Could Mike Shanahan be returning to the Super Bowl sooner than later?
The salary cap restrictions that bound the Washington Redskins this offseason have been pretty well-known throughout the league.
There are obviously many ways in which it hurt the Redskins. They couldn’t go out and sign or trade for a top-tier player at a position of need like corner or offensive lineman, and they had to let guys like Lorenzo Alexander walk away because they just couldn’t pay him enough.
Despite the obvious downside, there is actually a lot of good that comes from this. Call it a "blessing in disguise."
Following the 2012 season, the Redskins were pretty set roster-wise. They could definitely improve in some areas, but not much has changed since last season when they won the division.
These cap restrictions forced Washington’s front office to change the way they went about things. They had to make smarter, more economic decisions instead of just throwing money away on past-their-prime veterans.
For a long time, the gripe of Redskins fans has been Dan Snyder. This offseason was the first time in years that he stepped back and let the football people make football decisions.
Now, I don’t know Mr. Snyder personally, but I’m willing to bet that when it comes to playing or coaching football he has a pretty short résumé. He has finally done what he should have done years ago and let people do their job, instead using this storied team as his personal Madden franchise.
Over the years, Snyder has been responsible for a number of blunders, most notably his infamous free-agent signings. Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Albert "I-can’t-even-complete-a-conditioning-drill-yet-I’ve-played-in-the-NFL-for-eight-years" Haynesworth are just a few of the lackluster trophies in Snyder’s Hall of Shame.
When you have more bust signings than playoff wins in your era, things have got to change, and thankfully they have.
Instead of throwing away money on guys who just aren’t that good anymore, these penalties have forced Washington to build through the draft and make smarter free-agent signings.
These "home-grown" players that they pick up through the draft have a long track record of panning out.
While Arrington was let go partially because of concerns surrounding his health, a big reason why all of these guys were let go is that there wasn’t enough cap room to hold them while signing other big-name, bigger contract guys, so Snyder made the executive decision to let them walk.
Fast forward to this year. Washington was forced to adapt and finally did the right thing. They drafted for need and not name, and they signed players that fit their system. It’s almost like the signature "Patriot Way." You almost never see New England sign a big-name free agent, it’s always players that fit their system best.
Another way in which these cap penalties helped the Redskins is that it forces them to build for the future. This youth movement that they have going on is great, and it portends a bright future in Washington.
They aren’t building a team to win now (although they can), they are building a foundation for a great team in the next three to five years.
Now that they have a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III and an intelligent, arguably Hall of Fame-caliber coach in Mike Shanahan, there is much potential to be realized. They now have the chance to win games while building a powerhouse franchise for the future.
RG3 and his counterpart Alfred Morris still have their best days ahead of them, and Brian Orakpo is just nearing his prime. Add in guys like Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan, and you’ve got yourself a pretty talented group of players.
A lot of people don’t see how the Redskins could possibly improve given these torturous cap restrictions, but many fail to remember that they faced the same penalties before last season, and still became NFC East champions.
The only key guy they lost was Alexander, but Perry Riley should be a fine replacement for ‘Zo. They kept many important guys like Rob Jackson and Kory Lichtensteiger, but perhaps the best news is that they will have all of their starters nursed back to health.
There was an obvious difference when Orakpo and Adam Carriker were lost to injury, and Garçon was also dearly missed during the games he missed. If those guys had stayed healthy, then we could’ve possibly seen a very different ending to that playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Carriker reminded us of these players’ monumentally vital returns when he spoke with Chuck Carroll, co-host of his wrestling radio show 4th and Pain:
As I look at our team, we got just about everyone coming back that we had last year with the exception of a few minor changes. But the one big difference we’re going to have a healthy Brian Orakpo, we’re going to have a healthy Brandon Meriweather, we’re going to have a healthy Adam Carriker […].
The fact of the matter is that Washington hasn’t taken a step back at all, if anything they’re way ahead of where they were last season.
Will the Redskins reach a Super Bowl within the next five years?
Guys like RG3 and Morris have had time to digest the system and grow within it, and should be even better in year two. The chemistry on this team is the highest it’s been in a long time. They finally have some continuity on both sides of the ball.
While I don’t believe they should be considered a Super Bowl contender just yet, look for them to be the most dangerous they’ve been in years.
Realistically, this is the best their offense has been on paper since their last Super Bowl run. If they can just pick up where they left off last season, they will have a good chance at making the playoffs and, more than that, they will have a good chance at having a great future.
This isn’t the same team that we saw lose to the Detroit Lions in embarrassing fashion a few years ago. This isn’t the same team we saw get humiliated 59-28 at home, on Monday night against the Eagles. This isn’t the same team who thought John Beck was the quarterback of the future. This is a new team with an entirely new culture, and the future is just beginning.
They have all the pieces they need to become what they were 1980s: a perennial playoff team who can match up against most anyone.
For a long time, it was tough, even distressing to be a fan of the burgundy and gold, but now it looks like we’re on the verge of an era in which we can once again be proud of our team.