With a new head coach and cap room to spare, the upcoming offseason looks to be exciting for the Washington Redskins. They have every reason to be optimistic, even after the bleak state the previous regime left things in.
However, the Redskins can't afford to shoot themselves in the foot by making, or repeating, mistakes.
A lot can go wrong for the new head coach and his staff. Washington's rocky offseason history for the better part of the last 20 years only adds to the concern.
Here are some of the mistakes the Redskins simply cannot make this offseason.
There are a lot of familiar faces still around from Mike Shanahan's tenure as head coach, including Raheem Morris, Jim Haslett and Sean McVay. Jay Gruden, however, has his own connections to each of those coaches, which supersede anything Shanahan had to do with their hiring.
For Gruden to succeed, immediately or in the future, he must let the holdovers know that the team is now his, not Shanahan's.
Given that Haslett was retained as defensive coordinator, Dan Snyder and the Redskins' management must still have confidence in him. Even though he was at the helm of some putrid defenses fielded by the Redskins, Haslett has earned a reprieve and a chance to make up for his run under Shanahan.
Morris did the best he could with what he had in the secondary, which still isn't saying much. It should not be held against him that injuries and cap penalties forced the Redskins to skimp on spending in the defensive backfield.
What Brian Orakpo lacks in raw statistical output, he makes up for with pure disruption. He may have only tallied 10 sacks in 2013, but he routinely disrupted things for opposing offenses and quarterbacks throughout the season.
Based on his potential to be a disruptive force, Orakpo is likely to command top-dollar in free agency and the Redskins cannot shy away from paying him.
Washington's defense, at its best, thrives on Ryan Kerrigan and Orakpo putting pressure on the quarterback. Without Orakpo, offenses can focus on stopping Kerrigan, since Orakpo's backup, Rob Jackson, is not the same sort of threat.
With the 3-4 still in play for 2014, the Redskins cannot and should not let Orakpo sign anywhere else. They have too many needs on defense as it is without adding another void in their scheme.
With the exception of Trent Williams, every single player on the Redskins offensive line should be put on notice.
Chris Chester and Will Montgomery were consistently outclassed in pass protection, Kory Lichtensteiger was average across the board, and right tackle Tyler Polumbus improved on a poor 2012 campaign to be so-so in pass protection.
It isn't likely that the problem will be solved in a single offseason, but between the draft and the available cap room, the Redskins should be able to improve at least their center and one guard position.
Cleveland's Alex Mack is set to be a free agent and would instantly change the makeup of the interior offensive line. Sign Mack and Denver's Zane Beadles and then draft a right tackle, and things look mighty different from the shoddy line the 'Skins suffered through in 2013.
Following two years of cap penalties amounting to $36 million, the Redskins finally have some space to sign free agents this offseason. With roughly $33 million to work with, Washington can retain their own key players as well as pursue free agents to upgrade their roster and fill in holes.
They cannot, however, take their boon of cap space and throw it at one or two big names and be done with it.
Brian Orakpo will obviously be a priority signing this offseason, but the Redskins should not have any Albert Haynesworth level contracts. They have needs at free safety, corner and all along the offensive line, but none of the potential players is worth a max contract.
Free safety Jairus Byrd may want the highest contract for his position, but an injury-plagued season is likely to knock his price down a bit for the Redskins.
Following the 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, ESPN's Dan Graziano reported a source claiming that Mike Shanahan was fed up with owner Daniel Snyder, and did not approve of his relationship with franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III.
There was never any confirmation of the validity of the remarks, but it stirred up rumors that Shanahan was leaking information in an attempt to get fired.
Regardless of whether Shanahan leaked the information or not, whatever source released the story was within the organization.
Jay Gruden isn't likely to start any rumors in his first season, but it would not be advised, because the media will take any scrap they can find to tear down a coach, however new to the area he may be.
Bleacher Report's own Brad Gagnon put together a great piece on Jay Gruden's chances for success as a first-year head coach in the NFL. Anyone expecting the Redskins to experience a worst-to-first turnaround the way the Kansas City Chiefs did under Andy Reid is delusional.
Gruden is a first-year head coach and there are holes on both sides of the ball that cannot be filled in a single offseason.
Calling it a rebuild may be a little steep, but between the need to improve the roster, implement a new offense with new terminology and retool the defense, the Redskins aren't far off from being a rebuilding team.
If they call it a year for rebuilding, while keeping the notion of being competitive in the mix, it works in their favor. Gruden and his staff buy time to have some rough patches in year one.
Griffin should not be forced to become a pocket passer, and Morris should not be expected to become a speed back. Young is an underrated blocker and pass-catcher, Reed is an up-and-coming tight end, and Garcon is one of the best receivers after the catch.
Jay Gruden and Sean McVay need to account for the capabilities and strengths of those players in their offense. Mike Shanahan and Kyle Shanahan came into Washington with existing systems they expected their players to fit into, as opposed to making changes to accommodate the talent they had.
Gruden and McVay can't build the offense in a vacuum, ignoring Griffin's mobility because they don't care to use it, or using single back formations that render Young useless.
Mike Shanahan had far too much control of the team during his tenure as head coach and vice president of football operations. No one man should have that much power in an organization, even if he does have two Super Bowl rings.
Jay Gruden does not have that power, does not have the illustrious NFL coaching record, and thus cannot afford to go on any power trips or put spin on team information.
When Shanahan was forced to work with Rex Grossman and John Beck as his starting quarterbacks, he made it seem as though the offense would work just fine with either of them. The number of people who bought that load of garbage was minimal, but it didn't stop Shanahan from harping on it throughout the season.
It is one thing to show confidence in your players and quite another to mislead, or attempt to mislead, fans into believing everything is just fine.
Gruden doesn't need to give away state secrets, but he should avoid lying to the public to save his own skin.