The Skins are more than halfway through Mike Shanahan’s tenure, and the standings haven’t gotten any cheerier, which is increasingly prompting fans to question Shanahan’s personnel decisions. Is there appropriate depth? Is the offensive line where it needs to be? What the heck happened to the defensive secondary? Are the defensive personnel appropriate for a 3-4 defense? How are there still no terrifying receivers? What’s with Brandon Banks? And so on.
But hearing fans ask these questions isn’t quite the same as hearing national analysts do so. And the NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi asked a whole bunch of questions this week during the HTTR 24/7 podcast. It’s quite a long listen (there’s a transcript here), but I’ve picked out some highlights, starting with the issue of whether Washington’s roster issues can be fixed by year 4 of Shanahan’s tenure.
“He’s as good a offensive coach as there is in the league, there’s no question,” Lombardi said. “We’re not gonna debate Mike Shanahan as an offensive coordinator. He’s very talented. The question becomes, how come his defense never seems to get answered and fixed? And where is he in terms of player personnel and picking players?…
“I think it’s gonna be a challenge for him to come up with the solutions, especially in the light of the fact that he’s lost $18 million dollars in cap room and he can’t spend his way out of the problem next year in free agency. And the cap’s not going up. I think it’s going to be very difficult to improve the team in terms of finding new players; I think they’re gonna have to work with the ones [they have] or try to find some guys that are young.
“I think it’s a challenge, because you don’t have a state-of-the-art personnel department,” Lombardi continued. “He hasn’t made those changes in the personnel department. It’s still the same group, Vinny’s not there, but it’s still the same people. Bruce [Allen] isn’t a personnel [guy]; Bruce does cap and PR and all those things; Bruce isn’t the true total GM in terms of breaking down teams and finding players.”
And how can they find better players with fewer draft picks and a huge cap penalty? Yeah. Well.
“You’re gonna have to figure it out,” Lombardi said. “You’re gonna have to find a solution. I’ve often said that Daniel Snyder’s always made a mistake about putting money into players, when he should have put $5 million dollars into having a state-of-the-art personnel department. Build a personnel department that’s the best in the league, instead of spending money on one player that you’re never gonna see again. I think now is the time to do it. It’s going to be a challenge for Mike. It’s gonna be really difficult.
“How do you find offensive lineman when you don’t have draft picks?” Lombardi asked. “You don’t find offensive lineman on the free-agent market; they rarely make it there. How do you find impact defensive players? You think you’re gonna find a corner on the street? That’s difficult to do. You’ve got to really find your way, you’ve got to really work at it and struggle.
“And remember this, it takes talent to evaluate talent, and you always have to evaluate the evaluators,” Lombardi said. “When a team has a lot of really good players, there’s some reason why he has good players. And I think you’ve got to try to find that. And I think that’s gonna be the challenge for the Redskins. In year 4, it’s not gonna get any easier.”
The offensive line has been better than expected, though, right?
“I mean you’re, starting Tyler Polumbus at right tackle,” Lombardi pointed out. “I know Jammal Brown’s been hurt, but Tyler Polumbus wasn’t good enough to play for a lot of teams in this league, and he’s your starting right tackle. So you’re asking yourself in year 3, is this where we wanted to be at right tackle?…
“I mean, when you’re waiting for Jammal Brown to come off IR and get him healthy, are you really that good of a football team?” Lombardi asked. “Look, that offensive line’s been a problem even since when you signed Derrick Dockery and paid him all that money. Now, everyone can blame Vinny for that, but the line still hasn’t been fixed. It’s still a problem, and you’ve got to get it fixed. Other teams around the league seem to be able to do it, and for whatever reason it hasn’t happened in Washington. To me, it’s about what’s the plan: How is the plan being implemented, and is the plan eventually gonna work?”
But Shanahan doesn’t coach the defense, right?
“His defensive drafting hasn’t been [strong],” Lombardi said. “They’ve got to find better players defensively. Their corner situation, is Josh Wilson really a good enough starting corner in the league? DeAngelo Hall, is he good enough? I mean, when London Fletcher’s still one of your better players at his age, then you’ve really got to ask yourself some questions.”
So, um, about that general manager?
“Look, let’s be real honest here: Mike Shanahan runs the football operation,” Lombardi said. “Bruce does what Mike wants him to do. Mike’s in complete control of the organization. So Bruce is operating under what Mike tells him, and that’s kind of how it’s gonna go. I think Mike has to recognize that he’s got to get better players on defense.
“The offensive line is still a problem and still a issue. They get powered back, they’re not able to do things that they need to do. So I think Mike as the general manager has to look at Mike himself and say, Am I doing the right things here? Am I making the right decisions ? How do I get it fixed? And maybe bring people in that could help him, perhaps add to the personnel [department]. I mean, since Bruce and Mike have been there, they really haven’t added to the personnel department. They’ve got to make sure they have the right people at the right jobs…
“People focus on the minor issues, when the core issues are do you have the right coach? Do you have the right general manager? For me, Mike is the general manager of the team. He’s the guy picking the players. He’s got to make sure he is doing himself a [good] job.”