The 2012 NFL offseason might have been the most exciting one in Washington Redskins history, but built into the criteria behind that excitement was the fact that the 2013 offseason was likely to be just as exciting.
Coming off an unexpected division title—their first this century—the 'Skins walk away from a disappointing wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks knowing that they're likely to be favored to win the NFC East yet again in 2013.
They have a franchise quarterback who was the league's third-highest-rated passer as a rookie and who should only get better, and they'll have a chance to build around said quarterback in the months to come. Plus, they'll get healthy again.
Remember, this team wasn't supposed to compete this year. They were coming off a five-win 2011 season and had huge question marks on both sides of the ball, going far beyond the quarterback situation (which was still a mystery until September).
What should Washington's top offseason priority be?
But they also lost key contributors Brian Orakpo and Fred Davis early. That they were able to lead a playoff game by two scores in the first quarter despite not having veterans like Orakpo, Davis, Brandon Meriweather and Adam Carriker is amazing.
Finally, they're dealing with salary-cap sanctions imposed by the NFL for a failure to collude with the rest of the league during the uncapped 2010 season. That cost them $18 million in cap space last spring, and it'll cost them the same amount in 2013.
So, with all that in mind, what should Washington's priorities be now that the offseason is about to begin? It doesn't appear dramatic upgrades are necessary at most positions, but they're short on cash and lack a first-round pick, and there are still some things that must be addressed if they're going to keep building momentum next season.
1. Find new ways to protect Robert Griffin III
The offensive line didn't let Griffin down this year, but Tyler Polumbus isn't fit to start at right tackle and there's no telling what shape Brown will be in if he sticks around. The Redskins' top priority, from a personnel standpoint, has to be to find an offensive tackle who can complement Trent Williams and make an impact as a pass protector from Day 1.
But even more importantly, they have to spend a good part of the offseason and training camp coaching Griffin to make better decisions. It's very difficult to tame mobile quarterbacks, especially when you still want them to be able to scramble and make big plays with their feet when the moment calls for it.
But Mike and Kyle Shanahan absolutely must find a way to convince Griffin to take risks in a more calculated manner. Otherwise, he's not going to stay healthy long enough to lead this team in January of 2014.
2. Upgrade the secondary
This was the team's Achilles' heel for much of the year, but the secondary was much better as the season wore on. Cedric Griffin, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are good enough to maintain roster spots, but the 'Skins have to find one more cornerback who can play a significant number of snaps.
Beyond that, the safety position is in flux. Do they gamble on Brandon Meriweather? Reed Doughty played the best game of his career Sunday against Seattle. Do they give him another shot? One thing's for sure: The Madieu Williams experiment can't extend into another season.
They must find at least one starting-caliber safety who can help limit deep completions. Jairus Byrd or Dashon Goldson would be prime additions, but they might not have the money to win those sweepstakes.
3. Re-sign Fred Davis, Lorenzo Alexander and Kory Lichtensteiger
The Redskins might not be able to make any free-agent splashes, but there are really only three impending unrestricted free agents on the roster who have to be priorities between now and March 12, when free agency kicks off.
Davis was Griffin's favorite receiving option before going down with a torn left Achilles tendon in October. He'll need to return to be RG3's safety valve again. Alexander is a quality backup and a Pro Bowl special-teams player who makes more of an impact than anyone realizes.
And then there's Lichtensteiger, a veteran guard who'd be tough to replace. In games that Lichtensteiger has played in from start to finish since the beginning of 2011, the Redskins are 13-7. In all other cases, they're 2-11.
We'll begin to take a close look at what the Redskins' priorities should be as the offseason gets underway this week, so stay tuned as we wrap up 2012 and look forward to an equally promising 2013 campaign in D.C.