How to Fix the Washington Redskins…
This post is dedicated to Michael Adam Goldstein, whose life sucks at the moment because he is both a lifelong Washington sports fan and first year law school student. He’s also fat. Still, Mike, more than anyone else I know, deserves to root for a winner. One day, buddy. One day.
As an Eagles fan, I really couldn’t care less about the Redskins. They’re pretty far down on the list of teams I genuinely hate, mainly because I’ve never had a reason to hate them (see: they haven’t beaten the Eagles in any games of real consequence). That said, I live in DC and see what these poor fans have to endure on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis. The Redskins are nothing but a running punchline and a total embarrassment to professional sports franchises everywhere. It’s not even an exaggeration when I say the Skins have surpassed the Lions and Raiders (both on the rise thanks to an infusion of good young talent) as the biggest joke of an organization in the entire NFL, especially after what has transpired over the past three months with Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. They really are the laughingstock of the league. I think this season’s debacle is much worse than last year’s, if only because the Skins fed their fans all this crap about Shanahan and McNabb (hey, Donovan, R you in? Can’t wait for the commercial featuring Rex Grossman next year) leading the team back to glory, and the fans — well, at least the vast majority of them — gladly bought into the baseless hype once again (for what seems like the 20th straight season). Remember when Shanahan compared McNabb to Elway? Yeah, it’s even more hilarious now than it was the first time. But it’s very sad for Redskins fans.
(Hold on, let’s pull up the Redskins’ promotional commercial for the 2010 season, where McNabb is christened the “franchise” quarterback:
Oh yeah, I’m definitely in for this shit platter of a team.)
Speaking of Redskins fans, don’t pretend like Eagles fans didn’t warn you. For a decade, we watched McNabb throw his patented worm-killers/one-hoppers (“The Donovan McNabb Special”) at the feet of wide open receivers less than 10 yards down the field. Fun to watch, isn’t it? Even worse, he consistently falls flat on his face in the game’s biggest moments (now would be the time where I tell you that against Tampa Bay — in what turned out to be his last start of the season — was the first time in McNabb’s career, at least as far as I can remember, that he led his team down the field in the final few minutes for a game-tying/game-winning touchdown; it figures that the punter would botch the hold on the extra point). Did you really think a change of scenery — to a perpetual loser franchise, no less — and union with one of the most overrated coaches of the past 20 years was going to magically make McNabb any more accurate or clutch? I mean, there’s no possible way Eagles fans knew what we were talking about when we said pinning your hopes on Donovan F. McNabb would only end in disappointment (especially when his supporting cast on offense would have trouble making the roster of a good SEC team). Wait, we were right about everything? I’m shocked. Really.
Overall, McNabb’s a good guy and a true professional — even if a little too passive aggressive for me — and sure as shit doesn’t deserve to be treated the way he has by Shanahan and Son, Inc. He led the Eagles teams of my adolescence and made us a relevant franchise again, so I’ll always appreciate him for that and would rather not see him get scapegoated for the Redskins’ numerous failures. When McNabb was in his prime, there were few more exciting athletes in all of sports. But it’s 2010 and he is what he is, a few years past washed up (based on the eye test and regardless of what the stats from the last few seasons might suggest). His game — being mobile enough to escape the rush/beat the defense with his legs, extend the play, and find open receivers — simply isn’t conducive to aging. Once McNabb decided he was going to stop using his running ability as a legitimate weapon and committed to being solely a pocket passer, his career took a turn for the worst. Listen, guy, your legs are what made you so dangerous, and you’re not accurate enough to make it in this league as strictly a pocket quarterback. McNabb might say he stopped running in order to lessen his chance of taking unnecessary hits and getting injured, but I’m not buying it. It’s fine to run, as long as you’re smart about it and don’t leave yourself vulnerable to getting popped by head-hunting defenders. We all know he was trying to disprove a certain stigma, and it’s a shame things had to come to that for him. Accuracy and intelligence are the two most vital components to being an effective quarterback into your late 30’s. Accuracy has never been a strength for Donovan, and Shanahan even did everything short of explicitly calling him dumb after the benching in Detroit. McNabb’s physical skills are clearly eroding by the game, and as a result he has become more vulnerable to making bad decisions with the football — which is exactly what you’ve seen this season. Now, after 13 mostly underwhelming games, the McNabb/Shanahan marriage is mercifully over in DC. There’s absolutely no question that Donovan will be traded or cut before his $10M roster bonus is due in September. When the Redskins decide to get rid of him depends on how evil they want to be. No matter what, McNabb will be playing somewhere else next season, probably continue to suck, and the Redskins will once again have double digit losses (assuming there’s no lockout, of course). Right now, I’d actually expect the worst record in the league. Good luck, I guess. Oh, by the way, Eagles fans are sincerely thankful for the two draft picks.
But wait, there’s more: Supposedly, Dan Snyder isn’t too thrilled with how the McNabb benching was handled (see: he was out of the country and out of the loop), and Kyle Shanahan could be on thin ice as a result (http://dc.sbnation.com/washington-redskins/2010/12/19/1885457/donovan-mcnabb-benched-daniel-snyder-not-happy). Let the good times roll, DC!
And even more: McNabb’s agent fires back at the Shanahans, specifically Kyle (because Donovan apparently can’t, or simply doesn’t want to, speak for himself)… http://www.csnwashington.com/12/23/10/McNabbs-agent-fires-back-at-Redskins/landing.html?blockID=378991&feedID=287
What a clusterfuck of suck. The Shanahans have become the ringleaders of a total circus — weren’t the adults supposed to be in charge this year? — that’s almost entirely of their own doing. Furthermore, everywhere McNabb goes, drama is sure to follow, whether it’s justified or not. I’m just happy/relieved this wasn’t a Philly thing. To that end, fuck everybody who rips on Philly for treating McNabb “unfairly.” Give me a break.
Now, onto the real reason for this post. Year 12 of Snyder’s “generate hype by signing aging veterans whose best days are behind them” blueprint for building a team has predictably crashed and burned once again. You think he’d get it by now, right? As such, this is the offseason where the Redskins, as an organization, must finally acknowledge that its philosophical approach to building a football team is fundamentally retarded. Here’s a direct quote from ex-punter Hunter Smith, who was cut after botching the hold on the extra point attempt that would have tied the game against the Bucs with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock:
“But I can assure you, whatever [the organization’s] expectations were, reality is that you’re going to have to put your nose to the grindstone and just start rebuilding. Rebuilding a culture, rebuilding personnel….” (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/redskinsinsider/hunter-smith/hunter-smith-shanahan-wants-to.html)
When a punter calls you out, it’s probably time to completely reevaluate how you run your operation. Or just sell the team. To the chagrin of Redskins fans everywhere, I don’t think Dan Snyder will do the latter, so let’s focus on how the Redskins can rebuild and get in position to one day be a successful franchise again. First thing’s first, blow the whole fucking thing up, purge the roster of malcontents and dead weight, and start over. I’d even fire old man Shanahan (one playoff win since Elway retired), as I think he, like McNabb, is way past his prime as a head coach. However, he still has four years and $28M (!!) left on his contract, so unless he quits (unlikely with that kind of obscene money on the table), he’ll be back to run the show in 2011 and beyond.
Let’s take a look at the roster, which, in my opinion, is unquestionably the least talented in the NFC (yes, even worse than Carolina’s) and probably the entire league (yes, even worse than Buffalo’s). Honestly, the fact that this Redskins team has managed to win five games (all by five points or less) is actually both mystifying and impressive to me. A lack of talent combined with a bunch of over-the-hill veterans isn’t exactly the best way to build a winner, yet it’s all the Snyder-led Redskins have done for over a decade. It’s almost as if the powers that be for the team think they’re smarter than everyone else, when, in reality, they are way behind the curve and couldn’t be any dumber. Here are the only two players on the entire roster that I wouldn’t make available for trade: Trent Williams and Brian Orakpo. That’s the whole list. I’m iffy on LaRon Landry because he’s more a linebacker playing safety, but yet that’s what makes him so dangerous in Haslett’s 3-4 defense. I wouldn’t trade him for anything less than a completely overwhelming offer. Every other player should be on the block for the right price. As it stands, the Redskins have the following picks in the 2011 draft: 1st, 2nd, 5th, NO’s 5th, 6th, 7th, TBD pick from Indy (via Justin Tryon trade). At least they haven’t traded away their 2nd round pick… yet. Still, it’s imperative the team recoups the 3rd and 4th round picks it lost in the trades for McNabb and Jamaal Brown (another epic failure). Here are the other players on the roster with the most trade value (in no particular order): Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall, Clinton Portis (if he has any value), Andre Carter (who can still be damn good in the right defense — people forget he had 11 sacks last season). Remember, McNabb is also potentially on this list because the Redskins don’t have to make a decision about his future until September. If management can turn any combination of said players into maybe even three extra draft picks (including 3rd and 4th rounders), it must pull the trigger and get a deal done. For once, load up on draft picks, the lifeblood of any team, instead of dealing them away. Look around at all the successful teams in the league and you’ll see a common theme: rosters that were built through the draft. It’s not merely a coincidence.
So, to recap, the Redskins need upgrades at the following positions: QB, RB (to platoon with Ryan Torain, who I think is a keeper), TE (to pair with Fred Davis after Cooley is dealt), #1 WR (I like Anthony Armstrong as a deep-threat option and think he could even be a viable #2), RG, LG, C, RT (although I think it’s worth keeping Stephon Heyer), DT, RE, LE, MLB, OLB (opposite Orakpo), CB (opposite Hall or Rogers, although this depends on if Carlos is re-signed), FS, K, P. Looks easy enough.
If Dan Snyder insists on making a splash in Free Agency to satisfy his fetish for giving out monster contracts every offseason, then Logan Mankins — assuming the Patriots don’t do the dick thing and slap the franchise tag on him — would be the best target. He turns 29 in March and will demand to be among the highest paid guards in the league (if not the highest), but he’s one of the major reasons Tom Brady never seems to get touched as he comfortably stands in the pocket and picks apart opposing defenses. Sign him to play LG and help stabilize what is otherwise a disaster of an offensive line. That’s where building a team starts. Plus, it sure doesn’t hurt that Mankins comes from an organization like the Patriots and would bring that kind of winning, confident attitude with him (sort of like what the Redskins were hoping McNabb would do… the only difference being that Mankins’ skills aren’t in obvious decline).
Poppa Shanahan has already given up on the season by making Rex Grossman his starter, even if Sexy Rexy just doubled McNabb’s season high for touchdowns passes in a game. They will probably lose their remaining two games and finish 5-11, a whopping one game improvement over last season. At least the Skins should hope for that kind of record, in order to likely secure a top-10 selection. If that’s how things shake out, I happen to have a novel idea about how the Redskins should utilize their top-10 pick: trade down and get extra picks in the process. The way I see it, there will be three elite QB prospects worthy of being selected in the first round: Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallett, and Cam Newton (and that’s if all three declare for the draft).* There are more than three teams that will finish with a worse record than the Redskins and probably be looking to draft a franchise QB. It’s unclear at this point if the Skins’ first round pick will be high enough to secure one of the three. In fact, Luck might be the least likely of the three to make the jump to the NFL, and he’s projected as the #1 pick! Anyway, for the Skins it will come down to what quarterback(s) is on the board when they pick. Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, and so on. I have reservations about Newton’s character, but I’ll cover that some other time. Remember, though, the Redskins are still the Redskins. How are they going to justify to their desperate fans passing up the Heisman Trophy winner? His lack of morals? Good luck with that. If none of those three are left when the Skins pick, they could take the best DT — Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus, both underclassmen who are expected to declare — or WR on the board (A.J. Green, Justin Blackmon, and Julio Jones will be the top three receivers). Marcell Dareus is probably better suited to play tackle in the 3-4. CBs Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara would also work nicely at this spot. Lots of options here, as you could probably tell. The more I think about it, the more I start to convince myself that the Redskins should draft a big-time playmaker, and that’s either a WR or CB. By looking at every team’s record, you can assume that the highest possible draft pick the Skins can get is fourth, and the lowest is probably tenth. So, let’s say the Skins end up picking seventh. They will be able to get one of the elite talents at that spot.
*(Edit: Blaine Gabbert, another underclassman who projects to go in the top half of the first round, declared on 1/3/11, so now there are four possible elite quarterbacks that will be available for the Redskins to draft. Admittedly, I haven’t watched enough of Gabbert to make an informed decision about his pro potential.)
Like I said, the Skins could also trade down and pick up an extra mid-round pick or whatever. Believe it or not, it’s possible a good QB will be available in later rounds. If, however, the Skins panic and are stupid enough to take Jake Locker with their first round pick, they deserve to continue to suck for the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to draft a QB with potential in the middle rounds and let him develop for a year behind a veteran starter. Shanahan fancies himself a genius when it comes to QBs… so fucking prove it.
This is where things get pretty specific and esoteric, so if you’re not a hopeless loser like me and don’t really follow the draft or do in-depth research on prospects, you might not know any of the players I reference in the following paragraphs. I apologize in advance (but not really). Now, let’s go through the rest of the draft for the Redskins, pick by pick.
2nd round: Address the offensive line and take the highest rated RT or OG on the board. One guy who you’ll hear a lot about once the draft combine and workouts are in full swing is Benjamin Ijalana, OT/OG from Villanova. Scouts are salivating over his combination of size, strength, and athleticism. He stands at 6-4, so some teams may have reservations about playing him at tackle because of his height, but his arms are long enough to make up for it (and that’s really what matters most). I’ve already said this in a previous post, but I think Ijalana can be a Pro Bowl caliber player in the NFL at either tackle or guard. The more I see what’s being written about him, the more likely I think it is that he’ll end up sneaking into the first round. Still, as of right now, he’s projected to be a 2nd rounder.
3rd round (via trade… perhaps Cooley could get this kind of return): If they want to go QB here, Pat Devlin (Delaware) is a solid choice. Still, I’m thinking defense. A few names to keep in mind are Mason Foster (OLB, Washington), K.J. Wright (OLB, Mississippi State), Chris Carter (OLB, Fresno State), Marcus Gilchrist (FS/CB, Clemson), Deunta Williams (FS, North Carolina — even though he was suspended for the first four games of this season for receiving improper benefits), Rashad Carmichael (CB, Virginia Tech), Chase Minnifield (CB, Virginia — underclassman who might not declare), and Muhammad Wilkerson (DE, Temple — underclassman who might not declare). If the underclassmen declare, I’ll probably revise this pick because I’m a big Wilkerson fan. For now, though, I’d go with Deunta Williams and team him with Landry in the defensive backfield. If you look into the NCAA violation that Williams committed, something tells me you won’t think what he did was really wrong at all (http://www.tarheelfanblog.com/2010/10/deunta-williams-talks-about-his-ncaa-experience/). In fact, it seems like he’s well regarded and has a respected reputation at UNC.
4th round (via trade… perhaps for Santana Moss): I’d go ILB here and draft the heir apparent to London Fletcher. A few intriguing prospects who may still be on the board: Mario Harvey (Marshall — 144 total tackles and 9 sacks in 2010), Kelvin Sheppard (LSU), and Casey Matthews (Oregon — brother of the Packers’ Clay Matthews). Personally, I’d go with Harvey here (who’s a lot like Fletcher), but it seems I’m higher on him than other analysts/draftniks. I think he’s one of the best kept secrets of the draft right now and believe he could be an immediate starter in the NFL. While he’s undersized at 5-11 and has average speed at best, Harvey is a smart player and literally always around the ball. His instincts and football IQ are really what make him stand out. Also, he’s built like a brick shithouse at 250 lbs, so there’s no reason to think he can’t physically handle the position at his height. The fact that Harvey is a skilled pass rusher for a linebacker only enhances his versatility and ability to stay on the field in all situations.
5th round: Get an offensive skill position player. My suggestion is Jeff Maehl, WR out of Oregon. He won’t wow you with speed or athleticism (although he’s a better athlete than some would give him credit for), but he’s as pure a receiver as you’ll find in the draft. He’s tough as nails, isn’t afraid to go into the high-traffic areas to make plays, catches everything thrown his way, and always seems to get yards after the catch. The guy is just good football player, period. I’ve even had a former NFL player personnel executive tell me that Maehl will play in the league for a long time and could immediately step into an offense like that of the Colts or Patriots and catch 100 balls (pretty solid endorsement right there). He’ll also become an instant fan favorite the second he steps on the field at training camp. That’s a guarantee for wherever he ends up. Personal note: I think Jeff Maehl is worth a 3rd or 4th round selection — we’ll see where he projects after the combine and individual workouts.
Two other WR to possibly consider at this spot:
Vincent Brown (San Diego State), who burned TCU earlier this season in a game that the Aztecs narrowly lost. Like Maehl, he’s just simply a good football player. Might not be the biggest, strongest, or fastest guy, but he has a knack for getting open and making big plays. Brown’s great quickness enables him to get away from defenders in the open field, which makes him a major threat after the catch. (Note: Had a huge game last night against Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl and helped SDSU win its first bowl game in over 40 years!)
Edmond Gates (Abilene Christian), who’s definitely going to raise his draft stock in the coming months as teams work him out. Admittedly, I haven’t watched him play (where am I going to find Abilene fucking Christian on TV?) like I have with all the other prospects I’ve written about, so I’m just going off the reports I’ve read. A small school prospect following in the footsteps of former college teammate Johnny Knox, Gates has been highly productive at the D-II level and is an explosive athlete with game-breaking ability every time he touches the ball. While he stands only 6-0 (maybe) and weighs 190 lbs, Gates has blazing speed (although not as fast as Knox) and the agility to make defenders miss in the open field. His hands could use some work and he’s certainly a raw talent coming from a lower level of competition, but all the physical tools are there to be a successful WR in the NFL. On the downside, Gates will turn 25 a few months after the draft, so he’s already used up two to three years of his physical prime.
5th round (via New Orleans in the Jamaal Brown trade): Best player available at this point, perhaps at QB. If either Andy Dalton (TCU) or Greg McElroy (Alabama) are still on the board, choose one and start the development process. The thing I like most about both of them is that they are winners. I don’t care that they’re marginalized as merely game managers — winning is all they’ve done while playing in college (and since high school for McElroy). They’re also better than just being “game managers” and are both capable of being good starters in the NFL. If I had to choose between the two, I’d take McElroy because I’m a big fan of his and honestly think he’s going to be a good pro. If a QB has already been taken or no one worthwhile is on the board, it might not be a bad time to look at drafting a RB to pair with Torain. Given Torain’s bruising style, I’d look for more of a speed back with game-breaking ability at this spot. Intriguing prospects who might still be available: Derrick Locke, a 5-9, 190 pound burner from Kentucky, or perhaps even Maryland’s own Da’Rel Scott, who has an intriguing blend of size and speed (don’t be surprised if he runs in the low 4.4’s at the combine). He really impressed me during his sophomore season when he ran for over a thousand yards, but his production has tailed off over the past two seasons, due in part to both injuries and splitting carries with Davin Meggett.
5th round (via London Fletcher trade… he’ll be 36 by the start of next season, but there’s been no noticeable drop off in his play, and he’s still the most durable LB in the whole league; for those reasons, I don’t feel like a 5th round pick in return for him would be too ambitious an expectation): At this spot, I’d reach for a talented and productive player who was once a highly rated prospect but has seen his stock drop due to injury. The perfect candidate for this kind pick is Greg Romeus, a DE/DT (he can play DE in the 3-4) from Pittsburgh. Once projected as a potential first round pick and mentioned among the best prospects at his position, Romeus lost his senior season to two separate injuries that required surgery (first on his back, and then to repair a torn ACL in his right knee). Who knows if Romeus will ever regain the form that made him an elite college player at his position, but in the 5th round I think it’s definitely a risk worth taking.
6th round: Best remaining defensive back on the board. A player who intrigues me here is Chris Culliver (CB, South Carolina), who’s coming off a shoulder injury that marred his senior season. He has the kind of size and speed you want in a cornerback, and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty and make tackles. Two other possibilities include Chris Neild (DT, West Virginia) and Markus White (DE, Florida State).
7th round: Best player available. I’d go with a center here, namely Ryan Bartholomew (C, Syracuse), who has been a major contributor to Syracuse’s reemergence on the college football scene after a decade of irrelevance and constant disappointment.
7th round (Indy’s TBD pick from the Justin Tryon trade): I’m just assuming that the pick will be a 7th rounder. Anyway, select the best player available. A sampling of some players who could still be around at this pick: Alex Wujciak (ILB, Maryland), Brian Lainhart (FS, Kent State), Virgil Green (TE, Nevada), Ricky Henry (OG, Nebraska), Scott Tolzien (QB, Wisconsin), Taylor Potts (QB, Texas Tech), Ryan Jones (CB, Northwest Missouri State).
So, there you have it, just a few ideas from some know-nothing sports junkie who likes to write. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ve been following the NFL draft for eight years now and have been right about my fair share of prospects (and wrong about plenty more). Regardless of the 4200+ or so words I just wasted my life typing, the Redskins should at least take my advice on one thing: blow up the roster, trade veterans for draft picks, and restock the cupboard with young talent. That’s how you win in today’s NFL.