Psst… wanna know a secret? Whether or not you’re aware, and whether or not you’re willing to admit it, the Washington Redskins are in rebuilding mode. Not only are they in rebuilding mode, they’re a team that doesn’t know they’re in rebuilding mode.
For the last decade or so, since right around the time “you know who” took over, this team has had a “win now” mentality, and understandably so. The owner, a lifelong fan of the Redskins, has always had a cutthroat businessman-like, you want something go get it, attitude. And his successes in the business world speak to the effectiveness of this mindset. He wants to win. Plain and simple. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Unfortunately, it takes more than money and sheer will to build a football team. It takes knowledge of the sport, talent assessment, planning, patience, and perhaps a bit of luck. In years past, Redskins management has overvalued themselves in the first two areas.
Vinny Cerrato, who had some success in San Francisco with the 49ers scouting department, was given full control here in D.C. to evaluate talent, sign free agents, make trades, and to decide on many other football-related matters with very little oversight. In fact, the only oversight that existed came from a passionate football fan with a lot of money and an attraction to flashy, sometimes overrated, overvalued, and over-the-hill players.
We all know what happened. 11 years later, here we are, exactly where we were. The Redskins are a team that’s got a couple of nice players, a few players with oversized contracts, a bunch of average players, and little to no depth. The list of mistakes is far, far too long to list completely. Whether it’s “winning” free agency year after year by overpaying older players, or hiring and firing coaches like an online dating service, or completely undervaluing the draft and handing picks out like candy.
The biggest mistake, however, one that is so critical, yet so easy to make, one that encompasses all other mistakes and wraps them up into one simple idea, is believing that you’re “ready to win now” when you’re far from it. This alone is the reason why the Redskins have been the laughingstock of the NFL for over a decade.
What does it mean to be “ready to win now?” The Patriots are ready to win now. So are the Steelers, the Ravens, the Colts, the Falcons, and a handful of other teams. The reason they’re ready to win now is because they’ve been patient. They gathered as many draft picks as possible and chose wisely, both in the draft and in free agency, and they built a football team. This process can be achieved in three years or ten years.
That’s where that little bit of luck I talked about earlier comes into play. Not every decision will work out. Not every promising player will deliver, either because of misjudgment or injury. The road can be a long one, and it can be tough. There might be a few 3-13 or 4-12 seasons, but there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
Look at the Atlanta Falcons. They had a pretty rough patch a few years ago. The Michael Vick saga aside, they took their lumps and had to build from the ground up. Now look at them: they’ve got a franchise QB, leaders on both sides of the ball, and a wealth of young, promising players. They may not win the Super Bowl this year, but are a good team and were built the right way.
All is not lost for this Redskins team, however. We have a chance to right the ship and get back on course. I know this year didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope. Bringing in Donovan McNabb was a huge mistake that reeked of that dangerous idea we talked about: thinking you’re ready to win when you’re absolutely not.
Luckily, it seems Mike Shanahan and company realized that halfway through the season. I think he saw his team in action and decided that they were a lot further away than originally thought. This team has too many holes, and the addition of a future Hall of Fame quarterback probably did more harm than good.
Some believe that the owner took a step back this year, that he now understands that football people should make the football decisions. Has he? I don’t know. At times it appeared that way, but other times I got the same sad feeling of “here we go again.” What temporary band-aid is going to be used to “fix” this train wreck this time?
The rebuilding process can start right now, if they let it. “They” being the owner, Shanahan, Bruce Allen, the scouting department, and us, the fans. We all have to buy in. We have to first admit there’s a problem and then decide to fix it in the most responsible manner. Once we admit that we’re rebuilding and not “ready to win now,” the road to recovery can finally start.
Let’s all say it together: The Washington Redskins are in rebuilding mode.