Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE
In years past, the Redskins were content to let their own middle tier talent depart to make room for arriving free agents. Thanks to a lack of salary cap space, the team is hanging on to its own players with bargain deals.
1. I can remember Redskins teams in the recent past that placed little to no value on their own middle tier players. The emphasis was always on the shiny toys available in free agency. Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder preferred to hire employees to man the front lines from the outside, eschewing men that had been drafted by the team and developed over the summer(s) and on the practice squad. This manufactured some excitement in and around town, but also bred a palpable feeling of discontent on the roster. Perhaps it was true that we did not have the kind of players waiting in the wings that teams are generally inspired by at each position of need. One thing is for sure though: that way of going about roster-building seemed to result in there being a large amount of "positions of need" each and every season. Players that fought their butts off at the bottom of the depth chart had little hope of ascending to top spots in a regime that seemed to always place more value on other people's players. (How ridiculous is that--a general manager that was generally more willing to pay for guys other general managers had drafted? Insanity.)
2. There will be no rush to the Redskins team store to pick up Kory Lichtensteiger jerseys today. There is no Nike rep frantically ensuring that there is enough Nick Sundberg or Darrel Young memorabilia to go around after their deals. Yet, few moves are as important to good teams as the signing of their own middle tier free agents. These players are the ones that you absolutely, positively have to have if you want to even sniff playoff contention. They are guys that have spent time in the system, the locker room and the field. In the salary cap era, they are the players you count on to perform at or above their compensation level, which is typically far less than what your highest-paid guys are pulling down.
3. It would be irresponsible to fail to point out that the Redskins are low on options because of their salary cap situation. Due to the penalty imposed on them by the NFL, the team is essentially forced to bargain shop for players. Luckily for the team, it has thrift store-type talent in stock. Luckily for the fans, the team is taking care of some guys who have exceeded expectations at the bottom and middle of the roster. Sure, they have little choice, but that didn't stop previous members of this organization from doing the wrong thing. This is important growth for a front office that will not necessarily come out of this two-year salary cap penalty with boatloads of space next year. It's not like Bruce Allen can look forward to spending at will next offseason. He will have to continue to weigh the value of spending freed up cap room on his own guys versus bringing in big names. If players like Kory Lichtensteiger and Rob Jackson are able to repeat their 2012 performances in 2013, Shanahan and Allen will have some very positive reinforcement to lean on when it comes time to make those decisions next March.
4. Thanks to a renewed emphasis not just on the draft itself, but also on the kind of players getting drafted, the Redskins do have young players coming up through their system that they can turn to if and when they either lose one of their own high-profile players or fail to successfully sign top free agents. We have seen Bruce Allen target specific kinds of guys in the draft. Players that spent considerable time as starters (multiple years) and served as team captains for their respective college teams have been plucked from the middle and late rounds of recent drafts and are serving to strengthen both the locker room as well as the sideline. See Richard Crawford. See Niles Paul. See Alfred Morris.
5. It remains to be seen what the Redskins will be able to pull off once free agency officially begins tomorrow. I still do believe they will be successful in their courting of a veteran player that buys in to what Allen and Shanahan are selling. By retaining the services of valuable players on its own roster though, the Redskins have done more than just shore up the middle class of its depth chart. By rewarding players who are real in-the-trenches guys, they are signaling to the whole crop of second- and third-year players on our team that Washington will promote from within. What was once a seemingly futile fight for relevance and opportunity for the 51st, 52nd and 53rd guys on the roster (to name but a few) is now a realistic chance. By changing that mindset at the franchise level, you gain more from those kinds of players and propel your team in the direction of success.
6. Well, I did it. I joined Twitter. I have been getting emails from many of you over the last couple years to suck it up and join. I had to see what all the fuss is about. I will use it initially to push my columns and random thoughts, and will try and figure out how to actually engage with people on it as I go. If you wish to follow me, my Twitter handle is @ItsRainingKen. Hallelujah! The campaign for 1 million followers begins today.