Vinny Cerrato began his first training camp as the point man in the Washington Redskins' front office by saying the team he inherited last week is capable of being in the playoffs this season. Cerrato also indicated that the Redskins will continue to explore the possibilities for making a major trade before the season, perhaps involving one of their three first-round picks in next year's college draft.
"You'll look at anything," said Cerrato, wearing a Redskins golf shirt as he spoke to reporters outside a dorm at Frostburg State University on arrival day for the team's rookies and selected veterans. "Those draft picks are very valuable. It would have to be something that would be very enticing and would upgrade us tremendously, and put us over the top to start trading first-round draft picks."
The former San Francisco 49ers executive was named the Redskins' director of player personnel on Friday, the same day that Charley Casserly stepped aside as the team's general manager and agreed to serve the remainder of his contract as a consultant to new owner Daniel M. Snyder.
Casserly's resignation isn't effective until Sept. 3, and he's in training camp with the team, primarily to help Cerrato with the transition. But it will be Snyder, Cerrato and Coach Norv Turner determining what course the team will take. Members of the Snyder group said he has no plans to name a new general manager, so it will be Cerrato who organizes the Redskins' scouting, conducts trade talks with other teams and -- along with Snyder and a to-be-hired team president -- handles contract negotiations with players.
Cerrato, 39, inherits a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in six seasons. Snyder has said he expects that drought to end this season, and Cerrato said today he thinks this collection of players is fully capable of putting Turner into the postseason for the first time as a head coach.
"We have the ability to get to the playoffs," Cerrato said. "We have talent. When you bring a bunch of free agents together and new people, new draft picks, it takes a while to jell. It has to come together -- the chemistry, the attitude, the toughness, the belief. Some things have to come together here in the next six weeks."
The Redskins have been rebuffed in their initial trade overtures to the Detroit Lions for running back Barry Sanders. But team officials have said they intend to monitor throughout the preseason the situations of Sanders and other prominent, disgruntled NFL players -- including Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson, wide receivers Carl Pickens of the Cincinnati Bengals and Antonio Freeman of the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel.
Cerrato was one of the primary architects of the 49ers teams in the 1990s, and before that he was coach Lou Holtz's recruiting coordinator at Notre Dame -- once telephoning recruits from the sideline at a bowl game. Now he'll try to help the Redskins recapture their glory days of the '80s and early '90s.
Today Cerrato called Turner one of the best offensive minds in football. He referred to Casserly as a friend, and said they'll have no problems working together.
Cerrato called Brad Johnson -- for whom the Redskins surrendered first-, second- and third-round draft picks over a two-year span in a February trade with the Minnesota Vikings -- one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. And he said that Casserly and Turner "did what was best for the Redskins" when they passed over running back Ricky Williams in the first round of the draft and ended up with cornerback Champ Bailey, plus a third first-round pick for next year.
Cerrato said he never met Howard Milstein, even though he was a consultant for the group led by the failed Redskins bidder. When Milstein withdrew his bid, Cerrato left the Dulles Airport hotel he had operated from and went home to South Bend, Ind., until striking a deal with Snyder.
"It's hard to watch the college draft on your couch instead of taking calls for trades and being nervous about whether your guy is going to be there," Cerrato said. "I am very proud to be with this organization."