There are those that think the price was too high no matter how good he is. There are those that think the price was too high and he’s going to be bust. And then there are those that think a future franchise QB is worth it. I am firmly in the worth it camp. Let’s look at why this was the right decision for the Redskins.
The Redskins desperately needed a franchise QB
The Redskins have been searching for the answer at QB ever since Joe Theismann’s career ended in 1985. Since then the Redskins have had 26 different men starting under center. In Mike Shanahan’s two years as head coach he has already used three different starting QBs. Rex Grossman began last year as the starter, but performed so poorly against the Eagles in Week 6 that he was benched for John Beck. Beck was an even bigger disaster, and Grossman was eventually given his job back. Last year Grossman and Beck combined for only 21 touchdowns against 33 turnovers. The Redskins ranked 29th in Red Zone Scoring
and 26th in Points Scored.
There is no way that Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen could stand pat at QB. After two seasons of six wins or less and three QBs that didn’t work out, they had to make a move. Not doing something and bringing back Beck and Grossman for round two would have been the end of their careers in Washington. Let’s look at the other options that were available at and why those other options would have been worse choices.
Go After Peyton Manning
The most obvious flaw with this plan is that Manning never seemed in interested in coming to Washington in the first place. But there would have been other potential problems if the Skins had snagged Manning.
Firstly, no one knows for sure if Manning is truly healthy and recovered from his neck surgery. The Broncos are taking a huge risk to sign him to a big contract if he’s not as game-ready as he says. Secondly, supposing he is completely healed, he’s already 36. That would mean he would play in DC for four years tops. The first year he would be learning the system and the last year he would probably be declining. So the Redskins would only get prime Peyton Manning for two years.
But the biggest potential problem would be Manning fitting into the Shanahan system. Manning had a great offensive line in Indy that allowed him to be pocket passer. Shanahan designed his offensive line schemes and has acquired personnel based around a mobile QB running the plays. In Indy Manning had speedy receivers and pass-catching running backs.The Redskins have acquired faster wideouts this offseason(including Manning’s one-time teammate Garcon) and their running backs can catch out of the backfield but it’s still not a great fit. Roy Helu and Evan Royster rushed well last year, but if Manning ran his type of offense their talents would be largely wasted.
Finally, Manning had a lot of say in how the Colts offense was run and Mike Shanahan is control-freak. There would be instant head-butting over not only the offensive approach but playcalling. From a personnel standpoint, Manning could potentially fit the Shanahan system even worse than Donovan McNabb.
Drafting a different QB
Another route the Redskins could have chosen to go was to keep the picks they had and draft a QB other than Stanford’s Andrew Luck(projected to go #1 overall to the Colts) or RG3. The problem with this is that they would be gambling on a prospect’s upside. After Luck and Griffin, draft experts think this year’s QB crop is pretty weak. Texas A & M’s Ryan Tannehill is the only other QB consistently mocked to go in the first or second round, but the feeling is in another draft year he wouldn’t go until at least the second round. He has a lot of upside, but is very raw. His completion percentage and QB rating wasn’t anywhere near Griffin’s numbers. He is also coming off a foot injury. Additionally, the Redskins would likely had to have used their sixth overall pick on him, despite his borderline first round talent.
Some are saying that the Redskins needs are so large, they should have drafted another position like cornerback or wide receiver at number 6 overall and drafted a QB in the later rounds. By then it is likely Luck, Griffin, and Tannehill would all be gone and the Redskins would be stuck drafting someone based almost solely on potential. The thought being if you can fill out the Redskins roster around a decent prospect they might have more success than a potentially great QB like Griffin.
The number of “decent” QBs leading their NFL teams to playoff and Super Bowl victories over the last few years has been very few. The NFL has become more and more of a passing league and coaches can’t simply plan on winning based on their great defense and rushing attack like they used to.
Signing a Free Agent QB
Signing a former backup to become your starter has almost as much risk as drafting a QB. It worked for the Texans and Matt Schaub and to a certain extent for the Chiefs and Matt Cassell, but Kevin Kolb was a huge disappointment for the Cardinals last year. Having a few good games in one NFL city, doesn’t necessarily make you a franchise QB.
Green Bay’s Matt Flynn was most highly regarded free agent QB out there, but he’s only played a few games. The Redskins reportedly weren’t very impressed by him anyway.
There were a number of starting QBs or former starting QBs out there like Alex Smith of the 49ers, the Chiefs Kyle Orton, and the Dolphins Chad Henne. None of the older veterans would have been much of an improvement over Rex Grossman. Some of the younger QBs have potential, but they haven’t lit the league on fire despite their starting opportunities. The fact is most of the free agent QBs were signed on as backups in their new cities. Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn are the only two free agent QBs who are locks to start for their new teams.
In the end, trading up for RG3 was really the only choice Shanahan and Bruce Allen could have made. If they had more faith in some of the free agent QBs or had rated some of the other draft prospects higher maybe they wouldn’t have given up so much. But they didn’t. They saw Griffin as one of the special QBs of his generation and as a possible franchise star to build around. If they’re right they’ll be set at QB and ready to contend for the next decade. If they’re wrong they’ll probably be fired and the next regime will be severely hamstrung in their rebuilding process. This move will either be remembered as the start of a Redskins turnaround or the worst personnel move in the history of the NFL. Either way, it was gamble the Redskins had to take.
After the Redskins started the season 3-1, many fans hoped they were coming out of the rebuilding phase faster than anticipated. Then, they went 1-7 (with six straight losses) and it became clear that it would likely be two more years before they could be considered serious contenders. Now at 4-8 they are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. So, I thought now would be an opportune time to look ahead to their future by grading the two drafts General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Mike Shanahan oversaw in the rebuilding process.
Round 1 (4) LT Trent Williams Oklahoma
Williams has shown that he has the talent to become the rock of the offensive line. He has been a bit inconsistent, but when the line around him gets better that shouldn’t be an issue anymore. He has the speed and strength to get to the second level on run blocking. In pass protection he has proven he can stop elite pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware.
On the downside, Williams has character issues that may affect his NFL career. He has lost his temper on the field before; earlier this season he pushed a 49ers defender after the whistle and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. This weekend, news came out that he had failed three drug tests and will be suspended for four games.
If Williams can mature and keep his conduct in check he can be a franchise player and a potential Pro Bowler. If continues to make stupid mistakes he may find himself out of the NFL and considered a huge bust.
Round 4 (103) LB Perry Riley LSU
Riley had a disappointing 2010. He didn’t get on the field often and when he did he made bad mistakes. He’s turned it around this season though. He overtaken Rocky McIntosh as London Fletcher’s starting middle linebacker counterpart. This is thanks in part to his good run defense. He recognizes the run quickly and wraps up well. He had 14 tackles in the Seahawks game. He still needs to work on his pass coverage, but overall he’s been a pleasant surprise this year.
Round 7 (219) WR Terrence Austin UCLA
Austin has been on the active roster both this season and last season but has hardly put up any stats. He’s had strong pre-seasons both years but that hasn’t translated too much regular season opportunity. The fact that the Redskins brass drafted three wideouts in this year’s draft is a little worrying for his future in DC.
Round 7 (229) C/OG Erik Cook New Mexico
Cook spent his rookie season on the practice squad, and was forced into a starting role this year because of a spate of injuries. He has played awful; he is consistently being pushed back into the pocket. Worse, he apparently refused to play guard, which forced center Will Montgomery to slide over and play out of position when starting LG Kory Lichtensteiger was placed on injured reserve. In the seventh round you can only really expect to get backups for your o-line. However, Cook is pretty useless in that role as well. His inflexibility makes him a wasted roster spot.
Round 7 (231) OT Selvish Capers West Virginia
Capers was a practice squad member for all of 2010 and was then cut before the 2011 regular season. He wasn’t given an opportunity to play here but he must be pretty terrible if couldn’t crack the active roster of the Redskins offensive line in the past two years.
After the 23-0 loss to the Bills on Sunday, many Skins fans are calling for head coach Mike Shanahan’s head. That is understandable emotion from a fan base sick of years of losing and embarrassing performances. I’ve certainly overreacted to a loss before and pondered firing Shanahan. But I hope owner Dan Snyder doesn’t get impatient and pull the plug too early, something he’s arguably done before. Norv Turner was fired during a winning season, a year after going to the playoffs. Marty Schottenheimer was never given a chance and was pulled after one year in DC. Joe Gibbs retired from his second stint as Redskins head coach after a year he led the team to the playoffs. What would have happened if any of these coaches had another year or two in DC? What if one had become the guy long term? Would the Redskins still be in this constant state of rebuilding that has lasted over a decade?
So far Mike Shanahan has led the Redskins to a 9-14 record and his offense looks terrible. Still, Snyder and the Redskins fans need to be patient. Firing Shanahan would create more problems than it would solve. Even if the team finishes out the season 3-13, Shanahan should get the 2012 offseason and at least six games next year. Why? To finish out what he started.
Shanahan is currently in year two of a rebuilding process. Fire him and the last two years of losing will have been for nothing. If Snyder brings in a new coach what is the likelihood that the new coach will want to run a 3-4 defense, West Coast offense, and a zone-blocking scheme for the offensive line? Why would Snyder want to bring in a Shanny-clone if he thinks Shanahan failed? Any new coach Snyder brings in will want to blow apart the roster and start again.
A case for Shanahan’s firing can be made easily enough. He misjudged the roster coming in, believing he could win with the team last year. He has put too much faith in his system and his defense. He’s cut players that didn’t fit and brought in some questionable talent that did. Instead of working with players that have obvious football skills but weren’t system matches he let them flounder. Offensive guard Derrick Dockery and defensive end/outside linebacker Andre Carter failed so miserably under Shanahan that they weren’t even tradable.
His QB evaluation has been terrible in his coaching stint so far. First he let go of Jason Campbell last year and brought in Donovan McNabb. Campbell was having a career year and putting up wins in Oakland this year before his season-ending injury. Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb flamed out in D.C. last year, was shipped to Minnesota where he flamed out even more quickly this season. Shanahan went into this season with John Beck and Rex Grossman, two career journeyman as his top two QBs. He believed he could win games with either. It turns out he CAN’T win games with either.
So, why should he get another season after those mistakes? Because some progress has been made and firing him would destroy all that progress. In the first four games the Redskins 3-4 defense was looking stout. The team is still 7th in points allowed at the end of Week 8. They have given up a lot of points and yards since the Week 5 bye, but they have also been dealing with injuries and an offense that hasn’t held the ball for more than 25 minutes the past three games.
That offense has looked horrendous the past few games but it’s had one of the worst rashes of injuries in the NFL. In two of the first four games the Redskins rushed for over 170 yards. Then starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger went down for the season and starting left tackle Trent Williams injured his ankle. Without those two starters the o-line has looked overmatched. The losses on the offensive line, combined with losing starting RB Tim Hightower for the season, starting TE Chris Cooley for the season, and number one wide-out Santana Moss has turned an average offense to an abysmal one.
But the point is that GM Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan were able to create a good starting core for their West Coast offense and 3-4 defense in the two seasons they’ve been here together. Give them another off-season and they should be able to finish filling in the holes and put some reliable backups in place. Next year an injury to a starter hopefully won’t have such a drastic effect on the team’s chance to win.
Lastly, Shanahan’s hasn’t yet chosen his QB of the future. I admit this is a bit of cop-out here as Rex Grossman, John Beck, and Donovan McNabb have all been floated to the media as “Shanahan’s guy”. Shanahan has had two drafts and not only didn’t spend a high draft pick on a QB he didn’t spend any picks on one. This is almost unconscionable in what is becoming an increasingly quarterback-driven league. The last five Super Bowl winning coaches had their Super Bowl winning QB starting or on the roster during their first year behind the reins. But the fact is Shanahan has bought himself extra time by avoiding this necessary step (perhaps purposefully). There are many QB options in the draft and through trades in the 2012 off-season. Shanahan should be easily able to get a guy that is both high-talent and fits his system. He may even be able to trade for his “now” QB and draft his future QB.
So, let’s stay patient DC. If after six games into the 2012 regular season the Redskins don’t look like they’re on their way to a winning record then Shanahan should get the ax. He’s clearly not going to win here. But I think if you give him another off-season he’ll put in place the next franchise QB, a quality starting offensive line, and roster depth on both sides of the ball. At that point the Redskins should be setup to win for the next few years. But if Snyder gets impatient and fires him this season or during the off-season, he’ll just be restarting the three year rebuilding cycle with a different coach.
Matt and Mark are depressed again after another Redskins loss. They are happy about the Haynesworth suspension thoughMatt and Mark are depressed again after another Redskins loss. They are happy about the Haynesworth suspension though. After their usual game review they discuss Haynesworth’s future in D.C., and whether or not the Skins should switch back to the 4-3. Things get a little heated.
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Currently Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder are working out the details of a contract to put Shanahan in charge of the 2010 Washington Redskins. We all know that past free agent acquisitions and coaches have come here to get as much money as possible. Thankfully, we have an owner who is able and willing to make sure top talent and creative minds are attracted to come to D.C.
However, beyond the “max” deal, what could Shanahan be looking for in his new contract? Let’s use the Jim Zorn experiment as a guideline, shall we?
1. Clear delineation of authority and power with regards to player discipline. Numerous reports have surfaced lately about discipline issues with players going to other sources when there were team issues. Circumventing the head coach is an issue of rebellion and insubordination – even if they were “tight” with Vinny Cerrato or Dan Snyder. If Shanahan wants a successful stint in D.C., he must lay down the law and operate under clear methods of communication between players and the coaching staff.
2. Authority to hire and fire staff as he sees fit. Jim Zorn walked into this head coaching position with little if any authority to bring in “his guys”. Shanahan will be assumed to have this authority, as most head coaches would think they’d have. However, if there is ever an issue he wants to be able to point to the contract (as it is rumored Cerrato did with Zorn) and point out his power. For example, let’s say some time down the road Bruce Allen thinks there is another person better suited for the offensive line coaching position than Kyle Shanahan wants. Papa Shanahan can go to his contract, make the decision and mediate between the two options.
3. Playcalling Operations. This almost goes without saying after the whole Sherm Lewis situation that Zorn went through this year. Would Dan Snyder dare try and make a power move towards Shanahan? Probably not. I can’t even think of Bruce Allen concocting such a plan, but better safe than sorry.
4. Roster and draft procedure. Bruce Allen and Shanahan will likely operate as a team for making player personnel decisions. But as we know during the Cerrato era, things can be a little unclear when decisions are made. It’s always better have things spelled out. There’d be nothing worse than for this new staff than confusion over who is calling the shots on the players that Shanahan will be coaching.
These are the vital issues not only to Shanahan’s contract with Snyder but also if there is going to be success in this organization struggling for a new way of doing business.
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