After an offseason of confusion and controversy, the Redskins finally had a simple day of sound decisions in the NFL draft. With the ninth overall pick, they got the man they wanted most, Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers, the player who best fit the team's needs. Perhaps as important, they avoided a far flashier but riskier pick, wide receiver Mike Williams.
Who's in charge? Clearly, in this draft at least, Coach Joe Gibbs. Others may have agreed with him. But this was a sensible team-building choice, not the kind of desperate or headline-grabbing decision that has plagued the team in so many recent years.
To reinforce that message, the Redskins used their other first-round pick, the 25th overall, to pick a quarterback for the future in Jason Campbell, also of Auburn. Most assume that Campbell's future includes two years with a clipboard under his arm. Again, Gibbs might have made a splashier pick with faster impact potential. But the coach has claimed, ever since he returned, that he was rebuilding a whole franchise. In Campbell, who didn't blossom until his senior year, the Redskins made a pick that, while not undermining quarterback Patrick Ramsey, opened other options for the team someday.
"Too much value in the pick" to do anything else, Gibbs said several times as his reason for why anyone with the Redskins' long-term interests at heart would jump at Campbell, even if it meant passing up a promising wide receiver.
Entering the day, the Redskins, like every team, hoped that their phone might ring with some spectacular but unexpected trade offer. And they, in turn, pursued opportunities to trade up and down, according to Gibbs. However, the Redskins' basic default-setting strategy was to hope the No. 9 pick would fetch one of three elite cornerbacks in this draft so that departed free agent Fred Smoot could not only be replaced but, eventually, improved upon.
The probabilities, with three corners on the board and only eight teams picking before the Redskins, were in Washington's favor, yet not a certainty. For once, the Redskins showed the patience to wait and it worked.
In recent weeks, the team developed a clear preference for Rogers, who played for undefeated Auburn and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top corner. They'd have been content to select Adam Jones of West Virginia or Antrel Rolle of Miami. But the 199-pound Rogers's reputation as a big hitter, as well as speedster, complemented the Redskins' top pick of last year, safety Sean Taylor. Both are part of a larger Gibbs view of how the contemporary game is played.
Since he returned to the NFL, Gibbs has become convinced that the central change in the sport has been the wild-eyed pursuit of blitzing by creative coordinators like his own Gregg Williams. "Nobody sits back anymore. They overload you in the box," said Gibbs, referring to the area around the interior linemen. "That puts more pressure at cornerback. Also, the rule changes [making it easier for receivers to get off the line] mean that your corners become absolutely critical for you.
"A player like Carlos gives you freedom to stack the box," said Gibbs, envisioning another season of Williams's blitzes.
Rogers, whose style combines speed, violence and audacity, is the cornerback equivalent of the 231-pound Taylor at safety. Gibbs always preaches to players that the team comes first. By using two high No. 1 picks to build cornerstones of Williams's defense, rather than his own offense -- which needs another deep receiving threat -- Gibbs has done his part to walk the walk. If only the team's front office, which continues to alienate players -- the latest being LaVar Arrington -- would follow some similar mode of operation. But then the gap between Gibbs's standards and some around him is still stark.
The day evolved as the Redskins hoped. When the first five picks were all offensive players, the Redskins' odds improved. When Tennessee picked Jones, the percentages improved even more. When the Vikings, picking seventh, chose a wide receiver, the Redskins knew they would get one of their corners. But when Arizona tabbed Rolle, Rogers became both the Last Cornerback Available and, also, the player at that position whom the Redskins say they had graded highest.
Of course, almost all teams claim that they got exactly the player they wanted with their top selection. Sometimes, it's even true. This time, the Redskins' contention is quite believable, both on its Thorpe Award merits and because Gibbs says so unequivocally.
In recent days, the Redskins have continued to shred their credibility with silly attempts to play draft-week disinformation games. This amuses the NFL's adults. To fool people, you first have to establish a pattern of telling the truth. If the Redskins put out a news release saying the sun is up, the whole league would raise the blinds to double-check. So days like this, when bland sanity and not palace intrigue seems to prevail, are a tentative step forward.
The proof of the power of the Redskins' feelings for Rogers was that they picked him over Williams, USC's spectacular wide receiver, whose talents would have matched the team's obvious weaknesses. And, no doubt, have pleased more fans. Williams, in fact, would have been the quintessential Dan Snyder-style pick. After all, almost every major Deion Sanders signing or Steve Spurrier courtship of the Snyder era has been cheered by fans -- in the offseason. Then, as soon as the next season rolled around, the evidence proved once again that fans -- including owner-fans -- make the worst decisions.
There could hardly be a better sign for the Redskins than if its fans weep that Williams wasn't grabbed or that the 25th pick was used on a player who may seldom set foot on the FedEx field for a couple of years. Go on, folks, have fun. Howl for Williams and the Player of Your Choice who was still on the board when Campbell was picked.
But just factor into your thinking that Gibbs disagrees. Maybe he's wrong. But why bring him back and then not do it his way?
"Mike Williams is going to be a heck of a player in the NFL," Gibbs said. "But because we could get Carlos [rather than Jones or Rolle], that made it even easier. He gives you everything in the cornerback package: speed, size and he's physical. He's a shut-down corner who will [also] hit you. For our defense, that's very important."
Every No. 1 pick has pressure, but Gibbs will be put under a strong spotlight after passing up a gifted and famous USC wide receiver for a cornerback whom scouts love, but the public has barely met. He passed up players at several positions who probably could have started by the middle of next season. By the time Campbell pans out, or flops, Gibbs may be back in NASCAR.
If you think Mark Brunell was a decision that didn't work out, what happens if Williams has a dozen touchdown catches next year and Rogers turns out to have the tiniest flaw?
Still, this was one of too few days in the last six years when it felt like the Redskins were in the hands of a professional.