The Mike Shanahan era in Washington has delivered less than expected in the first few years and things are on the line now more than ever. With a combined record of 11-21 over the first two seasons, the Redskins have found themselves drafting in the top ten under coach Shanahan and new GM Bruce Allen. Heading into their third season together, this duo is expected to deliver results and reestablish the Redskins as a playoff-caliber team.
When Shanahan became the new head coach, one of his first moves was to hire Jim Haslett as the defensive coordinator. Haslett transformed the Redskins by switching to a 3-4 defense and changing pass-rushing defensive ends, into outside linebackers (i.e. Orakpo & Kerrigan). While the defense seems to have made the transition smoothly, the offense has yet to carry their share.
In an effort to gain stability at the quarterback position, Allen and Shanahan made the controversial trade for Donovan McNabb in 2010 and watched the season crumble in flames. McNabb was anything but consistent for the Redskins, and at the end of the season, he was benched for Rex Grossman. McNabb would be released later in the offseason.
Last season, Shanahan went with duo of Rex Grossman and former Miami Dolphin John Beck. Again the season was marked by inconsistency as the quarterback took turns starting games, sending fans flashbacks of the Mark Brunnell/Patrick Ramsey saga. Grossman would eventually win the starting job and led the Redskins to a 5-11 season.
In desperate need of a quarterback who is not only reliable, but also a game-changer, the Redskins made a blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Rams, to move up and select Robert Griffin III. This move was applauded by most (including me), but at the same time, clearly signals that 2012 is a make or break year for the Washington Redskins.
The trade with St. Louis sent a slew of high value draft picks to the Rams, effectively mortgaging premium players in the 2013 and 2014 drafts for this year's talent. To justify this move, the Redskins will need to deliver a winning season and must do so immediately.
Griffin needs to not only be a dynamic quarterback, putting up big numbers, he needs to help the Redskins produce wins. Many look to the success Cam Newton had last year, and while Griffin is a much different player than Newton, believe he can have similar success. However, despite Newton's big personal numbers, the Panthers finished 6-10 last season; this would not be acceptable for Washington in 2012.
The NFC East is one of the most competitive divisions in football, where all four teams have a legitimate shot at the playoffs each year. While none of these teams typically boast 15-1 records, that is mainly do to the competitive balance, as all the teams beat up on each other. The Redskins will need to overcome an always competitive Cowboys team, the "dream team" in Philadelphia and the defending Super Bowl Champions in New York.
The addition of Robert Griffin III, Roy Helu, Jr., and many successful free agents have the Redskins positioned to be competitive for many years down the road. However, the NFL is more a game of poker than a 401k; dividends are expected up front.
Shanahan and Allen are on five-year contracts and their success to date does not justify an extension. In an effort to turn the team around they made the necessary move to draft a franchise quarterback who can propel the Redskins into the postseason. If the Redskins have aspirations of long-term stability at the coaching position, they need to post at least nine wins in 2012.
With nine or more wins, the Redskins can show the league, their fans and most importantly Dan Snyder that the Shanahan/Allen regime is working. Nine wins puts the Redskins in contention for a Wild Card spot and potentially a divisional playoff seed.
If the Redskins deliver anything less than nine wins, I fear the impulsive nature of Dan Snyder will begin to reappear, and changes will begin to brew.