Mike Shanahan enters this offseason with a chance to make the Redskins better

The Redskins try to hold their own against the New York Giants in Washington's last regular season game. Shanahan ends his first season as the Redskins head coach.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:32 AM

Coach Mike Shanahan struggled during his first season, which ended with Sunday's 17-14 loss by the Redskins to the New York Giants at FedEx Field. He must succeed this offseason - and he could accomplish big things in free agency.

Washington seems poised to become a major player in free agency if the NFL labor situation cooperates, and "when you finish the way we did, with six wins [6-10], you've got some areas to work on," Shanahan said after the game.

Shanahan took the wrong approach with defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth during the previous offseason, failing to convince the two-time all-pro player that he was suited for the team's new 3-4 defense.

He erred in trading second- and fourth-round picks to the Philadelphia Eagles for Donovan McNabb, and then bungled his exit strategy when he decided to move forward without the six-time Pro Bowler.

With Washington lacking the personnel to function effectively in the 3-4, Shanahan should have delayed the switch from the base 4-3 at least a year to acquire some of the needed players through the draft and free agency.

One of those costly mistakes could derail a season. Shanahan had three.

Shanahan could rebound nicely next season, however, because two of the people who work for him - General Manager Bruce Allen and Eric Schaffer, vice president of football administration - managed the payroll well in the uncapped 2010 season.

The 2011 free agent class promises to be filled with top-level players, and the Redskins have many roster holes and the financial flexibility to fill them.

Rookie left tackle Trent Williams will be guaranteed $7.85 million in 2011 if he achieves salary escalators and one-time bonuses tied to his percentage of plays, the team's victories and performance on offense. Otherwise, Williams will be guaranteed about $3 million.

No other Redskins player has guaranteed money next season (McNabb would receive $1.75 million if he were released because of injury).

That means Washington could overhaul its roster (the team had 30 new players on the 2010 opening-day roster) for the second time in as many seasons under Shanahan. As part of their strategy, the Redskins did not seek to sign the top free agents in 2010.

This offseason, though, Washington presumably would pursue the type of proven players who were unavailable to them previously. Many free agents who would have been unrestricted were restricted in 2010 under the terms of the uncapped season.

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