Free agency is almost here and Redskins fans feverishly prepare their wish lists. Will players that we want be willing to want us?
1. In the old days, it wasn't uncommon to have a team part ways with a player at some point in the offseason with an understanding between the player and the team that the player would sign back with the team. Franchises would do this if they had a great relationship with the player and when there was a great deal of trust between the organization and the player involved. It was a risk, of course. Any other team could swoop in and sign the guy away. I seem to recall this arrangement being struck between the Redskins and at least a small handful of players from the Joe Gibbs years (first tenure). In an era where the money was not quite where it is now, the promise of a job and a spot on the field was about all it took to cement the agreement. I am certain other teams have done this and still do, to some degree.
2. I bring this up because as teams begin the arduous process of getting below the cap (more arduous for some), I notice there are players hitting the street right now that you have to believe are wanted back by the organizations that dropped them. For example, I assume that the Giants want Ahmad Bradshaw back, but they were not going to keep him at his current compensation level. I even think a guy like Dunta Robinson for the Falcons would be a player that the team would like to bring back at some lower level of pay...ditto for John Abraham. You hear guys like this sometimes say they are "open" to returning to the team. That is 2013-speak for, "It would be nice if I can get a better deal somewhere else, but I would come back for a paycheck."
3. All of this colors my vision this time of year. As the pool of players grows during the lead-up to the start of free agency, my wish list is about as long as a five-year old's with a pad of paper out during Saturday morning cartoons (you could fill an entire page with just toys advertised during two 30-minute cartoons these days). At least some of the players on that list are available...but not really available. Their former teams are likely the front-runners to sign them.
4. As Redskins fans, we have had to apply different variables to our expectation calculations over the years regarding free agency. For example, under Vinny Cerrato, I always assumed that 20% of the best players had no interest in coming to DC because of the circus that was permanently set up in Ashburn. Then there was my 10% "Champ Bailey Adjuster" which was what I used to reflect the reluctance of elite players with full gas tanks to subject themselves to the revolving door of coaches and coaching systems. Finally, using what I affectionately referred to as "The Wuerffel Coefficient," I deduced that as much as another 20% of the pool of available free agents were incredibly unwilling to come and suit up with the some of the guys we had decided were good enough to be starters in this league.
5. This all means that the Washington Redskins--by my very rough math--had realistic chances with maybe half of the field, and that half did not even include the best talent. Looping back to my point above, some guys would be and have been willing to re-sign with their former team for less money than come to Washington. That left our organization choosing between less than ideally talented players and guys who only were in it to grab a nice signing bonus before phoning it in on a weekly basis. We have seen firsthand what a team looks like year after year when these are the guys you consistently bring in. Even when you have quality core players (Chris Samuel), there is only so far you can go with a supporting cast consisting of guys like Albert Haynesworth.
6. As we gird our loins for yet another dip into the free agency pool, these thoughts swirl in my head. Clearly the game has changed under Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan. Clearly the core of this team has been upgraded by virtue of the renewed emphasis on the draft and on bringing in players like Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Chris Chester via free agency (to name but a few). This isn't to say that these guys are All-Pro caliber players, but they do their job, stay out of trouble and allow the team to focus resources on other positions in the short-term. Clearly the presence of Robert Griffin III will water down any lingering effects of "The Wuerffel Coefficient," as we know that players in the league like playing with and for a guy like RG3. Finally, thanks to an offensive scheme that has proven successful, as well as an obstinate approach to our defensive stylings, there has been some real stability on the sidelines and in games that simply must make this current regime a thousand times more attractive to players who value knowing what they will be doing on a year-to-year basis (crazy, I know). This all leads me to be much more optimistic this spring. I know the salary cap situation will continue to be a real ball-buster, but this team is going to find a way to create space to sign a player or two that will come in and have an impact right away. Thanks to things mentioned in this paragraph, I believe we have a higher chance of landing the kind of player we did not have a shot at over the last decade. We are still slightly removed from getting the kind of player that is just looking to hitch his wagon to a Super Bowl favorite, but we are close. We are the perfect destination for a younger player looking to have an opportunity to be in the playoff mix on an annual basis. My bold prediction today is: I predict we will sign at least one player that will make people scratch their heads. This player will have had a chance to go somewhere like New England, or Denver, but will choose Washington because of the coach, the scheme and RG3. If and when this happens, watch out. It will mark the exact moment when this team officially packed its things and moved out of the league basement for good.