Dancing With Yet Another Star

By Mike Wise
Monday, July 21, 2008

Here they go again. From the people who brought you Neon Deion, Snyder Productions' newest, big-name venture:

Dalliance With The $tar$.

The Armageddon Express was all revved up and ready to pull out of the Ashburn station. Moments after the Redskins lost Phillip Daniels for the season on the first day of training camp -- really, in the first hour of a new era -- the next stop for the Washington Redskins was oblivion.

After Alex Buzbee, the promising kid from Georgetown, had ruptured his Achilles' tendon later in the afternoon and was out for the season, too, gallows humor was the only thing preventing Jim Zorn from being asked, "Other than that, Coach, how's Washington?"

And then along came Jason Taylor, merengue-ing into town, two-stepping away from that smashmouth puritan Bill Parcells, who doesn't watch "Dancing With the Stars" and cared for Taylor's extracurricular activities about as much as John Lithgow cared for Kevin Bacon in "Footloose."

"I hope he dances around the tackles," said Vinny Cerrato, moments after Washington's executive vice president of football operations traded a second-round draft pick next year and a sixth-round pick in 2010 for Taylor, the 2006 NFL defensive player of the year.

This was big and bold -- back to the proactive days when rebuilding through the draft could not hold a candle to rebuilding on the fly, when Daniel Snyder saw a player he liked and promptly bought him.

And before anyone compares acquiring Taylor to throwing money away on Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith or Brandon Lloyd, let's be clear: After watching Daniels go down and out for the season -- and maybe his career -- and after watching a backup like Buzbee crumple to the ground in agony, this was a move the Redskins needed to make.

Sure, they have a lousy track record when it comes to procuring someone else's star -- whose best work is often behind him. Yet, plucking Taylor from a franchise that can still finish 1-15 without him was a deal born of desperation. In his first deal that Cerrato alone gets credit or blame for, he went about as far out on a limb as he could go.

The upside is tremendous if Taylor truly wants to show up Tuna the Taskmaster and remind the NFL how menacing and feared a defender he can be, as he was even last season with the Dolphins, when show business interested him more than football.

The downside is he makes a very amiable co-star with Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible IV," also a Snyder production.

Look, the Redskins genuinely have to worry where Taylor's heart is in regard to football. Taylor has to assure them he wants to play the game a little more than Sanders did in 2000.

If he's successful, Zorn's first day as a training camp head coach won't be remembered for the season-ending injuries, but instead a blockbuster deal.

If Taylor fizzles, the Redskins have to bite the bullet and realize they put themselves in this position long before Daniels went down.

By their own doing, they neglected real upgrades to the defensive line. Andre Carter was the only bona fide change the past five years. Demetric Evans and Anthony Montgomery have yet to realize their potential.

Stockpiling big receivers through the draft made sense in its own way, especially with so many mighty mites lining up wide. But wide receivers usually take longer to adjust than bull-rushing linemen, and today there is no time for adjustment. Daniels was not a premier player anymore, but he filled a real need.

Before Taylor was acquired, Zorn was almost morose about his first day on the job. "I could never imagine that," he said, running his fingers through that shock of brown hair. "I don't think any coach plans for that. I have to sit back in my office and think about what that means."

It means his general manager got on the phone to make this great-expectation job easier, to make Life After Joe a little more tolerable for the coach.

Cerrato's ability to get on the phone with Parcells and pry away the guy who's sacked Tom Brady 9 1/2 times in his career (more than any other quarterback Taylor has sacked) was a testament to improvisation and impulsivity in the old-school Snyder way.

No one asked Cerrato whether this was a return to the free-spending, Fantasy Team days of yore, or whether Taylor was merely the reward for their shrewd, restrained free agent ways earlier in the offseason.

Either way, Washington traded for another big name yesterday and put the new organizational mantra of patiently building through the draft on hiatus. Out of necessity, Daniel Snyder has entered into another dalliance with a star.

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