Shanahan, Redskins have a lot riding on draft


Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and his reputation have a lot riding on the team’s choices in this week’s NFL draft. (WILL McNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES)
Jason Reid
Columnist April 26, 2011

Depending on whom you believe, Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan hopes to trade the 10th overall pick in Thursday’s NFL draft to select higher or lower in the first round. With Washington’s top pick, Shanahan supposedly plans to choose a quarterback, a big wide receiver or a defensive lineman. Or he could make a surprising move to fill one of the Redskins’ many other holes.

Despite the best efforts of the so-called draft “experts,” Shanahan is so skilled at concealing his true intentions during this time of year that few even at Redskins Park know his strategy. This much, however, is clear: After Shanahan’s shaky first season in control of the team he was hired to rebuild, he must draft multiple players capable of starting as rookies to substantively bolster a weak roster. His power within the organization could be at stake.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Shanahan knows he had a rocky start with the Redskins, and their 6-10 record was the least of his problems. Although the Redskins had significant roster shortcomings because of owner Daniel Snyder’s decade-long mismanagement of the football operation, Shanahan made things worse with his awful decisions on the biggest issues facing the club.

Shanahan traded multiple high draft picks for quarterback Donovan McNabb and then tried to alter his playing style. He radically changed the team’s defensive philosophy without addressing glaring personnel needs. And he believed he could persuade Albert Haynesworth to become a different person. He badly miscalculated, displaying a level of arrogance in each situation that ultimately set back the franchise.

The continued fallout from Shanahan’s ineffective handling of those situations will affect Washington’s draft, which, because of the NFL’s unclear labor situation, could be the primary method of team-building this offseason.

In a normal year, the Redskins would be well positioned for free agency. Other than Trent Williams, no Redskins player has guaranteed money next season. (McNabb would receive $1.75 million if he were released because of injury.)

Problem is, there are many unknowns regarding free agency even if the owner-imposed lockout ends or a new collective bargaining agreement is reached soon. The Redskins need spectacularly positive draft results that are uncommon in their recent history.

The Redskins currently have eight picks, including the 10th overall. They also select once in the second round (41st overall), twice in the fifth (Nos. 144 and 155), once in the sixth (No. 177) and three times in the seventh (Nos. 213, 224 and 253).

When the draft ends Saturday, regardless of whether Shanahan is able to make a move in either direction, the Redskins hope they will have added a high-ceiling quarterback, a prototypical big wideout and a defensive lineman who possesses the talent to regularly draw and defeat double teams. They also need to hit on a “sleeper” pick or two in the later rounds, the type of guys the best-led NFL teams often find.

Obviously, that’s a whole lot for several drafts, let alone one. But such is the Redskins’ difficult position because of their past draft failures and Shanahan’s mistakes last season.

After Washington’s defensive collapse in its first season switching from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4, I strongly encouraged Shanahan to use the 10th pick to help the defense and focus on filling the quarterback void at No. 41.

Shanahan, for all his career accomplishments as an offensive-minded coach, struggled to get it figured out on defense toward the end of his long run in Denver. To this point, he hasn’t shown much understanding of the defensive side of things in Washington, either.

An argument could be made that Shanahan should use the majority of the picks, including the first, to address the Redskins’ worst defensive performance since 1954.

And it’s downright ridiculous that the franchise again finds itself in such a weakened position at quarterback — the game’s most important position. Only a little more than a year ago, Shanahan stood at a lectern and compared McNabb favorably to Hall of Famer John Elway. Shanahan expressed confidence the Redskins had a quarterback capable of playing at a high level for several seasons.

A team that has finished last in the NFC East three consecutive seasons certainly could have used the second- and fourth-round picks Shanahan sent to division-rival Philadelphia for McNabb.

Snyder privately continues to tell people he still believes McNabb is a good fit for the Redskins and that he wants the 12-year veteran to remain with the club. But both Mike and Kyle Shanahan, Washington’s offensive coordinator, want McNabb out, so they may decide to select their next quarterback as soon as possible in the draft.

I’m not expecting Shanahan to deliver a draft comparable to the organization’s 12-round haul in 1981, in which it added Mark May, Russ Grimm, Dexter Manley, Charlie Brown, Darryl Grant and Clint Didier. That group helped to provide the foundation for two of Joe Gibbs’s three Super Bowl victories.

With many picks and many holes, though, it’s fair to expect Shanahan to bring in a class similar to that of the New York Giants’ eight-man squad in 2007. Steve Smith, Kevin Boss and Ahmad Bradshaw contributed to a Super Bowl championship as rookies and are still productive.

Shanahan missed the playoffs his last three seasons leading the Broncos and again last season with the Redskins. His actions have stirred doubt about the three-year plan he brought to Washington, and now he faces crucial decisions in the draft.

Asked before last season whether the Redskins were as bad as their record indicated under former coach Jim Zorn, Shanahan essentially said the record tells the whole story. Well, Shanahan’s recent record is what it is. And this draft could help determine whether Shanahan is capable of being who he once was.

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