As you read this article, keep in mind the opposite of everything referenced will probably take place.
Perhaps it is the impact of offensive consultant Sherman Lewis? Could it be all the free agent moves by the much-maligned Vinny Cerrato? Maybe it was the departure of injured running back Clinton Portis?
Quite possibly it could be the maturation of quarterback Jason Campbell in the west coast offense? To a certain extent, it could be the chemistry and cohesiveness of a developing offensive line? One could even suggest that it could have been the maturing of the team’s three receivers drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft?
The Redskins' recent transformation is the likely result of all the explanations referenced above. Each share an equal role in the improved play of a team performing the way Redskins' fans anticipated when the season started.
With three games remaining in the Redskins’ “season of discontent”, many have already predicted the firing of Coach Jim Zorn, the hiring of Mike Shanahan as Coach/GM, the release of Clinton Portis, trading free agent to be (possible restricted free agent) Jason Campbell, and drafting a hopeful franchise quarterback in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Should the team finish the 2009 season playing at the level they’ve performed at in recent weeks, why would owner Daniel Snyder mess with a formula just starting to gel?
If Snyder decides to start over yet again, Redskins fans may have to wait another two or three years before their beloved team will catch a glimpse of the playoffs.
A new coach will bring with him a new philosophy, a new playbook, and a new quarterback. Such a move will cost Snyder millions, and he’ll creatively find a way to pass the expenses onto the 90,000 who fill Fed-Ex Field on Sundays.
Zorn will be paid to vacation in 2010, Shanahan will bring a price tag of $9 million annually, and a quarterback drafted in the top ten will likely demand $30-40 million in salary and bonuses.
Let’s face it, a NFL coach is a high-level spokesman who excels at communicating, is a strong organizer, and can balance egos. Redskins' Coach Jim Zorn’s strengths are his composure and deflecting the blame away from his players.
Until Sherman Lewis was brought in by Cerrato, Zorn was in over his head. He was trying to be a football coach for an elite sports franchise with a demanding owner. In addition he wore the hats of offensive coordinator, play-caller, and quarterback coach.
Although Zorn was receiving input from coaches in the booth, he was ultimately deciding which plays to call from the field. He could never develop a fluent offensive flow with all the chaos that surrounds an NFL sideline.
Lewis has successfully brought a flow to the Redskins' offense and has utilized all the weapons in the team's arsenal.
The Redskins would be wise to allow Zorn to finish out his contract if the team continues to improve in 2009, providing momentum and continuity for what should be a promising 2010 season.
He has not lost his players in the locker room and has gained some respect within the Redskins’ community for the way he’s handled himself during a very trying season.
I have been a huge supporter of the anti-Vinny Cerrato coalition. Cerrato cannot be held accountable for the major decisions made over the years (i.e. Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, and Albert Haynesworth), he is basically the fall guy. The big decisions fall on the lap of Snyder, who is trying to turn the Redskins into the Yankees of the NFL.
What Cerrato can be held liable for is the lack of importance he has placed on drafting linemen and adding pre-season depth to the roster. But faced with a tremendous amount of adversity this season, as eight starters have been placed on injured reserve, Cerrato has acquired viable talent in OL Levi Jones, RB Quinton Ganther, and K Graham Gano to contribute during the Redskins' recent run.
It should also be noted that Cerrato suggested the acquisition of an offensive consultant to lighten Zorn’s load. Zorn wasn’t thrilled with the idea of giving up play-calling duties, but it has paid dividends. Despite the embarrassment of being relieved of play-calling duties during the season, Zorn himself has even acknowledged the team’s improved offensive play.
Also worth mentioning, Cerrato has helped build a team full of strong “character” individuals. With that said, former coach Joe Gibbs should receive a great deal of the credit for the team’s current roster.
Cerrato has continued to follow Gibbs’ lead, and has added players to the roster who refuse to turn on their coach, point fingers, and most importantly are active in the Washington community and have stayed out of trouble with the law.
The biggest off-season decision facing the Redskins, should not be whether to replace Zorn, but rather how to handle the Clinton Portis obstacle. Without having to focus the offense around Portis, the Redskins have thrived.
But Portis is scheduled to make $7 million dollars next season and has a contract that runs through 2013. With next season expected to be “cap-free” it makes sense to unload the hefty contract of a running back on the downside of his career.
Portis has not been the same free-spirited individual since the passing of his good friend and former Redskin safety, Sean Taylor. He has alienated his offensive line, his fullback, and his teammates by sitting out most practices.
A Snyder favorite, Portis is less than 800 yards from breaking the team’s all-time rushing record. With the owner of that record being John Riggins, who publicly called out Snyder by saying he has a “dark heart”, Snyder may be willing to allow Portis to stick around long enough to break that record.
The other big decision facing the Redskins this off-season is whether to continue their relationship with quarterback Jason Campbell. Benched earlier in the season, Campbell has responded with a solid season despite playing behind a make-shift offensive line. Assuming there is no salary cap next season, Campbell will become an unrestricted free agent.
If Campbell (17 TDs, 12 Ints, 89.0 QB rating) had his way, he'd probably prefer a fresh start elsewhere. After all, the Redskins made it clear last off-season they would rather have the services of Jay Cutler (19 TDs, 22 Ints, 75.2 QB rating) or Mark Sanchez (11 TDs, 17 Ints, 63.7 QB rating).
Raised in the south, Carolina would be an ideal fit for him. With the Panthers' strong running game and the scrutiny of the fans and media a tad less antagonizing, Campbell would continue to grow as an NFL quarterback in that environment.
Unfortunately for Campbell, the Redskins hold all the cards (if he is a restricted free agent). As the best free agent quarterback on the market in 2010, the Redskins could demand a first round pick for his services. This would limited the number of teams interested in acquiring the much-maligned quarterback who is showing signs that he is coming of age.
The Redskins will not make Campbell a “franchise” player, as he has not proven he’s worthy of such a lofty contract. Assuming Snyder continues his George Steinbrenner ways, he will allow Campbell to go for a bargain price of a second round pick and draft a rookie quarterback the new coach can build around.
With Samuels likely to retire, the Redskins would be wise to retain Campbell and use their high first round draft pick to select a tackle (options include Russell Okung,Oklahoma State; Trent Williams, Oklahoma; and Charles Brown,USC).
Current left tackle and former Bengals first round pick Levi Jones, has had some strong moments, but has looked suspect at times. Jones isn’t the answer for the long term.
As for the rest of the offensive line, guard Derrick Dockery has been solid, center Casey Rabach has come on as of late, guard Chad Rinehart (IR) was starting to show improvement, guard Mike Williams seems to have found a home, and tackle Stephon Heyer is not ideal but is serviceable.
Acquiring a third round pick to replace the selection lost with the acquisition of supplemental pick, defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, would be prudent. In this position the Redskins can add a second lineman for depth.
Finally, the emergence of the team’s second year receivers has brought energy to the Redskins’ offense. Receiver Devin Thomas has matured and is over the injuries that plagued him all last season.
His strength and reliable hands are proving to be an asset. A strong, big-bodied receiver who runs past and over smaller defensive backs is an element that has been missed since Art Monk retired.
Tight end Fred Davis has played close to the level of Chris Cooley since Cooley was lost for the season. Although a fan favorite, Cooley could be expendable should the team try to add draft picks.
It is likely and recommended that both Cooley and Davis play a part in the Redskins’ offensive plans in 2010. However, if a new coach/GM is brought on board, he/they may chose to unload Cooley’s contract.
Receiver Malcolm Kelly hasn’t had many opportunities to prove his worth. With only so many passes to go around, Santana Moss, Thomas and Davis have garnered most of Campbell’s attempts. Kelly has the skill set, but is simply restricted by the numbers.
So to recap, assuming the Redskins continue to compete at an impressive level for the remainder of the season, the Redskins would be wise to enter 2010 with:
- Coach Jim Zorn and offensive consultant Sherman Lewis
- Vinny Cerrato continuing his position as Executive VP of Player Personnel
- Jason Campbell as the quarterback
- Clinton Portis and Chris Samuels retired
- A first round draft pick at left tackle
- Their current receivers (including TE Chris Cooley) as they are
Note: The Redskins are finally performing the way they were expected to perform when the season started. Although they are still learning how to close games out, they have proven they can hang with the NFL’s best.
Only in the NFL can a coach who is liked and respected by his players be fired (Zorn) and replaced by a coach (at twice the salary) who was fired from his previous post (Shanahan) for losing his players. There is no John Elway in the 2010 NFL Draft!
Five weeks ago, most of what has been discussed in this article wasn’t plausible. Should the team revert back to its lackluster ways during the home stretch of the season, please disregard this article. Welcome to life in Washington!