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Michael Wilbon

Without a GM, The Redskins Are a General Mess

By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page D01

At this very moment, it appears as if the Washington Redskins -- the perennial offseason Super Bowl champions -- are stumbling around in the dark. It sounds nice, this position Joe Gibbs is pushing that the Redskins are now into fiscal restraint, except it's not smart budgeting to take a $6 million net salary cap hit to trade a productive player in his prime (Laveranues Coles), however unhappy, for a lesser player (Santana Moss) at the same position. That's not fiscal restraint; it's a blind gamble, and an expensive one at that.

It's even riskier when you then let go of a good cornerback in Fred Smoot, and a linebacker, Antonio Pierce, you said publicly a few months ago was your kind of guy, a real Redskin. Well, I guess he's a real Giant now. I wasn't a math major, but I know Smoot wanted to stay with the Redskins and another $1.5 million to $2 million signing bonus would have kept him here. A little more money would have kept Pierce around as well. A total of $4 million, perhaps less, almost certainly would have done it, which leaves $2 million to address other needs . . . if you simply don't allow Coles to back you into a corner.

The Redskins lost two starters when cornerback Fred Smoot signed with Minnesota not long after linebacker Antonio Pierce, above, left to join the New York Giants. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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So at the moment, with barely enough money to sign their own second-tier free agents and draft picks, the Redskins are weaker at linebacker, weaker at cornerback and weaker at wide receiver.

It leads me to a familiar theme.

This is what happens when you have no general manager guiding the direction of the franchise over a period of years. It's Dan Snyder and Charley Casserly one moment, then it's Marty (I'm in Charge Here) Schottenheimer, then it's Snyder and Vinny Cerrato and Steve Spurrier, then it's Gibbs. There isn't a more dysfunctional situation in the NFL, except maybe the Vikings, who nonetheless took away Smoot. You cannot have that many people charting the course of a franchise and make it work.

And while Gibbs is one of the 10 greatest coaches ever, he has not distinguished himself as the GM. That's not meant to sound like an indictment, but it is a fact. For the millionth time, I'd have hired Gibbs to come back as coach 1,000 times out of 1,000. But not to be the GM. He's not in the Hall of Fame for picking players. For the most part, that was done for him. You can't just unload Coles because he complained. This isn't the 1980s. Theismann, Riggins, Grimm, Bostic, Jacoby, Monk and Green aren't going to walk through that door. Players complain now. It's the way of the world. You show them the contract and tell them to go back to the practice field. That's what Gibbs should have done with Coles. "I'll worry about the pass routes, young man. You try and hold onto the ball a little more frequently."

There's a reason the coach of a football team, unquestionably the most demanding job in all of professional sports, should not be allowed to chart the course of a franchise. The head coach's job is to be concerned about only today. The GM's job is to be concerned with tomorrow and the day after. They work at cross purposes. Coaching and planning require different skill sets and different mind-sets. That's why it worked so fabulously when Gibbs had Bobby Beathard and then Casserly to worry about tomorrow. There's good reason so many coaches have been relieved of their GM duties.

I've heard all the excuses from the Redskins about why the club is structured the way it is. There aren't that many good GMs out there.All the good ones are under contract.

Even if those things are true, it's up to Snyder to find the rare man with a sharp eye for talent and a mind for making clever use of the salary cap and develop him as the GM. Don't look to hire somebody else's star; find an up-and-coming guy of your own and stick with him. Maybe that guy is Cerrato; maybe not. It's incredibly popular to trash Cerrato as a know-nothing, which I think is completely wrong. Cerrato does know who can play, but he certainly isn't calling the shots and having the final say except in a very few instances, like insisting the Redskins draft LaVar Arrington over Courtney Brown several years ago.

Philosophically, there's a point to what Gibbs is attempting to do financially. He didn't want to pay Smoot more than Shawn Springs and he didn't want to pay Pierce more than Marcus Washington. The object is to not pay a "lesser" player more than a guy he's lining up next to. But there's the practicality of salaries at least creeping up every single season, and of finding some stability on the field, which the Redskins haven't had since even before Snyder bought the team.

The Redskins have made the playoffs once in 13 years. That's the Arizona Cardinals and the Clippers and the Cubs. Every year there's a new plan and every year that plan fails. Just look it up. It's 6-10 or 7-9 just about every year. You think the Patriots have a new plan every year? You think they swing wildly from spending a ton this year to pinching a penny next year? It's no coincidence the Ravens have won one Super Bowl and are a lot closer to another than the Redskins. Ozzie Newsome is guiding the philosophy of how to put together a team. Same with Ernie Accorsi with the Giants; both have had much better offseasons than the Redskins.

In the end, one rich owner plus one Hall of Fame coach plus one personnel scout without authority don't equal one savvy GM or vice president charged with the responsibility of solving the puzzle that is an NFL team.

And melodrama has no place in the equation. I don't want to believe that Snyder threatened to "torture" Coles, as the receiver is widely quoted as saying. I absolutely believe Snyder promised to send him a flat-screen TV because that's perfectly in keeping with his approach to players these last five years.

All of this simply adds to the appearance that the Redskins have no idea what in the world they're doing.

Bill Parcells, while making the misguided argument for control of both coaching and GM duties, once said that if he is charged with the mission of cooking the meal, he ought to be able to shop for the groceries. The Redskins, at present, have one guy cooking, three involved in the shopping and a meal that's unpalatable.

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