|On the plus side, at least the Rex Grossman era is over!|
Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13)…..which will likely not happen. Oh well.
We continue the previews with a team that said “Hey, we should start Rex Grossman!”, the Washington Redskins. In case you missed them, here are links to each of our past previews:
*Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Estimated cap is $124 million.*
2011 Record: 5-11
PPG For: 18.0 (26th)
PPG Against: 22.9 (21st)
2012 Cap Number: $94,351,284
Draft Position: #6 Overall Pick
On the plus side, the Redskins won about five more games than I thought they would. On the negative side, the Redskins won about five more games than their talent level says they should have. Honestly, they’d be much better off if they had simply lost all their games. Tell me, ‘Skins fans; is there any solace in beating the Giants twice? Any good feelings from being the “under-talented, but feisty” team? Any? If there is, then you should be ashamed of yourself. The problem isn’t that Washington has no options – they certainly have plenty of those, what with Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn, and Robert Griffin all being on their radar – it’s the fact that they HAVE options that is problematic! Tell me, when was the last time you remember Dan Snyder making a good choice? Has he ever? Landing the top pick would have taken any decision making out of the process, and would have eliminated the “Snyder Factor” from the equation. Now, I’d place the odds of disaster at approximately 75%.
This offseason, as with many offseasons prior, is yet another fork in the road for the Redskins. They have tons of cap room, a high draft pick, a “go for it” attitude, and tons of holes to fill. And if you feel like you’re watching a repeat, you probably are. If Snyder and Co. makes the right choice at QB, then the franchise could finally take its first true step towards building a winner. Then again, if they make the wrong choice (again) while blowing a ton of cap room, it will once again set them back at least two or three more years. Dan Snyder being Dan Snyder, I’m betting on the latter.
If I had to take away one positive from their 2011 season, it would have to be the emergence of Roy Helu. The rookie from Nebraska received very little work early on, and by midseason it looked as if he was permanently buried at the bottom of the depth chart. As with any Shanahan offense though, the depth chart at RB is always, and I mean ALWAYS, subject to change. An injury to Tim Hightower here, a poor performance from Ryan Torain there (and an injury), and Helu was finally getting his opportunity. In his last five games, Helu ran for 392 yards and 2 scores, while also catching 18 passes for 166 yards and 1 score. Considering that this was his first crack at playing time, and considering that Rex Grossman was the QB, those are pretty good numbers. For a team that sorely needs playmakers at the skill positions, Helu very well could be a God-send.
Rex Grossman started 13 games, John Beck started 3. What more do you want me to say? The ‘Skins arguably had the worst QB situation in the NFL, and the fact that they went into 2011 with those two is absolutely unforgivable. Several times, I wondered aloud whether they were intentionally tanking the season for Andrew Luck. Believe me, I wasn’t joking! After all, what else are people supposed to think when you voluntarily decide that Rex Grossman and John Beck are your guys?! Regardless, Washington can’t (and won’t) go into 2012 without addressing the position.
Key Free Agents: DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis, LB London Fletcher, QB Rex Grossman, RB Tim Hightower, S LaRon Landry, LB Rocky McIntosh, C Will Montgomery, WR Donte’ Stallworth
3 Key Questions:
#1 – Where are they at in the rebuilding process?
I pose this question not because you and I don’t know the answer, but because Washington likely doesn’t know the answer. Or, if they do, they aren’t willing to be realistic about the answer. Let’s assume that the following things happen:
Roy Helu becomes a top 10 RB next season
Trent Williams becomes a top 10 LT next season
Ryan Kerrigan becomes a Pro Bowl player next season
Washington signs Peyton Manning, who stays healthy and performs at 75-85% of his former self
While all are possibilities, I’m not really going out on a limb in saying that this would be an unlikely “best case” scenario. But again, we’re playing make believe…so just play along. If all four of these things happen, is Washington a playoff team? Do they win 9 games? If they somehow sneak into the playoffs, do they stand a chance at winning the Super Bowl? I say not a chance! They still have no receivers, they still have a bad offensive line, and they still have needs on defense. Sure, a healthy Peyton Manning makes them somewhat relevant for 3-4 years (maybe), but it places them no closer to the Super Bowl than they are today. Isn’t that kind of the point of it all?
Yet, the consensus is that Peyton Manning is the Redskins #1 priority. Typical of this franchise…always going after the quick fix. Because of the pressure on Dan Snyder to finally put together a winner, and because of the subsequent pressure on Mike Shanahan, who will likely be canned if they don’t make the playoffs, the Redskins appear headed down the same destructive path they’ve headed down so many times before. If they would just be honest with themselves and build this thing the right way, then they might actually accomplish something. Orakpo, Kerrigan, Helu, and Williams are excellent building blocks, and the addition of a potential franchise player like Robert Griffin could put this team on the path to long term success. Alas, that isn’t the Dan Snyder way.
#2 – Is Helu the real deal?
We talked about Helu’s end of season emergence earlier, but it is fair to wonder whether he’s a legit star-in-the-making, or if he’s just another flash in the pan. Truthfully, it would be easy to shed doubt on Helu’s legitimacy, especially considering the number of boom-then-bust running backs we’ve seen in Mike Shanahan’s time. But there was something different about Helu…something that made me pay attention every time he touched the ball. Even with sub-par talent all around him, Helu somehow found a way to make plays on a consistent basis, even managing to carry the offense for stretches of time. He’s explosive, he’s got excellent size, and he’s extremely versatile. We’ll see how he handles a larger workload next year, but I’m not betting against him.
#3 – Where do they spend their money?
Washington has about $30mil in cap room, and it’s always fascinating to see how Dan Snyder spends his money. The first issue at hand is who, of their own free agents, do they retain. Fred Davis is quickly turning into one of the best TE’s in the league, so he’s a priority. Adam Carriker is a solid young player, and his price tag is likely going to be reasonable. The real question marks are London Fletcher and LaRon Landry. Fletcher is apparently never going to get old, as he just had arguably his best season last year…at 36 years old! Truthfully, the defense wasn’t the problem last year, and even though Fletcher probably won’t be around by the time Washington is contending (if that ever happens), his leadership will prove invaluable in the development of the team’s younger players. The price may be a bit higher than they like, but he’s a must. As for Landry, it seems like the time is right for he and the team to split ways. Truthfully, he’s been overrated his entire career, and he’s been especially bad the last two seasons. Especially in today’s NFL, the value of the old-school “hard hitter” is greatly diminished, and Landry’s cover skills simply aren’t good enough to make him a viable player on this defense. And even if he were a league average safety, the guy can’t stay on the field enough to make him worth it (15 missed games the past two years)! In many ways, this situation reminds me of Roy Williams in Dallas. At some point, it’s just not enough to lay guys out.
What they do with the sixth pick will be entirely dependent on what happens with Peyton Manning. Let’s look at both scenarios:
If the team signs Peyton Manning, then trading up for Robert Griffin is not a viable option. In this scenario, the ‘Skins should be targeting Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne. Receiver and cornerback are two of their biggest needs, and both Blackmon and Claiborne look ready to have a big immediate impact. My personal preference would be to take Blackmon over Claiborne, as impact receivers seem to be harder to land than impact cornerbacks, but I wouldn’t fault them for going the other way. The problem is what to do if Blackmon and Claiborne are both gone. Riley Reiff, Michael Brockers, and Jonathan Martin would all be decent choices, but it would be a shame for Washington to leave a draft loaded with receivers and cornerbacks without landing one. Finding a trade partner in the 12-16 range would give the ‘Skins some additional assets, and would allow them to choose from Michael Floyd, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Janoris Jenkins. Again, I’d go with the receiver, but Kirkpatrick and Jenkins are very high ceiling players.
If the team does not sign Manning, then they need to go full bore after Robert Griffin. I know it sounds weird to say giving up a couple firsts and then some is a good move for a rebuilding team, but you simply can’t put a price on a franchise QB. We don’t know for certain if Griffin is that, but he has the talent, and Washington needs to take a leap on him. Griffin, not Manning, should be Washington’s priority.
With Peyton Manning, this is probably a 7-9 win team. With Robert Griffin, this is probably a 4-6 win team. Either way, the ‘Skins have no shot at competing within the NFC East. For once, they need to take a realistic look at their franchise and understand that building for the long haul is the right way to go. If they don’t, I’ll almost assuredly be writing this exact same piece three years from now.