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Early Offseason Report Card For The Redskins

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(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

After the Washington Redskins won the NFC East in 1999, owner Daniel Snyder contracted a wicked case of Super Bowl fever and went on a historic free agent shopping spree before the 2000 season. The haul netted, among others, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier and Jeff George—a who’s who list of aging stars and one, well, Jeff George. The result was a horrendous season, a fired coach and a cautionary free agent tale for other NFL teams. 

Fast-forward 13 years and the ‘Skins are once again coming off a 10-6 season and a division title. With a more stable and competent front office—and presumably wiser for the 2000—and subsequent free agent disasters, Snyder seemed unlikely to lose all sense of financial self-control this time. Still, the team’s rare on-field success offered legitimate justification for free agent aggression; an opportunity Snyder surely wouldn’t neglect. Or would he?

Frustrating Constraint or Unprecedented Restraint?

Several weeks into free agency, the Redskins’ external acquisitions are OT Tony Pashos, OT Jeremy Trueblood and CB E.J. Biggers (yawn). Could that list be any “smallers” on panache?

The Redskins entered the offseason with little cap room and unsuccessfully challenged the remaining $18 million cap hit from a penalty levied in 2012 (but a perceived lack of financial resources has never been an actual constraining factor). Washington, for all its personnel and on-field failures, has always masterfully manipulated, even neutered, the league’s salary cap. Every time the ‘Skins seemed relegated to the sidelines during free agency, a series of restructured contracts would resuscitate their determination to spend foolishly. 

So what happened this year? The Redskins behaved (so far) like a professional organization—prudence prevailed.

Could they have restructured the contracts of cap-heavy players like Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo and Pierre Garcon? Sure, but such moves only borrow against a future year’s cap. Renegotiations benefit the present, but compromise the future and yield the top-heavy, shallow rosters that have plagued the team for years. 

Since Mike Shanahan took the helm, the Redskins’ approach to free agency has been surprisingly methodical—a trend that continued this year. Instead of dictating market value with lavish bids, the ‘Skins, a suddenly informed consumer, have permitted the market to set the price for internal and external commodities.

Is this reinvented approach the result of salary cap constraints or unprecedented restraint from the front office? Probably both, but Shanahan deserves some credit. Regardless, the player’s union assuredly hates it, but this is how an NFL team should do business.

The Best and the Worst

Fortunately, for the sake of conversation and the team’s outlook for 2013, the Redskins’ offseason activity includes more than “Pashos, Trueblood and Biggers…oh my.” Resisting their habitual inclination to woo unemployed former Pro Bowl players, the ‘Skins have focused internally, and they’ve successfully re-signed a host of their own restricted and unrestricted free agents. Retaining Logan Paulsen, Tyler Polumbus and Darrel Young, among others, likely doesn’t quicken the pulse of the average NFL fan. But those with a trained eye on the Redskins know each player made considerable contributions in 2012.  

Of all the headline-evading acquisitions, re-signing Kory Lichtensteiger, the team’s starting left guard, ranks as the best. Lichtensteiger, 28, is in the prime of his career, fits Shanahan’s scheme perfectly and, most importantly, will be one of five men to be tasked with keeping a rebuilt Robert Griffin III upright.

No pressure, Kory. RGIII only represents the entire future of the organization.

A surprising and un-Redskins-like move that’s grown on me is the outright release of DeAngelo Hall. On one hand, Hall was probably the best player on an atrocious secondary unit. On the other hand, he’s been overpaid his entire career, is temperamental, lacks an adequate filter between his thoughts and spoken words, and was carrying an unpalatable $8 million cap number for 2013. Releasing him initially seemed crass, but given his attitude issues and the availability of average cornerback talent, cutting ties with Hall made sense. Not surprisingly, he remains unsigned and could very well return to Washington at a salary finally befitting his talent.

With all that shrewd goodness said, it is time to identify Washington’s most offensive offseason wart—and every team has them. The worst aspect of Washington’s offseason isn’t a singular move at all; it’s the mere presence of that $18 million cap penalty and the unknown acquisitions it prevented. The penalty stems from the team’s usage of the 2010 uncapped season to clear bad contracts and get back to financial health—acts that the NFL had expressly warned teams not to do. The Redskins did it anyway and learned, as so many have, the consequences of poking Commissioner Roger Goodell (no matter how right you think you are). The precise impact of the cap hit can’t be assessed because it is based mostly on aborted personnel moves, but it starts with the loss of special teams Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander and degrades from there.      

The Report Card

Signing your own B-list free agents, failing to acquire anyone that could be picked out of a lineup of suspects and neither filling any glaring needs or creating any new deficiencies is the very definition of a ho-hum, “C average” offseason. For not getting overly creative with restructured contracts and essentially taking their $18 million dollop of bitter-tasting medicine, the Redskins get a little extra credit and earn a C+ grade on their offseason progress report. The team has much work to do in the upcoming NFL Draft and with the many remaining free agent bargains to avoid regressing in 2013.

The likely priorities include linebacker—considering Alexander’s departure, the recent suspension of Rob Jackson and the shaky health of Orakpo—secondary and the resigning of tight end Fred Davis (or a reasonable facsimile). The “C+” is written in pencil for now. The final report card awaits the team’s attention to these remaining concerns. Over to you Mike Shanahan…