Their best move was one that fell in their laps. The Minnesota Vikings cut running back Terry Allen after he refused to take a pay cut, and the Redskins grabbed him for what, in the football world, was the low price of $450,000. Allen became the NFL's biggest bargain as he started by producing two consecutive 1,300-yard seasons.
Some teams had feared taking the 27-year-old Allen because both his knees had been reconstructed, and the Redskins admit they had no idea what they were getting. What they got was just about the perfect football player, one who played with an anger and recklessness that rubbed off on everyone around him. He didn't have flash, but he provided the workmanlike production that Turner wanted from his running back.
Hoping for some offensive dazzle, Turner also drafted 6-foot, 3-inch wide receiver Michael Westbrook from the University of Colorado. Turner knew the Redskins were still far from competing for a playoff spot, but if Shuler and Westbrook were as good as he hoped, they could at least make things interesting.
Even though Shuler had a poor preseason, Turner gave him the opening-day start against Arizona. He was in for just 17 plays, however, before defensive end Clyde Simmons nailed him, separating his shouler and again interrupting his career. Once more, Frerotte was in the lineup. Once more, he played decently. Once more, the Redskins were losing.
Shuler was sidelined for two months. Turner also put in Frerotte for Games 9 and 10, then started Shuler again in Game 11 against Philadelphia. He played well enough in a 14-7 loss, then a week later had the best game of his three seasons in Washington when he completed a 44-yard throw to Leslie Shepherd to spark a 24-17 upset in Dallas. Two weeks later, however, Shuler was back on the sidelines, this time with a broken finger.
After three years of turmoil, the Redskins in 1996 had a quieter off-season. They made only one dramatic trade, giving away their first-round draft choice to the St. Louis Rams for mammoth defensive tackle Sean Gilbert. Turner believed that the Redskins finally were close to being competitive after back-to-back drafts had brought guard Tré Johnson, tackle Joe Patton, center Cory Raymer, tight end Jamie Asher and defensive end Rich Owens.
But he knew that his biggest decision would be choosing between Shuler and Frerotte. So, in training camp, he staged an open competition between the two men, who had such different histories.