That is over. Or, at least, it’s over for now. The Redskins are infamous for their six different regimes in 12 years under owner Daniel Snyder. But this time it’s the real thing — probably. The Redskins are attempting one of the most difficult transformations in sport or business: creating a new identity.
Washington is witnessing a change in the way its pro football team is built that is fundamental, yet so alien to this city’s expectations that it tends to be passed off as a mere one-year trend. We’re seeing a seismic shift in franchise philosophy, from wheeling, dealing and pizzazz toward building through the draft under Coach Mike Shanahan.
Get used to what you’re watching — Ryan Kerrigan making sacks and Roy Helu running for 100 yards, guard Maurice Hurt and safety DeJon Gomes, starting when necessary but assuming key roles quickly. Next season, when they return from injury, Jarvis Jenkins and Leonard Hankerson may be entrenched at defensive tackle and wide receiver. Evan Royster ran well and Willie Smith coped at left tackle against the Patriots on Sunday.
Nose tackle Chris Neild and linebacker Markus White were both active Sunday and injured wide receiver Niles Paul has been in nine games. That’s right, 10 draft-pick rookies have entered the picture in one season. Even from the skimpy 2010 draft class, Perry Riley now starts at linebacker and Trent Williams, assuming he’s scared straight, could play left tackle for years.
This isn’t just a fluke caused by injuries and suspensions. It is a foreshadowing, an acceleration of a pattern that will define the Redskins as long as Shanahan is coach.
There is no more basic NFL DNA than your stance toward the draft. In Pittsburgh, under the Rooney family, the Steelers have had at least one pick in the first round of every draft since 1967. The Giants have had a first-round pick in all but two drafts since ’76. Can the Redskins make such a basic shift in where they see value? Will Snyder be excited by the granularity of analyzing mid-round picks?
Commitment to the draft, for teams that have succeeded at it, entails decades of consistency. Washington got addicted long ago to instant gratification. Redskins fans have little sense of what radical outliers the team has been for generations. For the first 20 years, the aptly named “Future Is Now” approach worked as George Allen swapped his way to a Super Bowl, then general manager Bobby Beathard — who began his tenure in 1978 — drafted so amazingly that few noticed he was doing it with one hand behind his back; in nine of his 12 Redskins drafts, Beathard had no first-round picks.