1. 'Tis the season for shattered dreams and violently abrupt wake-up calls for the scores of players that will have their visions of playing professional football dashed as cuts are announced around the league. I can't help but notice the stark difference around the Washington Redskins this year versus recent years. In addition to cutting guys that no other team would ever touch, we also seemed to hold onto players that likely had little appeal around the NFL. Today, the Redskins are probably being watched very closely by other teams waiting to see if Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen will release a player that can help them. (If not today, surely once the rosters shrink again in a week.) You have heard/read Kevin and I talking over the years about grading the quality of our roster based partly on the desirability of those left off of it. My guess is that you will see a few guys leave Redskins Park in the next week and get signed quickly by other teams. Since I hate to constantly make sweeping statements, I will go ahead and put a few chips on the table: Keiland Williams, Dezmon Briscoe and Donte Stallworth would be three guys that could land somewhere else if they are not kept in town. I am not a huge Williams fan, but he has a solid pedigree and he has played in the league for a few years, which gives him an advantage when it comes to joining a team late. Briscoe is just 23 years old with some pretty decent upside, and Stallworth is an older veteran that could assimilate onto a new team. Stallworth was cut today, so that will be put to the test quickly.
2. Speaking of teams that know full well they will have to drop a player or two that won't remain unemployed for long, the Baltimore Ravens have a guy I am praying gets dropped. DeAngelo Tyson is a second-year defensive lineman that would fit right into the DE role in Jim Haslett's defense. Since Ozzie Newsome doesn't really consult me on his decisions, I have no way of knowing how unlikely it is that Tyson will get cut. But keep that name in your files. Here's hoping that Baltimore has no room for the University of Georgia product, and he just slides down I-95 for a new job.
3. The injury to Richard Crawford hurts...probably hurts Richard the most, but I was also very hurt by it. I thought I had seen some flashes not just of a player looking to step up his contributions on the field, but also of a player capable of providing meaningful contributions in the locker room. There are usually plenty of athletic, agile players on the roster capable of hauling in punts, but when you have the guy you want in place at the end of August, it is no fun to start over. The loss of a developing cornerback and shifty punt returner is a very tough blow to any team. I think the Redskins are situated to handle it, but it would be hard to understate what this injury means.
4. So the Redskins fancy themselves "Super Bowl-or-bust?" Setting aside the "every team has a chance in August" mindset that we clung to with a death-grip in recent years, let's just identify those teams that deserve to be called Super Bowl contenders right now--the real McCoys. First, in the AFC, you have New England, Baltimore and Denver leading the way. I think you can include both Houston and even Cincinnati this year as legitimate top contenders. Indianapolis is close, but are you ready to put them on the same level as the Patriots and the Broncos just quite yet? We might need to see more of what they can do on defense before we go that far. (It feels weird putting Cincy in here, but you can't sleep on this roster. It is kind of silly.)
5. In the NFC (excluding the Redskins for the moment), you have Green Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle as the top dogs, with a team like New Orleans likely making this cut on the strength of Drew Brees and that offense. There are teams that you would not be extremely shocked to see make some noise in the NFC...teams like Carolina or the Giants. At this point in time though, I wouldn't put the same money on them as I would on teams like the Packers and 49ers. That makes ten teams in the club so far: New England, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Cincinnati, Green Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle and New Orleans. These teams are the ones that have the best chance of backing up "Super Bowl-or-bust" claims.
6. Do the Redskins fit into this discussion? I believe they do. Even if you discount our NFC East championship last season and call the division very much up for grabs in 2013, you can't help but grade the Washington offense highly and bet on the defense to be improved. Our offense alone has enough punch to power a legit Super Bowl contender, and put us in this club. If our defense is able to continue generating takeaways, while improving against the pass, you have to believe the team as a whole is in position to make a run that begins in September as opposed to November. If that is true, then the Washington Redskins stand above the rest of the NFC East as the one team that you could put into the legit Super Bowl contender conversation right now. Whether or not it is responsible for anyone around here to beat the Super Bowl drum after the last 20 years of shenanigans is a different topic. Sure there are question marks on the defensive side of the ball for us, but I think you would be hard-pressed to look at what this franchise has done since Shanahan has arrived and not see a drastically changed atmosphere and environment. Simply put, the Redskins have earned the right to be considered in the "for real" category. Too bad that doesn't mean squat in determining who hoists the hardware in January.