By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The Redskins always look like a No. 1 seed in March, don't they?
Already a contender, they are stockpiling players as only the Redskins of Daniel Snyder can. Need a receiver? Why stop at one when you can have two? Did you think Antwaan Randle El was going home to Chicago to play for the team of his childhood dreams, the Bears? Silly you. Randle El and his Super Bowl ring are coming here.
Brandon Lloyd, who thinks quite highly of himself if you listen to the teammates he left behind in San Francisco, is coming here, too.
Randle El is old school and low maintenance; Lloyd, if half of what we hear from California is true, is one of those new Diva Receivers, as likely to promote a music CD as catch passes. Lloyd came for draft picks, a third and a fourth. (By the way, whatever happened to David Patten, who like Randle El, came to the Redskins from a Super Bowl champ?) Don't worry, the Redskins didn't spend everything on receivers. Adam Archuleta, the Rams safety, plays defense. He was introduced at Redskins Park yesterday. And flying in any moment now for his official introduction in front of the Super Bowl trophies will be Andre Carter, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound linebacker who was also a 49er until this week.
Snyder, it appears, doesn't need the uncapped year that would have resulted from a labor impasse. Every year is uncapped because Snyder knows how to make money better than just about any owner in the NFL and he loves to shop. Snyder hasn't won like Steinbrenner, but like the Yankees' principal owner Snyder puts the gajillions he makes, including from your parking and ticket money, back into the team.
And in the process, the offseason gets real interesting.
In the end, it seems Snyder just about always signs whoever he or his coaches want. Every year people holler about Snyder paying the piper, yet it seems as if the piper, too, is on Snyder's payroll. Of course, the question in the wake of the new acquisitions is this: What's going to be different from all the other offseasons when the Redskins landed all that bling-bling, but still couldn't produce anything close to a championship team?
Actually, that's an easy one. The difference between then and now is that this chef knows what to do with the gourmet groceries. The difference is Joe Gibbs, or Joe Gibbs & Friends. Gregg Williams and his crew will figure out how to get more out of Carter than the 49ers did. Al Saunders will figure out how to get more out of Lloyd than the 49ers did. And Saunders will be creative enough to get all the good stuff, which is considerable, out of Randle El. If anything, the Redskins ought to have a clear and decisive advantage when it comes to coaching 'em up.
Soon enough we'll see why Snyder and Gibbs are paying them head coach's wages.
And Gibbs's job will be managing it all, starting with the egos that get involved when, say, the incumbent receiver has to share the catches with two new guys who naturally will want to justify their impact, at least to some degree, statistically.
And while the defense probably only needed tweaking, the offense needed real help. Remember how inept it was at Tampa Bay and Seattle?
Lloyd, who can be spectacular, needs to find some consistency and use those great hands to catch more passes. Randle El is simply a game-changer. The notion that the Redskins won't know what to do with three such receivers is silly, especially since that's not all that Randle El is. He can return punts or kicks. He passes. (He was a starting quarterback at Indiana.) He can carry the ball out of the backfield. He drives next week's opponent crazy, too, because they see him doing all this stuff in the film and stress like mad trying to prepare for him. There's no arguing, if we're talking strictly about personnel, that the Redskins are better off today than they were the day the season ended. And undoubtedly folks around here look at the players the Redskins have added, particularly on offense, and are thinking about 2006 being The Big Year.
Here's where we slam on the breaks.
Who's going to be the trigger man for all this offense?
Is it just me, or do the Redskins seem like they're in a major transition at quarterback? Mark Brunell will turn 36 at the start of the season. Forget about a major injury; that can and does happen to 26-year-old QBs all the time.
If last season was an indicator, Brunell is good for peak performance in about, what, 11 games? It's probably time for the team to start making the transition to Jason Campbell, but that usually isn't an overnight process. There simply aren't that many Ben Roethlisbergers out there.
And for those of you screaming for Campbell to be The Guy from the first minicamp, let's consider what happened to kid quarterbacks in the 2006 NFL playoffs. Eli Manning, Rex Grossman, Byron Leftwich and Chris Simms all appear on their way to having pretty good careers and all of them were robbed of their lunch money in the playoffs. The Bengals' Carson Palmer might have been the exception, but he got hurt on his first pass against the Steelers and now he's trying to put his shattered leg back together. And Palmer, don't forget, started for a full year before getting to the playoffs. Even Roethlisberger, as great as he was his rookie year, got handled by the Patriots in the playoffs. Tom Brady won as a rookie, but how often are we talking about here?
Quarterbacks in their first season of really playing hardly ever take teams deep into the playoffs, and Campbell doesn't even enter the season as the starter. We don't know if Campbell will be worthy of being mentioned with the other young turks. This transition, from Brunell to Campbell, is a natural and necessary one, but it appears to come at the wrong time for the rest of the team, given the defense on hand and given the offensive firepower this shopping spree has added to the mix. And that little dilemma is something money won't fix, no matter how much of it the Redskins have to spend.