Mike Shanahan must turn things around for Redskins after troubling 2010 season


Donovan McNabb, left, doesn’t seem likely to spend another season with Mike Shanahan, but it’s Shanahan’s decision whether or not to expedite the quarterback’s departure. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Jason Reid
Columnist July 4, 2011

The NFL lockout has resulted in one positive development for Washington Redskins fans: At least Coach Mike Shanahan couldn’t do more damage to the team. He was unable to approve another disastrous trade. He was forbidden from tinkering with a Redskins defense he significantly weakened before last season.

It appears the league’s work stoppage will end soon, and after everything Shanahan did wrong in 2010, he needs to make a strong comeback.

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

 It’s time for Shanahan to show he’s still capable of coaching a winner. He has to start making sound football decisions again. In his second try, the person owner Daniel M. Snyder hired to lead the organization must prove he’s the right man for the job, because Shanahan’s opening act didn’t inspire confidence.

After business resumes, Shanahan should do what’s right and accommodate quarterback Donovan McNabb with a trade to his desired destination.

Forget about holding out for the highest draft pick. Don’t keep McNabb on the roster throughout the preseason in an effort to create a bidding war. That would only prolong a lingering, ugly situation that requires resolution as quickly as possible.

Shanahan’s decision to trade for McNabb was the worst of his career. Then Shanahan and his son, Kyle, Washington’s offensive coordinator, compounded the error while clumsily all but removing the six-time Pro Bowler from a 6-10 team.

Despite Snyder’s disappointment about losing a player of McNabb’s stature after only one season, Snyder gave Shanahan player-personnel control of the Redskins, and Shanahan doesn’t believe in McNabb. Regardless of General Manager Bruce Allen’s frustration over the failure to handle things privately, Allen knows the Redskins cannot exercise McNabb’s $10 million contract option after Mike and Kyle have told anyone who would listen he cannot play in their offensive system.

The Shanahans did so much to devalue McNabb that the Redskins should not expect to receive much in exchange for a player beginning his 13th season. Also, teams are expected to ask McNabb to rework his contract to facilitate a trade, so the Redskins will need his cooperation, limiting potential trading partners.

McNabb probably would give back his $3.5 million signing bonus if the Redskins were willing to release him when the lockout ends, but Shanahan wants something more than money after squandering second- and fourth-round picks on McNabb. If the Redskins move McNabb a minute after a new collective bargaining agreement is formally implemented or wait until the day after their first regular season game — the option deadline — it would still be surprising if any team offered more than a sixth- or conditional seventh-round pick for him. Shanahan needs to let McNabb move on at any price.

Then there’s defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. It would be hard to imagine a worse pairing than Haynesworth and Shanahan, who, predictably, were at odds throughout last season.

Washington’s coaching staff has given up hope of Haynesworth ever playing at the high level he once did for Tennessee, which offered the Redskins a draft pick for the two-time all-pro performer. Although Haynesworth was Snyder’s biggest blunder ($41 million in guaranteed contract money), the damage is done.

The moment has arrived for the Redskins to acknowledge the mistake and put Haynesworth in the franchise’s past. Shanahan should take whatever he can get for him and focus on all the other problems that need fixing.

At quarterback, Shanahan is intent on following through with his John Beck experiment, so he had better surround the unproven player with significant help. The Redskins plan to be active in free agency, but effort isn’t enough.

Usually aggressive, the Redskins often choose poorly.

For years, the Redskins have eagerly anticipated this class, which could be as deep as they’ve hoped if the new rules grant unrestricted free agency after four seasons. Eric Schaffer, the Redskins’ talented vice president of football administration, has positioned the salary cap well, and Shanahan must pursue the right players to capitalize on his work.

On offense, Washington lacks proven big wide receivers and dependable running backs. Along the line, there’s at least one glaring hole at right tackle and much room for improvement at other positions.

The defense collapsed last season after Shanahan scrapped the team’s successful 4-3 philosophy and switched to a 3-4 scheme, finishing 31st out of 32 teams and ranking last for much of the season. Shanahan took the right approach in the draft, focusing on defense and trading down to add picks, and we’ll see whether any of the rookies make an immediate impact.

But in free agency, Shanahan must find another inside linebacker to help London Fletcher and a starting cornerback to join DeAngelo Hall.

The Redskins’ style of defense also requires Shanahan to make nose tackle a priority.

The to-do list is formidable and Shanahan will work under increased time constraints because of the time lost due to the labor impasse. Such is life, however, when you’re being paid millions to rebuild the region’s most popular team.

In the second season of his second stint with the Redskins, Joe Gibbs led the team to the playoffs and a postseason victory after finishing 6-10 the previous season. Gibbs showed Snyder it was possible to produce a quick turnaround and re-energize fans.

Now, Shanahan is faced with a similar opportunity. And he could succeed if he remembers one thing: to do just about everything differently than he did last season.

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