By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
For the first time since just before last year's NFL draft, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder met with reporters yesterday and praised the direction of the organization, professing his belief that the club has improved significantly this offseason.
Snyder and Coach Joe Gibbs, who are preparing for this weekend's draft, reaffirmed their philosophy of being aggressive when it comes to player acquisitions and said they would apply that thinking to the draft, investigating ways to trade up or back, while also evaluating whom to take should they keep the sixth pick.
Snyder said that he had not considered altering the front-office structure or hiring a general manager despite last year's 5-11 finish. Snyder, whose team is 59-69 since he bought it in 1999, has drawn criticism for his heavy spending and reliance on free agency, but said that the franchise values the draft as well. And Gibbs said he hopes to refrain from dealing any 2008 picks after entering this draft without any selections in the second, third or fourth rounds.
"We were obviously very disappointed for the fans and for us," Snyder said, "and it was a rough season and a lot of things took place and we think we're making a lot of progress and heading in the right direction, but it didn't stem from our [front-office] structure or one particular thing. We hope and expect to get a lot better."
Snyder said he believes veteran free agents London Fletcher and Fred Smoot are significant upgrades, and anticipates that the organization will make strides whether it keeps the sixth pick or trades it.
Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson is considered by many teams to be the best player available in the draft, and the Redskins are smitten with him as well, sources said, mulling over options to trade up to get him (the team has shopped cornerback Shawn Springs to Detroit, which has the second overall pick, again in recent weeks). Completing such a trade would be difficult -- perhaps impossible -- without including next year's first-round pick. That, according to Snyder, means that it is imperative that the team identify the best possible candidate for the sixth pick. Snyder has watched Johnson and others work out, and meets with most top prospects.
"From my perspective I'm coming in trying to make sure that we get -- at the sixth pick of the draft -- we're looking for a perennial Pro Bowl player," Snyder said. "We're looking for a dominant player that early. We obviously will be looking to trade down and we may look to trade up, but what we're in search of right now is the sixth pick, because we're not sure if we'll get phone calls [from teams seeking to make a trade] or not."
The Redskins' coaches and scouts spend weeks assessing players, and after much debate they assign a grade to each player and ranks him. But the decision belongs to Snyder, Gibbs and Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato, who explore trades, run the "war room" on draft day and ultimately make any selections or trades.
"The three of us normally at the end of it try and come up with a final game plan for the draft," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that the team is not concerned with drafting for a need position with the sixth pick, and that the club's depth at certain areas will not affect how it selects. Wide receiver, for instance, is a position on which the club has splurged in recent years -- Santana Moss, Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El each got signing bonuses of at least a $10 million -- but that would not necessarily preclude drafting Johnson. The highest-rated defensive player to many within the organization, safety LaRon Landry, also plays a position where veterans abound -- but has game-breaking potential -- while Gibbs added that the age of tackle Amobi Okoye, 19, the second-ranked defensive player among many in the organization, was not a detriment, either.
"Long term, it's, 'Can this player play for 10 years?' " Gibbs said. "And even though it may be crowded where he initially comes in at a position, if you feel like that long term he's going to be playing here for a long time and has chance to go to Pro Bowls. But I will say this, that doesn't mean he has to do it that first year. Sometimes it's a learning process and sometimes he comes into a position where there's already a lot of talent there."
Gibbs said that he does not see any players in this draft who would be automatic starters on the Redskins, regardless of position, and that the club could still address some needs, such as along the defensive line, on the second day of the draft, citing linemen Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery, who were late-round selections last year. The Redskins have yet to augment the defensive line this offseason despite sagging against the run and failing to generate much of a pass rush in 2006, but sources said that if the team did select Landry or Johnson it would turn again to trades and free agency for linemen.
There are a handful of players around the league who received the franchise tag who could be trade material, although sources said the Redskins have not contacted representatives for franchised linemen Cory Redding (Detroit), Charles Grant (New Orleans) or Justin Smith (Cincinnati) to this point. Other pass-rushing defensive ends could become available as well, with Oakland's Derrick Burgess and Buffalo's Aaron Schobel -- who has strong ties to assistant head coach Gregg Williams -- both underpaid by current standards and likely seeking new contracts this offseason. Trading for prominent veterans has been a mark of the Gibbs-Snyder partnership, and they are rarely shy about making bold moves, attempting to land cornerback Dre Bly and linebacker Lance Briggs in recent months.
"Dan's philosophy is to be aggressive," Gibbs said. "We fall in the category of being more aggressive and it's based on Dan being as aggressive as he is."