Redskins Offseason Outlook: “Wanted: Quarterback”
For Redskins fans, it was yet another disappointing season where the team failed to even sniff a winning record. However, if one is to look closely at the Redskins roster, there is hope. Even the head coach Mike Shanahan said in his end of the year presser, that this team is a “much better football team than [it] was a year ago.” This team did not really have a game like it did last year where it was completely blown out. Even though the ‘Skins may have only mustered up 5 wins, 2 came against the division champion Giants, in a convincing matter both times. Also, this team should’ve beaten Dallas twice. Blame Graham Gano (or DeAngelo Hall, or Jim Haslett, your choice) for those two agonizing defeats. On top, of that this team played the entire season with Rex Grossman and John Beck at quarterback. Just think of the games this team would’ve won with an average quarterback.
The team has gone much younger, which was the biggest change that needed to be made out at Redskins Park. The team played all but one of their rookies in games this year, with that one being 2nd round pick Jarvis Jenkins, who showed great promise in the preseaon a year ago before suffering a season ending knee injury. So, add Jenkins to the rest of the already promising crop of rookies from last year, and the Redskins have some serious young talent on their hands. Rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster looked great down the stretch, rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had a terrific season all-around, and guys like Chris Neild, Dejon Gomes, and Leonard Hankerson showed promise. On top of that, the front office, along with Shanahan, made some great, under-the-radar pickups in free agency going into this year, with guys like nose tackle Barry Coefield, defensive end Stephen Bowen, and cornerback Josh Wilson.
Overall, the Redskins showed exponential improvement on the defensive side of the ball in 2011. With the editions of Coefield, Bowen, Wilson, Kerrigan, and others, the Redskins moved from dead last in overall defense in 2010 to 13th in 2011. They’ve infused that side of the ball with youth and guys who fit defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s system. It was a huge improvement over the square peg, round whole defense they employed last year, with all the players fit for the previous scheme. Shanahan has repeatedly said that the defense was his “main priority” last offseason when he really began to rebuild this roster.
They will need to re-sign middle linebacker London Fletcher, who lead the NFL in tackles and is truly the leader of this club. Shanahan said in his end of the year press conference that Fletcher “is a priority for us”. Playing next to Fletcher for most of the year was young linebacker Perry Riley, who had a breakout year, taking advantage of the injury to Rocky McIntosh. Look for McIntosh to be gone and for the Redskins to go with the youth and play making of Riley again next year along side, hopefully, Fletcher.
The one spot the team should look to upgrade on the defensive side of the ball, depth aside, is the cornerback spot. Neither DeAngelo Hall nor Josh Wilson is a number one, lock-down corner. Both are great playmakers, but both give up some big plays (for Hall, see Dallas games).
The offense for the Redskins, however, didn’t fair quite as well in 2011. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Redskins just don’t have a quarterback worth anything. Rex Grossman won the job in the preseason, and started the first 5 games. He was then benched in the forth quarter of the Week 6 game against the Eagles in favor of Beck, in the midst of one of his classic four-interception games that have plagued him throughout his career. Beck, a journeyman and relative unknown, was even worse, and after two putrid performances against Buffalo and San Francisco, was replaced by Grossman. Rex had his bright spots, as he has throughout his career, but still showed that he turns the ball over at such an alarming rate, and therefore shouldn’t start for any NFL team.
However, there were some positives on this side of the ball. Rookie running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster combined for 5 100-yard performances the last 6 weeks of the season. Both fit Shanahan’s zone running scheme beautifully. Helu shows great a great speed/size combination and the ability to cut back and break tackles. Royster lacks Helu’s speed, but has great vision and always finds the hole to cut through, something that is paramount in the Redskins offensive scheme. Wideout Jabar Gaffney also stood out this season, leading the team in catches and yards, after being picked up in the offseason from Denver via trade.
Young tight end Fred Davis and tackle Trent Williams were both having breakout seasons before they were suspended the last four games for failed drug tests. Davis is a free agent, and the Redskins must decide if they are willing to resign a guy with great talent but suspect behavior. There were rumors that they failed up to ten drug tests (really Fred, really Trent? Ten? No really, ten?). Shanahan did say he talked to Fred and does “feel good about Fred as a person.” Look for the Skins to keep Davis, he’s just too talented of a play maker for them to let go when they are starved for such play makers in the passing game.
So as Redskins fans look ahead to this offseason, what should they expect? Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. If Washington fails to come up with some type of improvement at the position headed into next year, the front office has totally failed. Woodgrove senior and Redskin fan Kevin Connell said “If Rex Grossman plays a down for this team next year, I’m resigning my fanhood.” And it wouldn’t be surprising if many followed him.
Many look to the Redskins first round pick in the April’s NFL draft, 6th overall, and point to the Redskins finding their quarterback of the future there. That being said, Washington will have to make a serious move up in the draft to get either of the top 10 worthy quarterbacks in this years draft, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin. With Luck being selected number one by Indianapolis a foregone conclusion (which makes perfect sense seeing as the one position they need is quarterback. Oh wait…Peyton Manning…), many see the Redskins making a play for the Heisman trophy winner Griffin.
While Griffin would be a great fit, they would likely have to give up a package of picks including the 6th overall this year and a first rounder next year, on top of a some middle round picks this year. And with the Redskins new philosophy of trading down and acquiring more picks, rather than trading up and losing picks, this seems less likely than it would have in the past. Woodgrove senior Caleb Welsh says “I love Griffin and I would love to see them acquire him somehow. However, I really would stay away from giving up too many other picks.” Some point to the Redskins pursuing Peyton Manning if in fact Indianapolis decides to start all over and rebuild around Luck. However, Shanahan is committed to building through the draft, and also won’t want to make the same mistake he did with Donovan McNabb, by acquiring an aging quarterback like Manning.
If Griffin doesn’t fall to the 6th pick and the price is too steep for Shanahan to move up, look for him to trade down. The Cincinnati Bengals hold the 17th and 21st picks, and wouldn’t mind making a move into the top ten to acquire a play maker like Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The Redskins could possibly swap the 6th for the 17th and 21st, and use one of those picks on Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill is a guy that possesses all the measurables and intangibles to play the position in the NFL, he’s just lacked experience at the position. Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive coordinator, could take Tannehill, groom him to their system, and use the other first round selection on a play maker like Notre Dame wideout Michael Floyd, if he slips, or South Carolina wideout Alshon Jeffrey. Or, perhaps, the team could look to fill some wholes on the offensive line, the other glaring hole on this offense.
Really, any of these situation, whether its trading up for Griffin, trading down for Tannehill or another quarterback, should lead the Redskins in the right direction. However, if they select a quarterback within the first two rounds of this years draft, which they almost have to (barring a pickup of somone like Manning), they must hit on the guy. If not, it could set back the organization, and even cost Mike Shanahan his job. That being said, if the front office can bring in the right piece at that position, many of the other pieces are in place and ready to grow and produce. So maybe, just maybe, Redskins fans can have hope of a contender in the seasons to come.