Are the Redskins rebuilding? Does it matter if they admit they are? What exactly does it mean to rebuild? Is there even such a thing as in the modern NFL?
Yup, things got all metaphysical like that during Mike Shanahan’s Monday meeting with the media. It was at times tense, at times humorous, at times semantic, but still fairly interesting.
It all started when 106.7 The Fan’s resident bulldog Grant Paulsen used the R word in an early question.
“Mike, all the signs on the field are that this team is rebuilding, but you really haven’t used that word in a year and a half,” Paulsen began. “What are the dangers of saying we’re rebuilding?”
“Well, what do you consider rebuilding?” Shanahan countered.
Because I’m a hack, I’ll go to dictionary.com, whose first definition for “rebuild” goes like this: “To repair, especially to dismantle and reassemble with new parts.” That’s pretty much a good summary of what I consider football rebuilding.
“Well, going young at as many positions as possible,” Paulsen answered, which also works. “Giving young guys opportunities.”
“Well, the reason young guys are getting an opportunity is the older guys have gotten hurt,” Shanahan said, still not feeling it. “So we’ve got young guys backing up. So you really don’t have an option to put a veteran player in there when your backup is a young player, either a draft choice or a free agent.”
“So you don’t feel like you’re at a point where you’re trying to see what you’ve got for the future from guys rather than maybe other known commodities?” Paulsen continued, which is a fair question, since fans want to know if progress should be measured in wins and losses or by something less tangible.
“When you take a look at our positions, if you’re talking about say wide receiver, you’re talking about Hankerson,” Shanahan said. “We’re giving him the opportunity — even though he’s a young player — because he’s the next best wide receiver, we feel, at this time, to give this football team the best chance to win. You take a look at Maurice Hurt at the left guard position; we think he’s ready to play, because he’s the next-best offensive lineman that we do have. We can go through all the different positions and when guys get opportunities. Helu, the same thing. Let’s see what he can do. I thought he did a good job showing us what he can do yesterday.”
“So you don’t feel like you’re rebuilding this franchise?” the indefatigable Paulsen asked again.
“Like I said, I’m not even sure what you mean by rebuilding,” Shanahan responded. “You said playing young players. Well, they’re our backup players. When you lose a starter that’s a better player and you play a young guy, you’re playing your next-best player. Is that considered rebuilding, because you’re playing your next-best player? No, I don’t believe so. You’re trying to win a football game. If those are the 46 guys on your team, then the next-best guy is gonna go out there and play.”
So, they’re not rebuilding. Got it. Just to be clear, not every local team takes this rhetorical approach, even if it is just rhetoric. Like, here’s Ted Leonsis on his blog, discussing the Wizards.
I see the rebuild taking three full seasons. I know that is a lot to ask but we have to be honest with everyone. We will load up on young players. We will await the new rules (if any) in the NBA. We will add free agents. We will make trades. We will play the youngsters to gain experience and then I think we will have a very good team for a long, long time. That is the plan.
Yes, Leonsis is saying, we’re rebuilding, and here’s how long you have to wait, and don’t judge us on wins and losses in the meantime, and this is the end goal. Whereas the Redskins were telling prospective season ticket holders “The Future Is Now” 15 losses ago. That’s why I think the rhetoric matters.
Later, Barry Svrluga asked Shanahan about hiring his son in such a high-profile position.
“I’m the one that told Kyle not to come,” the coach said with a smile. “I said this is gonna be a work in progress. It’s not gonna happen overnight. You’re with an established team. You’ve got your ducks in order. I said we’re gonna have to rebuild this football team, starting on offense. He understood that, and he enjoyed the challenge, and that’s what we’re doing.”
“That” being “rebuilding this football team,” presumably. Which is all kind of confusing, in light of Shanahan earlier saying he didn’t consider what they were doing to be rebuilding.
“Dan, you’re making too much of this,” you’re now thinking. “Get back to posting stupid photos.”
And maybe so. But Mike Shanahan wouldn’t be getting the heat he’s getting right now if he had said, 15 losses ago, that they had to rebuild the entire football team from the ground up, and that he needed three years to do so, and if he hadn’t traded draft picks for a veteran quarterback at the start of that process.
“You said a little bit ago that you didn’t agree with the notion that you were rebuilding....” Mike Jones asked still later on Monday.
“I didn’t say that, I said what do you consider rebuilding?” Shanahan interrupted. “What is rebuilding? Playing with a young player? Is that what you call rebuilding? Most teams nowadays have young players. With the way the salary cap is, if you don’t have veterans, usually you have some young players. If a veteran player goes down, you’re going to be playing with some young players. That’s the National Football League today with the salary cap.”
“Ok, so then you said you told Kyle that you need to rebuild this football team,” Jones continued. “So are you rebuilding, or do you feel like using that term gives players the message that you’re not trying, and do you think people take that term the wrong way?”
“No, I said when I first came in that we had to change,” Shanahan answered. “If you look at [it], our center has changed from when I came in, our left guard has changed from when I came in, our left tackle has changed, our right tackle has changed. Our tight ends changed through injury. Both our wide receivers, our halfback. I say that is rebuilding a football team. Now, with the draft, free agency, getting some young players playing as second teamers, and they’re getting a chance to see what they can do. As I said, I was really pleased with Hankerson, really pleased with Hurt with the way they reacted, Helu. Some young players really getting some experience.
“Now if that’s what you call rebuilding,” he concluded, looking at Grant Paulsen, “then we’re rebuilding.”
“That’s what I call rebuilding,” Paulsen agreed.
Shanahan smiled and motioned toward Paulsen.
“How can you win with that one?” he said.
(Thanks to Mike Jones and Rick Maese on this.)