I used to annually feel sorry for the quarterback. Whether it was Jason Campbell or Patrick Ramsey or Donovan McNabb, I knew they were going down and going down hard. But one gander through this training camp roster and the free agent pickups thus far, and my sympathies are now squarely with the manager of the Redskins team store.
Fan Appreciation Day is Saturday in Ashburn, and after years of handing a new high-priced, bold-faced name their felt-tip Sharpies to sign their footballs and burgundy-and-gold jerseys, here’s what Redskins loyalists are being offered this time: a system.
Oh, of course Chris Cooley, Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher and DeAngelo Hall all have Q-ratings. But the only real marquee name these days at Redskins Park is Mike Shanahan, who apparently believes so devoutly in his system that he thinks it will succeed so long as those who are executing it buy in completely, no matter who they are or what they’ve accomplished.
If it works, there will be plenty of appreciation to go around. But until it does, what are fans to do?
You can’t get a system’s autograph. You can’t buy a jersey with a name and number that reads, “SYSTEM ’11.” You can’t boast to Eagles, Giants or Cowboys fans about what stud player you acquired and how much you overbid for him because for the first time in forever Daniel Snyder didn’t open the vault.
After so many expensive blunders, no one ever said the Redskins shouldn’t be more frugal and savvy in the offseason. But between the NFL’s ultimate, no-name backfield — as oomph quotients go, Beck-Torain-Hightower is still just a wee shy of Manning-Bradshaw-Jacobs — and their disciplined abstention from the crazy-money, free agent wars, you have to wonder, who are these guys?
Sane football people for years have been saying the Redskins should do this — stop making the Haynesworth-like $100 million splashes and concentrate on less-spectacular, more-reliable, and cheaper fits in free agency.
But here’s the potential downside: While no one would label the past 11 seasons of Jeff George, Adam Archuleta, and Big Al anything but failure in free agency, many fans — if low training camp attendance is any indication — are wondering what they should get excited for, what’s left to appreciate?
They have exactly two choices: shared pain of the past (this being the 20th anniversary season of the franchise’s last Super Bowl victory) or the uncertain future, Shanahan’s system.
Structure. Detail. No prima donnas allowed.
Beyond a few bona fide Pro Bowlers these Redskins have scrappers who fall in line like privates in boot camp. And if those company men win with any regularity, especially after all the deals for big names that never glittered in Washington, that’s definitely something to admire and root for.
I’m not saying it can’t work. In point of fact, sandwiched in between a couple of embarrassing, no-show performances last season — the lopsided, Monday-night loss at home against Philadelphia, and at the Giants three weeks later — was Shanahan’s one shining moment in Washington, a grit-and-heart, 19-16 road victory at Tennessee, in which the depleted Redskins roster was a cut-and-paste collage of banged-up bodies and non-stars. The glow in Shanahan’s face in the locker room an hour after that victory was never brighter through a dour 6-10 campaign; he had won with his guys, his way.
He has built and coached teams to win it all before. He also did that with his linchpin, John Elway, a top-three, all-time quarterback.
John Beck and Rex Grossman are not top-three, all-time quarterbacks. They are largely like this roster: system guys, who don’t become genuine fan favorites until they take a team to the postseason. And that doesn’t happen until they have enough stars to help.
Hey, at least it’s not the same-ol’, same-ol’ in Ashburn — big name, paltry result. And it could work. Shanahan, against long odds, believes it will.
But that’s four months of blind optimism away, at the least.
Meantime, after the Cooley jerseys are gone, pity the marketing guys, and the shift manager at the team store, who for a while might have trouble moving “system” paraphernalia.