Portis v. Betts: What the Redskins should do.

Mark ButerbaughSenior Analyst INovember 16, 2009

A question being asked around water coolers in the Washington, D.C. area today is: “What is going to happen withClinton Portis?” As you know, Portis is out right now with the lingering effects of a concussion and Head Coach Jim Zornsaid today that while the headaches are gone for Portis, the blurriness and memory have not fully returned. As we have seen with Eagles TB Brian Westbrook, who has suffered two concussions in his last two games, the injury is nothing to trifle with and can endanger a player’s career and a lot more. Zorn said Portis would not play Sunday if he couldn’t practice this week. But what if Portis does practice this week? What then? And what going forward?

It’s not as if Clinton Portis is a bad player. He isn’t. He’s been a durable, productive running back for the Redskins since 2004. Apart from 2006 and this season, Portis has been a remarkably healthy and consistent running back, suiting up every game and leading the offense. Joe Gibbs certainly based his entire offense around Portis and Zorn did the same last year. That seemed like a good idea when Portis was one of the top rushers in the NFL midway through the 2008 season and on everyone’s short list for the MVP award. Then Portis began to get hurt, the offensive line succumbed to injuries, age and general incompetence and the running game deteriorated quickly. Portis went from being a top back to a very, very ordinary back quickly. This season has been no different. The blocking has been inconsistent and poor, Portis has struggled for yards and first downs and the offense has been stagnant or downright embarrassing.

Given the ball two Sundays ago in Atlanta after Portis suffered a first half concussion, backup Ladell Betts rushed for 70 yards and 1TD on 14 carries. This past Sunday, Betts rushed for 114 yards [a team high this season] and 1 TD on 24 carries. Rock Cartwright added 41 yards on 9 carries. In the six full quarters played since Portis went down with injury, Washington’s offense has been more dynamic and productive than at any times since the first half of last season.

When Portis comes back healthy should he be given his starting job back? Should the Redskins go on as they were, with Portis getting nearly all the carries and Ladell Betts basically a third down back and nothing more? [Rock Cartwright would be banished back to special teams duty.] Portis partisans have argued that the offensive line played better yesterday than it has all season and that Portis could have done what Betts did yesterday.

Perhaps that is true, but if it is, it is still a poor case for Portis, who makes more money than anyone else on the offense. Portis’ cap hit for 2010 will be in excess of $12 million — a staggering sum even considering there will probably be no salary cap in 2010. The cap hit for Ladell Betts in 2010 is under $2.5 million. If Betts and Cartwright are capable of producing pretty much what Portis is, then what sense does it make to keep Portis? Why endure such an enormous cap hit for a player whose production is declining rapidly and can be replaced by players already on the roster? As ESPN points out:

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Portis v. Betts: What the Redskins should do.