griffin and Carter would remain integral parts of the picture for one more season, and Jarmon would be the 5th lineman.  Somehow, the Redskins would need to get their hands on another traditional linebacker, probably through the draft, with Brian Orakpo going back to the defensive line.

Point #7:  While the first round pick shouldn’t be limited to a single position, the Redskins can’t go through the first two rounds without drafting an offensive lineman They can, however, avoid a quarterback in the first two rounds.  In reality, the Redskins are probably drafting a quarterback and an offensive lineman with the first two picks, and I imagine would probably pick up a second or high third round pick along the way with which they can add a running back, or a linebacker, or a wide receiver.

The tricky thing comes if the Redskins really fall in love with a player like Ndamukong Suh or Eric Berry or Joe Haden or Brandon Spikes in the first round.  The special players in this draft are on the defensive side of the ball, and the Redskins biggest need, after offensive tackle, is a special defensive player.  But will the love for a great talent compare to their love for a quarterback?  I doubt it.  Expect Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford (plus Jake Locker, if he declares) to all be Redskins targets with their top ten draft selection.

Point #8:  Retool the offensive line with the right blend of veteran influence and young talent While I feel like the Redskins should let Casey Rabach walk and replace him with the more cerebral, undrafted, second year (current rookie) Edwin Williams at center, the Redskins should attack the free agent market to sign a veteran right guard in the event that the Randy Thomas does not have one more good year left in him.  At left tackle, the team should offer Levi Jones a short extension to stay with the team, while working to replace Stephon Heyer at right tackle with a pick such as Notre Dame’s Sam Young, or Iowa’s Brian Bulaga.  Of course, if they can get in position to draft Russell Okung or Trent Williams in the first round, the point is moot, Jones becomes expendable, and then I’d look to the middle rounds to bring in competition for Heyer.  Either way, Mike Williams is a non-solution at RT.

Point #9: The key to short term success is in the running game The quickest way to make it look like you’ve rebuilt your offensive line successfully while you actually continue to add pieces is to grab a runner who knows set up his blocks high in the draft, such as the beginning of the second round (this implies that the Redskins will use their high first round pick on an offensive tackle…what a crazy world that would be).  The way the Redskins could be the most competitive the fastest would be to grab C.J. Spiller at the top end of the second round after already adding an offensive tackle.  This would still give them the option to address the quarterback position in the middle rounds.

Point #10:  Release Santana Moss, not Antwaan Randle El Over the last three years, Antwaan Randle El has been the go-to receiver on the Redskins.  He’s likely to span three starting quarterbacks, three head coaches, and four offensive playcallers as the go-to guy.  Clearly, then, he’s not the problem.  Santana Moss is.

There’s an assumption among fans that once the team can move Santana Moss into the slot receiver position, he will go back to being “himself”.  I’m glad people still think like this.  Moss is usually out there playing his own game with the defensive backs, oblivious to everything that’s going on inside of him.  He’s not a help to the Redskins in the way they need to win games: running the ball and finding mismatches in the passing game.  He’s easily eliminated from the game by mediocre cornerbacks.  Moss has had great years in Washington, but the team needs to move forward with Malcolm Kelly and Marko Mitchell, and probably a slot receiver via the draft, and they need to move Moss out.

Point #11: The Rest of the Dead Weight The Redskins, more than any other team, have been dragged down by non-contributors over the years.  Aside from all the players listed above, the Redskins should look into the termination of the following contracts:  CB Fred Smoot, FB Mike Sellers, TE Todd Yoder, OT Mike Williams, G Derrick Dockery, and even RB Clinton Portis.

Point #12: The Ultimate Solution to the Quarterback position What I would do, ultimately, is trade Jason Campbell for a second or third round draft pick, and use that pick received to get in on Colt McCoy, or Dan Lefevour, or Tony Pike.  These are the guys who can give the Redskins a supplemental player at the quarterback position, and would not prevent the team from spending a 2011 first round pick on my personal favorite options: Christian Ponder or Ryan Mallett.

And if the Redskins end up with the 8th or 9th overall pick, without a shot at Jimmy Clausen, they can do worse than to draft Sam Bradford at that draft position.

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  1. January 2, 2010 at 9:36 pm

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