Change is in the air in Washington.
The team finally has a GM in Bruce Allen and a brilliant football mind in Mike Shanahan as their head coach.
How do two traditional football minds turn an aging, highly paid 4-12 team into a competitive organization?
The answer: Add free agents who will bring with them a tough football mentality and a desire to win at any costs.
This has nothing to do with name recognition (i.e. Albert Haynesworth) or impressive statistics. The Washington Redskins need to add football players who play for the love of the sport.
Washington can no longer be the place where aging players cash in on one last payday.
Allen and Shanahan surely have a plan at this point as to how they will rebuild the Redskins franchise. The first part of the plan is to evaluate the current roster. They will determine which players hindered the team and which players were not utilized to their greatest potential.
Playing into the evaluation process will be the player’s age and contract situation. For instance, running back Clinton Portis will turn 29 at the start of next season. He is under contract for a little over $10 million per year until 2013.
Although Portis is guaranteed around $8 million in bonus money over the next four years, Allen and Shanahan will likely release him during this uncapped year.
Once the current roster has been evaluated, the Redskins’ brain trusts will look to free agency to rebuild this organization and make the Redskins a competitive factor in the NFC East.
Now, it is one thing to be competitive for a season or two by signing aging veteran players whose abilities are peaking at contract time, but the Redskins will look to sustain that competitive edge annually in much the same fashion as the Eagles under the Andy Reid regime.
To do so, the Redskins will need to target a combination of younger free agents with a few select aging veterans.
The draft is the final piece to the rebuilding puzzle. While the team will likely land starters with their first two picks, the remaining players selected will be utilized to add depth and replace aging players down the road.
Knowing that owner Daniel Snyder is willing to spend money to fix the mess he helped create—and the above plan considered—the following is a wish list of free agents the Redskins should pursue with an explanation as to why.
This list is not ranked, but listed position by position. A star (*) will indicate priority and a pound (#) will indicate re-sign current roster player.
*/# Jason Campbell, 28 – Campbell improved in nearly every statistical QB passing category despite playing behind a makeshift offensive line and the lack of a running game. He will only get better under the guidance of Shanahan, who likes to roll his QB’s out of the pocket.
Is Campbell the franchise QB like Manning or Brees? No, but how many teams have a franchise QB?
He is good enough to win!
Leon Washington, age 27/NY Jets – Washington was coming into his own with the Jets when he suffered a season-ending injury early in 2009. A restricted free agent, the Jets will probably demand a second round pick for his services. With an early second pick, it is unlikely the Redskins will give that up.
Washington would bring speed and explosiveness to a team lacking such.
Kevin Walter, age 28/Houston – The perfect addition to this offense. Walter is a tall receiver who finds a way to get open. He played for offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, in Houston so he knows the system.
This would allow the team to possibly consider unloading Antwaan Randle El’s contract. Randle El will receive a $6 million bonus in 2010 and another $5 million over the next five years. The Redskins have to decide if they are willing to eat that $11 million in bonus money this season, or live with the contract until 2015.
# Stephon Heyer, age 26 – Although he was not spectacular, Heyer showed toughness playing through a knee injury in 2009. He is the best young tackle available that is not restricted.
Heyer is agile and athletic enough to prosper in the Shanahan system. Re-sign him and bring in another young tackle to challenge him via the draft or as a free agent after the draft has been completed.
*Eugene Amano, age 27/Tennessee – A perfect piece to help rebuild a defunct offensive line.
Amano was part of a line that helped lead the way for Chris Johnson to rush for 2,000 yards. As a two year starter he has yet to peak and would be a good fit at RG or C— his natural position. Center Casey Rabach is 33 and will enter the last year of his contract.
The Redskins could sign Amano to play RG in 2010 and move him to center in 2011.
This is a must sign!
# Rocky McIntosh, age 28 – McIntosh had a career high of 96 tackles and two interceptions in 2009. Steadily improving and ready to peak, the Redskins would be wise to re-sign McIntosh.
Sure, there are better solutions out there at weak side LB, but as restricted FA, it would cost the Redskins way too much.
*Leigh Bodden, age 28/New England – Bodden grew up in Washington so the Redskins may not have to overpay to obtain his services.
Bodden had a very good season for the Patriots with five interceptions. The Redskins could allow Carlos Rogers to leave and pick up two draft picks in return.
Rogers looked disinterested playing for Washington last season. He was benched at one point and seemed to accept it. Bodden might not be the long term fit, but the Redskins need to help at DB.
*Ryan Clark, age 30/Pittsburgh – A great tackler and even better locker room guy.
Clark, who once played for the Redskins, appears to be getting better with age. He has had two straight seasons with over 80 tackles and he intimidates receivers with his vicious hits.
The Redskins can put Clark at FS and move LaRon Landry to SS.
*Shayne Graham, age 32/Cincinnati – As the Redskins rebuild, they will be involved in a number of close games. Although they have a Graham (Gano) on the roster as a kicker, the Redskins would be better served with a veteran like Shayne Graham.
Graham has converted 85 percent of his field goal attempts during his nine-year career and has a range that expands beyond 50 yards.
Keep Gano to handle kick-off duties or on the practice squad and let the veteran win you football games.
Now, this is just the start of what will be a two year process in rebuilding the Redskins by Allen and Shanahan. A few more pieces will be added in the draft and the rest will take place in 2011—assuming they play football and there is no lockout.
With a few additions this season, the Redskins can get back to .500 football in 2010.
Shanahan will be a difference maker in game management and play calling alone. He will have a 3-4 game impact on the team.
In the "what if' game, if Shanahan was on board in 2009, the Redskins would have finished 7-9 or possibly 8-8.
They don’t lose eight point fourth quarter leads to Carolina or Philadelphia. They don’t lose to the Chiefs at home and at Detroit, and possibly find a way to hold on to a 6-0 lead in Dallas with minutes remaining.