Many of the Redskins’ biggest problems were on display during their collapse against the Minnesota Vikings last week. The offensive line blocked as if Robert Griffin III no longer needed protection, it seemed Pierre Garcon was the only wide receiver on the field and the defense couldn’t get off of it as Washington squandered a 13-point third-quarter lead. The 34-27 loss provided yet another reminder that the roster is in need of major repairs — and Coach Mike Shanahan needs more time to fix it.
Several factors — the NFL-imposed $36 million salary cap reduction, the bill coming due on the record-setting deal to draft Griffin and Griffin’s ongoing recovery from reconstructive knee surgery — have contributed to the Redskins’ collapse (there’s no pretty way to describe 3-6) a season after they won the NFC East title. Fortunately for Washington, help should arrive in the offseason.
The Redskins could have approximately $20 million in salary cap room for the 2014-15 season, according to a person familiar with their payroll situation. Assuming Shanahan is brought back for the final year of his contract, he’ll determine how the money is spent. And since Shanahan’s decisions will set the Redskins’ course for years, he should receive a contract extension to complete the journey with them.
You don’t have to be an NFL player-personnel executive to recognize the Redskins, at a minimum, must improve the interior of their offensive line, acquire another wide receiver with big-play potential and finally address their long-standing problems at safety. Normally, the Redskins would have attempted to gradually make improvements through the draft and free agency. Business as usual ended, however, after they traded four high-round picks to the St. Louis Rams — Washington won’t have a first-round selection next April — and lost $18 million in cap space over the past two seasons as a penalty for how they structured contracts during the uncapped 2010 season.
After this season, the Redskins again will have significant resources to pursue free agents who fit Shanahan’s vision for the team. Why let Shanahan pick high-priced players who are expected to contribute for several seasons if he only has one year remaining on his contract?
If Shanahan returned without an extension and owner Daniel Snyder made a coaching change after next season, the next Redskins coach likely would significantly overhaul the roster. Often in the NFL, that’s how it works with regime change.
Generally, though, there are punitive salary cap ramifications to releasing players early in their contracts. A new coach potentially could get stuck with recently signed veterans who don’t fit his system. That’s the worst way to start over.
I know what some of you are probably thinking: Snyder should fire Shanahan after this season and let another coach reshape the roster. Shanahan has had enough time, his detractors say, to turn the Redskins into a consistent winner again. In two of Shanahan’s first three seasons, the Redskins had double-digit losses. At three games under .500 with seven to play, they would need another improbable schedule-closing run to potentially salvage this season. For the $7 million per year Snyder is paying Shanahan, Snyder should receive a bigger return on his investment.
I get all of that. But the cap reduction has had a crippling effect on the Redskins. They’re experiencing what college teams face after the NCAA sanctions programs for rules violations. As penalized teams struggle to compete against those that are at full strength, the loss of scholarships is felt years down the road. Just ask University of Southern California fans how much fun they’ve had since Reggie Bush turned pro while still playing for the Trojans.
Although the Redskins’ salary cap problem was self-inflicted, that doesn’t minimize the negative impact it has had on Shanahan’s roster. And had Shanahan known the NFL planned to throw the book at the Redskins, perhaps he wouldn’t have gone all in on Griffin.
Before the Redskins agreed to the Rams’ trade demands for the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, some in the organization voiced concerns that the price to get Griffin was too high. It wasn’t that Washington’s football people doubted Griffin’s skills; Shanahan was confident the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor would be a difference-maker.
But never before had a team given up three first-rounders and a second-rounder for the draft rights to a player. The Redskins knew that for several years after drafting Griffin, they would have to rely on free agency to bolster his supporting cast. For $36 million, you could bring in some stars.
Griffin’s injury was another setback. The 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year only has shown flashes of the form he displayed regularly last season. Griffin masked many of the Redskins’ deficiencies in leading them to their first division championship in 13 years. This season, the cape hasn’t fit quite right.
Shanahan came to Washington to lead the Redskins back to the Super Bowl, but he has faced obstacles he didn’t envision. And based solely on Shanahan’s win-loss record, it would be an easy decision for Snyder to decline to give him an extension. It would also be the wrong one.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.