Redskins mailbag: Mike Shanahan’s future and more

November 12, 2013

Has Mike Shanahan done enough to earn a contract extension? (Johnathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Another game, and another missed opportunity for the Washington Redskins. Now at 3-6, the team must pull off another magical 7-0 run to save their season and reach the playoffs. But what are the chances of that happening? They don’t appear great.

And because of that, the questions about Mike Shanahan‘s future have started to increase. In this week’s mailbag, we tackle that issue as well as a number of others.

Thanks again for contributing.

Here we go:

I am hearing a lot of people talking about a coaching change next season. Given the disaster the special teams have been, the fact that the defense has been terrible for years and the recent second-half collapses of the offense, I think Snyder needs to clean house, do you agree?

 Kerry Triplett

I’m not ready to close the book on Mike Shanahan just yet. I’ve got to see what happens down the home stretch. This is the fourth of a five-year contract that’s paying him roughly $7 million a year. No coach likes to work in a lame-duck situation, though, and so it’s believed that Shanahan would like an extension. Does Daniel Snyder believe his coach is worthy of one? At this point, I think he remains in wait-and-see mode.

Yes, Snyder is extremely disappointed by another 3-6 start, but this is still a two-time Super Bowl winning coach that we’re talking about. A guy with Shanahan’s resume is hard to come by. Now, does he still have it? It appeared so based on last season’s second-half turnaround. But now you have to wonder. Shanahan has done some good here in Washington. He inherited a joke of a franchise and with the help of Bruce Allen has instilled some stability and resemblance of a professional organization.

Depending on how the Redskins finish, Snyder could give Shanahan the benefit of a doubt because of two major factors. For one, quarterback Robert Griffin III did make it back onto the field following his knee reconstruction, but it’s clear that it took longer than anyone expected for him to work his way back into form. The offense still isn’t perfect, but since the bye, things have begun to click. The Redskins just need to find consistency now.

Defense is a big issue, and another major off-field factor has limited the Redskins in that area. That’s the salary-cap penalties, which definitely hurt. The Redskins haven’t been able to retool the defense as aggressively as they would have liked because of the $18 million they were docked in each of the past two offseasons. Players like Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson, Madieu Williams and Cedric Griffin were not prime targets for this front office. They were bargain signings. They were the dress shirt and suit you got off the rack at Target because you needed one in a pinch and couldn’t afford to go to Jos. A. Bank. Snyder knows this. And it could cause him to approach this coaching situation with a little bit of leniency. The Redskins enter this offseason with just less than $90 million committed to salaries for 2014. (Editor’s note: See overthecap.com or spotrac.com for approximate salary breakdowns). That means the team will have a significant amount of cash to spend on free agents if the cap remains in the neighborhood of $120 million. Plus, the Redskins will have all but their first-round pick to further build through the draft.

Mike Shanahan basically needs a strong finish to earn an extension. I don’t think 7-0 is possible, but if he and the Redskins can finish 8-8 or 7-9, I think he and Snyder work out a deal and he comes back for the fifth season and has another season or two or three tacked on. Shanahan has to show that he has this team headed in the right direction and that last season’s 10-6 campaign wasn’t a fluke. Right now, he’s got 6-10, 5-11, 10-6 and 3-6 to show. Another 5-11 or 6-10 campaign don’t seem extension worthy, do they? Maybe if they’re 6-10 and lose two tough divisional games in overtime Snyder will feel like that’s close enough. But if they’re getting blown out down the stretch, look for another coach next season.

I know that the salary cap has hindered the Redskins in making sound personnel decisions over the past two years. Does 2014 open up for the Redskins to finally upgrade the personnel on the squad?  I know they need major help on the offensive line, specifically linemen who can protect RGIII while he is in the pocket. I know that they need major help in the secondary and middle linebacker corps.  I would really like to see them go back to the 4-3 defense rather than the 3-4. They also need to get younger and faster on defense. 

 Charles D. Fisher

Yes, the Redskins will have money to spend in 2014, and I expect moves to bolster the offensive line, wide receiving corps, secondary and likely the linebackers as well. London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo, DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather, Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers, Reed Doughty, Josh Morgan, Rob Jackson, Santana Moss, Perry Riley Jr., Fred Davis and Aldrick Robinson all will be free agents next year, so the Redskins have to make decisions on some of them, but a number of them likely will not return. As far as the 3-4 to the 4-3, I don’t see this as that big a deal. In most passing situations, the Redskins put Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan down on the line at the end positions and have to other down linemen, so that’s a 4-3 look right there. What they need is their pass rushers (particularly Orakpo) to make more of an impact.

Why do the Redskins keep getting called for a penalty that is totally unnecessary? This happened twice against Minnesota. Perry Riley had to run about 10 feet to get to the Viking player so he could push him. Of course it brought the flag as soon as it happened. Why would a player hurt his team like that? Then Darrel Young grabs the face mask and shakes it. Of course, all television viewers, fans and coaches couldn’t miss that one. Do the players flat out not care for their own teammates and how it affects them? The worst is the block in the back. Two sides to a player: one you can hit and one you can’t. Nothing worse than a good runback on a kickoff or punt only to see the yellow flag and know right away what it means because the television showed it as clear as the nose on your face.

 Lester Petersen

All three of your examples are foolish penalties that are hard even for players to explain after the fact. The best that most have been able to offer when I ask a similar question is, “This is an emotional game with a lot at stake, and guys are passionate, and sometimes, your emotions get the best of you.” That’s all true. But because there’s so much at stake, players must carry themselves with discipline so they don’t hurt their team. The block in the back penalty is a silly mistake, but at least you can understand that it comes out of desperation. You’re running back on kickoff or punt coverage and the defender gets past you and you’re trying to do whatever you can to keep him from destroying your return man. That desperate move rarely yields the desired payoff, though.

Any chance we see Nick Williams returning punts this week?

 Sam

It’s still early, but I think there’s a good chance that Williams will get some opportunities. Mike Shanahan said last Friday that the team would continue to experiment with punt returners as the season progresses. Josh Morgan has struggled in this capacity (he said this is the first time in his life that he has served as a punt returner), and so, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to give Williams a try. We saw him field punts in practice during training camp, but he didn’t receive many opportunities in games. Actually, the undrafted rookie only fielded one punt during the preseason. He made the most of that opportunity, returning it 29 yards, however.  As a senior at Connecticut, the 5-foot-9, 184-pound Williams averaged 12.0 yards per punt return and 20.4 yards per kick return. Williams isn’t a speedster like Brandon Banks. He clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.62 seconds at his Pro Day. But he’s shifty enough, and appears to have good hands.

Is there any update on Adam Carriker?

  Jay Scheinberg

Unfortunately, no. The defensive end continues to rehab from his offseason surgeries on that torn quadriceps tendon. It doesn’t appear as if he will make it back this season.

It seems this year that “father time” may have sadly and finally caught up with London Fletcher.  In many games this year, like Thursday night, his name is hardly, if ever mentioned.  I know he gets the defense set pre-snap and is like a coach on the field, but is it getting to the point that his apparent ineffectiveness is outweighing that?  I know he had his knee drained the other day.  Is he playing hurt and we’re not being told about it?  I was wondering, with Nick Barnett on the roster, maybe it’s time for a switch, especially the way the season appears to be headed.  He’s had a lot of experience in this defense in Green Bay and Buffalo.

— Eric Waggy, Novi, Mich.

London Fletcher does appear to have lost a step, but he and the Redskins believe that he still is their best option at inside linebacker. He and the team say the knee getting drained was nothing serious, but it’s not a positive development. However, the coaches have too much respect for him to bench him. Does that mean that they aren’t suffering from not having a Fletcher of old out there? Probably some. They’d rather accept the trade-off of having their general on the field than not. In the game against San Diego when the Chargers had gotten the ball to the 1-yard line, Redskins players say nose tackle Barry Cofield turned to Fletcher and asked what was coming. Fletcher told Cofield both the first- and second-down plays, which the Redskins both properly defended. They don’t feel like anyone else could have done that. Now, say the season continues to deteriorate, will Fletcher get benched? I doubt it. But I do think you probably will see more Nick Barnett rotating in and out of there with Fletcher. But the Redskins won’t sit Fletcher unless he is seriously injured.

Do you think Kyle Shanahan would have interest in the University of Texas job?  I realize this is unlikely to happen but let’s say the Redskins finish strong and Texas gets rid of Mack Brown and then strikes out on some higher-profile candidates. With the success of some younger college coaches recently and Kyle’s ties to UT, do you think he would step down to college for a job like Texas?

 — Mike Plant

That’s an interesting proposition, but I don’t have any idea as to whether or not Kyle (a former Longhorn receiver) would be on Texas’s radar, or if he would have the college ranks on his. Kyle won’t talk about his future at this point in the season. He has generated some moderate interest from NFL teams regarding head coaching positions, and he has made no secret that he would like to be an NFL head coach. So I think that he probably would opt for that career path. But that’s purely speculative. If the right school with the right situation and checkbook came knocking, he could entertain such prospects. But if the Redskins finish off the year on an impressive note with the offense clicking on all cylinders, he could have NFL teams pursuing him as well.

The special team remains a liability because they can never kick deep on kick-offs, hence allowing teams to start in very good field positions every single time. So, when is anyone ever going to address that and fix the special teams once and for all?  And like I stated earlier in the season, Keith Burns has got to go. What can his excuse be that his team goes into a play and not have everyone discuss the possibility of a trick play?  … Finally, is there any possibility of the Redskins signing cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha?  Whatever his drawback are, wouldn’t it be a definite upgrade for our defensive backs if we make the acquisition?

  Olufemi A. Adepoju

Special teams is definitely an area of weakness, but last week, the Redskins purposely didn’t kick the ball into the end zone because Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson is the best in the league on kickoff returns. They were content to let the Vikings’ up backs return the ball to the 25 or 30 than to let Patterson touch the ball and possibly break free for a touchdown. But, there are many problems on that unit, and the miscommunication on the fake punt served as just another indication. Lost in the talk of the missed signal from Reed Doughty to Niles Paul and whether or not the play should’ve been called was the fact that Jerome Murphy was called for a false start. That actually ended up bailing the Redskins out — kind of — because Minnesota would’ve gotten the ball at Washington’s 35 following the incomplete pass from Sav Rocca to Paul. But, that was not the first special teams penalty on Murphy this season. He needs better awareness. Against Dallas he had an illegal shift penalty against Dallas and that caused Washington to re-punt, and Dwayne Harris returned the second punt for a touchdown. This missed fake-punt-penalty wound up not mattering really, because Darrel Young was called for a personal foul after the long return surrendered, and the ball was placed at the Washington 41. Yes, the Redskins have a mess on their hands. As far as Asomugha … This guy is not the answer. He had a lot of hype as he hit free agency and left Oakland for Philadelphia for a handsome payday. But he wound up getting exposed. He got cut by Philadelphia after two seasons, and then got cut by San Francisco this year.

What do you think about the way the team is handling Fred Davis? Seems to me that we’re gonna need all of the draft picks we can get, and with his athletic ability we could’ve gotten something for him if coaches could get him even a few catches. 

  Bob Lasher, Clearwater, Fla.

Fred Davis’s demise is a perplexing on the surface, but ultimately, Redskins coaches believe they have found a more athletic, more reliable weapon in Jordan Reed, who is more consistent and versatile as a receiver and more solid as a blocker. The Redskins definitely could’ve tried to drive up Davis’s value by playing him some. Trades are rare in the NFL, but teams would have been able to see a little worth. But, that being said, no one wanted to give up a draft pick — even if it was just a sixth or seventh — for a guy that has had off-field issues and serious injury in his recent past, and an expiring contract. They’re content to wait until the offseason and kick the tires on Davis. And the Redskins don’t want to cut Davis because right now their best blocking tight end, Logan Paulsen, is nursing a knee injury, and Reed has gotten banged up here and there. They feel like if something were to happen to those two, at least they would have a starter-quality guy to turn to.

What’s ahead:

● A look at what facing the Eagles for the second time will be like for Washington.

More on the Redskins & NFL:

Path from 3-6 to playoffs looks tougher than last season

Outsider: Why the fourth-down pass to Moss was a good call

Nick Williams promoted from practice squadDoughty takes blame for botched fake punt

Hall: NFC East struggles a surprise | Back at work, Griffin says Redskins still believe

D.C. Sports Bog: Mike Shanahan and history More

The Early Lead: Roethlisberger would retire before a trade | More

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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