This Redskins season has been rough. Similiar to the feeling you get when a girl dumps you... only this feeling comes almost every week. This is not the season most Redskin fans have envisioned (if you need proof look at my earlier note on the Skins').
However, this off-season will be crucial in who the Redskins will be in the next decade, for better or for worse, and there are several key decisions that Owner Dan Snyder will have to make to ensure that the term "Deadskins" is a thing of the past.
1.) Keep Jim Zorn
Mid-way through the season the fact that Jim Zorn was going to be fired was as certain as the Pope was Catholic, but Zorn has proved that he deserves to be a Head Coach in the NFL, whether it's for the Redskins or not.
This is because Jim Zorn has done what should be impossible: he has his team playing their best football of the season despite having Cooley and Portis out, despite having the worst offensive line in the league, and despite being completely out of contention for the play-offs.
The Redskins should have given up by now, but for some reason a bunch of rookies and free agents are playing their butts off, for a guy who is supposed to be fired. Only few coaches can inspire this kind of performance and most of them go by the names Gibbs, Dungy, and Lombardi.
So why would you fire a guy who finally seems to have discovered his groove as a coach just to start from scratch again? Allow Jim Zorn to build off of what he started this season, you might be suprised, just ask any Bengals fan!
2.) Keep Jason Campbell
If someone was to ask me who the most mentally tough Quarterback in the league was, I would say Peyton Manning, but Jason Campbell would be a close second.
In trying to compare Jason Campbell's situation the only scenario that comes close would be Tiger Woods' wife. What must it feel like to read in the paper every day that someone who says they trust you is interested in other prospects? Not very good, yet Jason Campbell has had to go through the entire season with this feeling and every week he comes out to play with a terrible offensive line, no receivers, and no Chris Cooley.
You would think that Jason Campbell would be terrible under these circumstances (which he has at times), but somehow he has been able to pull off ridiculous plays and drives that have been winning (or should of) games. Everybody gives credit to Eli Manning for the incredible scramble and pass in 2007's Super Bowl, but Campbell has to do that at least twice every game, and his teammates have noticed.
Most Quarterbacks who inspire that kind of play and heart go by the names Manning, Brees, and Montana.
So why fire a guy who has come to play despite being cheated on, inspiring his team despite being counted out, and playing better than both Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler, former mistresses of Dan Snyder.
3.) Fire Vinny Cerrato
As we look over the past decade, there are only two things that are consistent with the Redskins, Vinny Cerrato and losing.
We have had hoards of Head Coaches, Offensive Coaches, and Quarterback changes; we have had loads of money dumped on free agents, and we have nothing to show for it but two playoff appearances (thanks Joe Gibbs).
The problem behind this is more than just Vinny Cerrato, it's the system behind it. Remember, Cerrato has made some key management decisions such as the hiring of Joe Gibbs, the signings of London Fletcher and Albert Haynesworth, and great draft pics including Sean taylor, Brian Orakpo, and Chris Horton. But all these good decisions are but a speck on the mountain of terrible management decisions made by Cerrato and his partner in crime: Dan Snyder.
This is where the serious flaw is because Cerrato represents nothing more than an extended finger of Dan Snyder. Snyder is a great business person, but as a football mind he lacks, and Cerrato's obedience does not compensate.
The best thing Dan Snyder could do for his team is to hire a proven experienced General Manager who can build a team with the same goal as Jim Zorn, and build a team over the years through the draft and free agency. A guy like former Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell, who has ties to Jim Zorn and a load of football knowledge.
4.) Manage the "Sherms"
The Redskins season has been a story of two Sherms. Sherm Smith, the offensive coordinator under Zorn; and Sherm Lewis, the offensive "consultant" former bingo-caller brought in by Cerrato mid-season. The predicament in Washington's offense is not Jim Zorn as many claim, the predicament is the lack of offensive experience which is ultimately manifested in Sherman Smith, but overcome in Sherman Lewis.
The problem with the Redskins is that they hired a Head Coach who had no offensive coordinator experience, and that person hired an offensive coordinator with no offensive coordinator experience.
Jim Zorn knows what he wants to do. He has shown that he is capable of being an offensive mind and proved it during the first six weeks of his career, the problem was that as soon as defenses caught on, he was clueless on how to dignify his offense while confusing the opposing defense, and so was his coordinator.
So what the Redskins must do is remove the bad Sherm and bring in the good. Sherman Lewis is a West Coast geinius and has more knowledge on the offense than arguably anyone in the league. The knowledge of Sherm Lewis allows Zorn to civilize his offensive scheme, and transform it to an NFL level. Zorn brings the art, and Lewis the science to an offense that has slowly come to life since Lewis's arrival.
5.) Dump Portis
I will be the first one to tell you that I have always been a Portis fan. You cannot argue what he has done for this franchise: countless 1,000 seasons, countless touchdowns, and Ford Truck running from a guy designed as a Porsche. However, if the Redskins are going to move forward into the nest decade, they must bring in good money for bad, and break ties with Portis.
The initial reason for his release is simply the fact that he is the top paid running back in the league, but does not practice (let alone play) for unknown or minor reasons.
Is it a coincidence that the Redskins offense produced a spark the week Portis was sidelined for what would become the season? No, because it's also not a coincidence that when you practice you play better. Ask Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, or Quinton Ganther; when you're are working your butt off in practice it's going to show on the field.
"Working your butt off" is something that Portis has failed to do this season. He did it last season and he was the top rusher in the league for most of the year. Stats don't lie: hard work equals better performance. It can also be argued that Portis is coming to the end of his career, but that will not stop teams hurting for a RB from dishing out a second rounder—maybe even a first rounder, for Portis.
In the 1990s the Colts were the joke of the NFL, incapable of anything involving greatness much like the current Redskins. Then, in 1999, after drafting Peyton Manning the year before; the Colts traded away their best player in Marshall faulk to the Rams for a second and fourth round draft pick. The Colts realized that Faulk could help them more by if released. Allowing them to draft players that would move forward in the next decade: players like Edgerrin James and Hunter Smith (who ALL Redskin fans should love this year). The same must happen to the Redskins, they must move in a new direction under Zorn and in doing so, trade away Portis in favor of valuable draft picks.
5.) Draft Offensive Linemen
In order to build a tower you must have a strong foundation; the stronger the foundation, the higher the tower can go. The same applies for football teams.
Quarterbacks, Running backs, and Wide Receivers are all important, but without a strong offensive line the entire offense will be neutralized. The problem with the Redskins is that they have become too concerned with the "tower" than with taking time to first build the foundation.
It's not necessarily that Campbell, Portis, Randel El, and Moss are all bad; it's just that the do not have an offensive line to hold them up. This lack of so-called "foundation building" has resulted in a miserably old banged up offensive line now replaced with an underachieving, scrub, still-wet-behind-the-ears line. This is why Campbell is constantly seen running for his life, why Redskin rushers are clogged up in the backfield, and why Moss, Cooley, and Randel El seldom have time to get open.
The answer to this question is not dishing out millions for an old over-rated offensive line-men, we have enough of those as it is. The answer is in devoting the 2010 draft to building and restocking your offensive line the best you possibly can.
The Redskins have the greatest offensive line coach in the league, and perhaps NFL history in Joe Bugel, which means that if there is absolutely any talent in him, "Buges" will bring it out. The way in drafting offensive linemen can go a few ways. Assuming we have a high draft pick (what's new?) we can go for an absolute sure-fire stud like we did for Orakpo on the D-line, or if there is none such player, draft down into the lower and high end first and second round.
Assuming we have a pick from traded Clinton Portis we can then continue to stock up on young, optimistic talent for the offensive line. Even if we end up with eight linemen and four of them are busts, we will still have four high quality, capable linemen, which is more than we have now.
In doing this we are also assuming that old antiques such as Chris Samuals and Randy Thomas are released, which would also help us financialy speaking.
6.) Get a Kicker
It blows my mind how a guy like Dan Snyder, who dishes out loads of cash for proven veterans has never considered signing a top notch kicker.
Field goal kickers have been a pain in Redskin sides far too long as we have been tormented by unproven, automatic driving (because they lack clutch) kickers. The good thing about kickers is that it's the same anywhere you go. You either got it, or you don't. Since Snyder loves spending money so much, let him give it to a kicker who is proven and seasoned, much like what they did for punter Hunter Smith. It will be one less thorn in our butt to pick out and will allow us to focus on much more serious "thorns."
7.) Establish a Running Back Committee
At this point in my burgundy & gold fantasy Clinton Portis is long gone (we'll say he went to the Browns).
Now we have a committee of Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, and Quinton Ganther; and I say, "sounds good to me!" The running backs we have now have shown that they could be perfect candidates for a rushing committee. Betts has great power and speed who gets you the yards you need when you need them, and Quinton Ganther is a quick explosive runner who burst through the hole in a way that reminds you of Emmit Smith (as painful as remebering that is).
The combination of Betts and Ganther is very capable of fulfilling what Zorn expects out of his rushing game: consistent, effective running that you can count on. Betts and Ganther can do that, however, this would mean the release of Rock Cartwright which is sad because one: he's a great guy; and two: he has an awesome name. In addition to this a speedster taken in a late draft round wouldn't hurt either.
8.) Utilize Talent
What Jim Zorn had initialy failed to do, but is now doing rather well, is utilizing the talent of his personnel. As a coach it is your job to establish an offensive philosophy in a team, but on top of that, you must be able to use your players in a way that can allow them to best suceed.
A good example of this was the rotation of wide receivers in the 2009 off-season. Devin Thomas, the rookie, was positioned as a slot receiver, which requires good speed, footwork, and great route running (think Wes Welker). Devin Thomas, a more dominating vertical receiver (think Randy Moss) was ill fitted for that position. So Jim Zorn put Thomas in the Flanker position which is designed with speed and power in mind, and put Antwan Randel El, a finesse quick receiver, in the slot. The result, both receivers have so far doubled their production from last year, sometimes you just need the right opportunity to produce the right results.
This off-season, an area of consideration will be the tight end position. I'm not saying that Cooley must go, or that someone else must come in, I'm saying that we now have two great tight ends in Cooley and Fred Davis, and that their versatility and talent could give millions of wrinkles to both our offensive scheme and opposing defensive coordinators.
Utilization could also be considered for the passing game. The Redskins finally appear to be the Jim Zorn team that he has talked about and not simply a bunch of Joe Gibbs' pretenders, and the Redskins cannot try to become something their not. Of they're a passing team the pass, and pass well, don't be afraid downgrading the run. If, that is, what is best for your team, which this season has slowly proven that it is.
9.) Fine Tune the Defense
The Redskins defense is not an area of concern. After several years of steady drafting (see my plan's not ludicrous!) the Redskins have established a very solid defense.
This does not mean that there are not a few issues that need fine-tuning. Specifically, the safety tandem. Laron Landry is an excellent strong safety who would have made an insane safety duo with the late Sean Taylor, however, since Taylor's death Landry has been forced to move to the free safety slot. Landry can still succeed in this position because of his excellent instincts, speed, and vision, but his strong safety habits have proved fatal to the Redskins secondary.
Opposing teams know that in order to score deep on the Skins all they have to do is have their reciever pull a fake move. Landry is inclined to jump on the cut because as a former strong safety, he is looking for the big hit. However, this jumping the fake has allowed receivers to simply blow past Landry and into the Redskins end zone. The Redskins must fix this by either extensively working with Landry on this predicament, or moving Landry back to strong safety and finding a new free safety.
Another issue would be the linebacking core. This position is also very secure, but London Fletcher's creeping age, and the use of Orakpo as a hybrid gives this position an Achilles heel. I would predict that the draft of 2011, two years from now, will be focused primarily on linebackers assuming that Flethcher's stellar career will be coming to a close, and that Orakpo will be needed where he is most dominant, next to Albert Haynesworth in the dirt.
Given that these problems are solved and that the Redskins defense is already excellent, the Redskins "D" could become a champion defense. And you know what they say, "Defenses win championships!"
10.) Just Win Baby
By this point I have literally torn apart the Redskins' situation to the point where my fingertips will never forgive me, but everything I have just brought will mean nothing if the right goal is not in mind.
Since the day I was born the Redskins have been a joke in the NFL, and I have gone through dozens of personnel changes, false hopes, and disappointments. These past two decades have not been good for the burgundy and gold, but perhaps things will look up in this next one.
When it truly comes down to it, what the Redskins need is a winning attitude. They need to bring D.C. back to a culture of winning, and not one of political cartoons. The Redskins must once again instill in the hearts of Washington fans that winning is absolutely an option.
How they will do it, I've given you my best thoughts (and I AM e-mailing this to Dan Snyder!) but regardless of who or why as long as they fulfill the same goal that is fine with me.
Just win baby...