Redskins and Mike Shanahan immersed in an ugly rebuilding process
By Thomas Boswell,
If the Redskins are a renovation, what does a total tear-down look like?
After 33 losses in three years, the Redskins now face the reality that confronts entrenched bad teams — ones without a single player picked for the Pro Bowl, ones without a quality quarterback and ones that pack up for the offseason with a quarter left to play and lose 34-10 to a division rival.
This level of pain, this immense distance between the present and a future worthy of a fan’s fantasy, is what the rebuilding of a decimated NFL franchise usually feels like. Whether the job is being done well or is being bungled, this is how it often feels when the task is only partially complete.
For decades, Redskins fans were spared this exasperating and seemingly endless process. Twice, Joe Gibbs inherited crummy teams yet made the playoffs his second year. Norv Turner jumped from three to six to nine wins. George Allen and Vince Lombardi were winners in their first seasons.
So, in Washington, if no progress occurs quickly, or worse, if a team regresses, the correct prediction has always been: failed regime.
That eventually may be the case with Mike Shanahan, too. In a game that held no meaning, his Redskins played down to the occasion in a loss full of mental blunders, disorganization and loss of discipline by veterans.
When you have your fifth blocked kick of the season (out of 28 total for the whole NFL), when Santana Moss incurs a 15-yard penalty at the four-yard line for ripping off his helmet in disgust, and when your field goal team dashes on the field but the long snapper isn’t among them as time runs out in the half, that’s NFL chaos.
Such performances at the end of lost seasons are, at every level, laid at the coach’s feet. Meanwhile, Andy Reid’s Eagles, who might’ve been demoralized after perhaps the most disappointing season in the league, showed up with their heads screwed on properly.
Time will have to tell whether Shanahan’s methods and his so far often-flawed decisions at crucial positions will send him packing before his $35-million, five-year deal is done. But he’s not going anywhere before next year. Owner Daniel Snyder’s quick-trigger histories with past coaches as well as Shanahan’s two Super Bowl rings preclude that option. Who comes in if you give up on Shanahan after two years? It would be Zorn-Search Fiasco II.
So, welcome to a real rebuilding — Ugly Squared — like most cities have endured. It’s losing on New Year’s Day, for 10 defeats in 12 games, after squandering a lead at home on Christmas Eve to the awful, injured Vikings.
After the game, Moss whistled by his locker, the same six notes over an over. A holiday tune? “Stuff happens in the heat of battle,” he said of his penalty. “You don’t want to penalize your team. [But] I thought he [the official] couldn’t hear me with it on so maybe I need to take it off.”
Except that taking off your helmet is an automatic penalty. The elegant succession of snafus over the next 23 seconds that resulted in no-field-goal-attempt deserves it own novella. Yes, a team called the Redskins has a hurry-up played called “Geronimo.”
Perhaps the most nagging aspect of this rebuild is that Rex Grossman, who underthrew two wide-open deep receivers (one for an interception), will probably start at quarterback to begin next season. Not for sure, but likely.
With five teams picking before them in the 2012 draft, the Redskins’ chance of trading up to pick either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III is, according to history, quite poor. In the last 21 drafts, 25 quarterbacks have been picked in the top six overall; only four were acquired by teams that traded up to grab them. Many want to do the trade-up dance for a franchise quarterback; but few ever want to be your partner.
For those four, the prices that were extorted would be a ransom the Redskins — who are trying to build through the draft — are poorly suited to pay.
●To move up just one spot, from third overall to second, to get Ryan Leaf, San Diego gave up that third overall pick in the 1998 draft plus another first-rounder, a second-round pick and three-time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf.
●To move up four spots to get Michael Vick at first overall, Atlanta gave up the fifth overall pick (LaDainian Tomlinson) as well as a second-rounder, plus a third-round pick and a good kick-return man, too.
●Just as stunning, to trade up four spots for Eli Manning, the Giants dealt fifth overall pick Philip Rivers, plus a first- (which became three-time Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman), third- and fifth-round pick.
●In ’09, to get Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick, the Jets gave up a first- and second-round pick (17th and 52nd), plus four players, including a starting defensive end and starting defensive back.
That’s the whole list: No bargains, huge cost and the Leaf catastrophe.
Shanahan has made it clear that he won’t draft a quarterback merely to have a rookie to develop at the spot next year. It has to be football love — someone he thinks has “franchise” on his forehead. After his recent infatuations at the position, his benefit of the doubt is dwindling.
Despite all this, two factors work in the Redskins’ favor. Their horrid minus-15 takeaway ratio means they minimized every possible opportunity. Flip that to positive — and luck as well as less Rex can easily be a factor — and you win more games, maybe two or three more, just on turnovers.
Second, unless the Redskins field 46 Oscar-quality actors, this team really believes that it is improving, albeit fathoms under the sonar. True, Shanahan runs a ship as tight as his lips, so grumbling can be career-threatening. But, after listening week after week, I’m buying most of the fellow feeling.
“Even though we finished where we finished, I was proud to be part of this team,” said Grossman, a symbol of them all. Shanahan got rid of talented goldbricks. Maybe part of the price, in a rebuild, is a simple lack of talent, or a plucky-but-doomed Rex level of talent where 79.6 percent of guys who get open deep will always be missed.
“Extremely frustrating,” said London Fletcher, who deserves to play in the Pro Bowl more than the Pro Bowl deserves to be played. “I play with passion. We went out to win.”
Except for the last 12:01 of their season, after a 62-yard touchdown pass broke their backs, the Redskins usually played with acceptable passion and will. They didn’t win because they just weren’t good enough. Contrary to Shanahan’s recitation of might-have-been plays in ’11, they weren’t close to being much better. They had good luck, too. They were 5-11 on demerit.
In a real NFL rebuild, after a string of 10-loss seasons, closing that huge gap of talent, depth and experience often takes years. The Redskins current construction methods are, at last, probably correct ones.
But, in the impatient burgundy-and-gold universe, as the weight-bearing walls along both lines of scrimmage are assembled and support beams are added at skill positions, it’s going to feel like an eternity before the ultimate architecture can be judged. Until then, look away from the shack of ’11, now squashed flat and, finally, suitable for forgetting.