RICHMOND — One of the NFL’s top teams looked sharp in training camp here Monday. And the Washington Redskins also practiced. The Redskins welcomed the New England Patriots for the first of three joint sessions before the teams meet Thursday in a preseason opener at FedEx Field. The Redskins could learn a lot from their guests.
Even before the Patriots arrived, school was in session. A few months ago, the Redskins sent a practice schedule to the Patriots. The Patriots sent it back. “We adjusted it to fit what [the Patriots] wanted to do,” new Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. Smart move.
Over the next several days, the Redskins and Patriots will continue to compete.
“Jay and I talked about it and felt like we could make it work,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “As a coach of an NFL team, you don’t get many opportunities to see what other people are doing.”
The Patriots shouldn’t spend much time watching the Redskins. On and off the field, the organizations couldn’t be further apart. Under Belichick, who is beginning his 15th season with the franchise, the Patriots have been a model of consistency, reaching the playoffs 11 times, winning five AFC titles and three Super Bowl championships.
During the same span, the Redskins have had eight head coaches (one was an interim), have finished last or tied for last in the NFC East seven times (including six of the past eight seasons), have made three postseason appearances and have won one playoff game.
For anyone who doubts there’s a link between front-office stability and sustained success in professional sports, look no further than the practice field here. With extensive control over the football operation, Belichick is in charge of building the Patriots’ roster. He developed a program that has provided the foundation for the team’s remarkable consistency. In an era in which the salary cap has resulted in parity across the league, the Patriots have had only one losing season. Having a supportive owner also helps. Robert Kraft hired a proven football man and gave him room to work.
Cynics would argue the Patriots are merely lucky. After 198 players were chosen in the 2000 NFL draft, the Patriots used a sixth-round pick to select quarterback Tom Brady from Michigan. You know the rest of the story. The future Hall of Famer has become an icon.
The Patriots acknowledge their good fortune. They wound up with one of the greatest players at the game’s most important position. But here’s the thing: Luck is only part of it. Not every superstar or franchise QB was a high-round pick.
Remember Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis? The rushing champion and 1998 NFL MVP lasted until the sixth round of the 1995 draft. In 1961, the then-Los Angeles Rams waited until the 14th round to choose future Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones. For Cleveland Browns fans, quarterback Brian Sipe, the 1980 NFL MVP, holds a special place in team history. Not bad for a guy who had to wait for 329 other players to be drafted before his name was called in 1972.
Every organization hopes to uncover draft gems. Hitting it big, though, on a low-round pick isn’t enough to build a strong team, let alone a perennial championship contender. The Patriots are at the top of the league, in large part, because they’ve gotten in right in the player-personnel department.
Belichick knows what he likes in players. His top lieutenants have a good record of providing what he wants. And here’s another difference between the Patriots and Redskins: Patriots personnel men leave to run their own shops. Sharp Redskins officials just leave.
In 2009, after helping Belichick construct three Super Bowl winners, Scott Pioli took over the Kansas City Chiefs. The following season, Pioli was named NFL executive of the year. That next season, Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, another Belichick protege, was named executive of the year by the Sporting News. Pioli recently joined Dimitroff in Atlanta’s front office. The Redskins lose up-and-comers on their way up.
Seattle Seahawks General Manager John Schneider and San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke are among the league’s best talent evaluators. They also once held scouting positions with the Redskins, who don’t value scouting as much as organizations such as the Patriots. Not too long ago, the Redskins proved it again. They did little to try to retain Morocco Brown, former director of pro personnel, who in May accepted a position with the Browns.
President and General Manager Bruce Allen declined to offer Brown a bigger title, which some in the organization believed he deserved. Former coach Mike Shanahan once told me Brown strongly advised him to acquire wide receiver Pierre Garcon and nose tackle Barry Cofield, the most productive free agents signed during Daniel Snyder’s tenure as owner. Redskins fans will just have to hope that Brown’s name doesn’t wind up on the list of great player-personnel men who got away.
In the NFL, there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. We know how the Patriots roll. Let’s just end it there.