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Problems at the Core

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By all measures, the group failed completely last offseason.

Safety Adam Archuleta, a $10 million bust, might be the worst free agent signing in NFL history. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd completed the least productive season for any starting wide receiver ever (23 catches, 365 yards and 0 touchdowns) and has been a problem on and off the field, players and coaches said. And defensive end Andre Carter played poorly until the team was out of playoff contention in December.

Even wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, considered the best acquisition, had only 32 receptions for 351 yards while carrying a $30 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. He's fourth in the NFC in punt returns.

Cerrato, promoted twice in recent years and now essentially the head of all scouting ventures, has a poor reputation for judging talent, numerous sources said. Several Redskins coaches said they were wary of Cerrato before coming to Washington ("Plenty of people warned me on that one," one coach said) and do not take his talent recommendations highly. Gibbs has continually defended Cerrato's work, saying "I feel sorry" for Cerrato, Snyder and others given the stalled progress of the team.

Snyder is very successful at signing a player the coaches want, but he is criticized for overpaying players. Some of the team's recent free agent signings have struggled mentally with the weight of the lucrative contracts.

Cerrato and Snyder declined to comment, deferring all questions to Gibbs.

And Gibbs, for all the Super Bowl trophies he earned as a coach, has previously worked with a strong general manager.

The acquisition of Lloyd serves as a window into the Redskins' approach. Critics of the trade say it's an example of poor front-office talent evaluation and Gibbs straying from his "core Redskins" principles in search of a quick fix. Lloyd was known to be moody and difficult in San Francisco, but the Redskins traded third- and fourth-round picks for him, then gave him essentially the same contract as Randle El, even though he still had one year left on his contract.

The process for evaluating Lloyd, as with all Redskins acquisitions, began with Cerrato and his staff preparing reports on possible available wide receivers, considered a weak group. Those reports were distributed to coaches along with game film for each to study. The assistant coaches, Cerrato and Gibbs then assigned a grade to each player. Some coaches based their grades only on what they saw on film; others called friends around the league to get their input.

The rankings were discussed at meetings that usually began with Cerrato or Louis Riddick, director of pro personnel, giving a presentation on the players. No. 1 on everyone's list was Indianapolis's Reggie Wayne, but he re-signed quickly with the Colts. Terrell Owens was dismissed for being too volatile. Saunders made it clear he wanted Randle El in the same manner that Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, had Archuleta and defensive coordinator Greg Blache wanted Carter.

Saunders's vote for Randle El vaulted him to the top of the list of players to be pursued. Also under consideration were Lloyd, Joe Jurevicius and Antonio Bryant among others.

The 49ers had made it clear to all the NFL teams that Lloyd was available but some personnel people around the league wanted no part of him. "Lloyd is a 2, 2 1/2 ," said one general manager, meaning a second wide receiver at best. "Plus, he's a pain in the [rear]."

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