As we leave the preseason behind, and look towards the beginning of the 2013 regular season, I’d like to take a look back at the tenure of head coach Mike Shanahan in Washington. Not since the return of Joe Gibbs has a coach‘s arrival in D.C. been so heralded. Few active coaches in the NFL today boast the credentials of Mike Shanahan.
Before arriving in Washington, he compiled a respectable 146-98 regular season record, and an 8-5 post-season record. His ’97 and ’98 Denver Bronco teams went a combined 26-6 in the regular season, and clinched back-to-back Super Bowl wins with John Elway behind center. Afterwards, he would continue to field competitive teams, but all those teams either failed to make the playoffs, or came up short in the postseason prior to the big dance.
After 3 consecutive seasons in which his team failed to make the playoffs, Shanahan was fired on December 30, 2008. He would end up taking a break from coaching for the 2009 season, but as we know, it was not the end of his coaching career.
On January 5th, 2010, Mike Shanahan was named the head coach of the Washington Redskins, with a contract worth $35 million over 5 years. He was given final decision on all personnel decisions, ushering in an era where Dan Snyder stayed out of football operations, and the inmates were no longer running the asylum.
Along with the head coaching position, there were sweeping changes throughout the Washington Redskins organization. Kyle Shanahan, Mike’s son, was plucked from the Houston Texans, and Jim Haslett was brought in as defensive coordinator to replace Greg Blache. Haslett’s first job in Washington was to covert the defensive scheme to a 3-4 alignment, moving away from the 4-3 alignment that had been used for so long. With that change, a number of defensive players found themselves in uncomfortable waters, none more infamous than Albert Haynesworth. This was the start of the rift between Albert and Mike, a rift that would eventually see Haynesworth publicly shamed (via a conditioning test) and suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
It was April 4th, 2010, when Shanahan would complete one of the most regrettable trades in Redskins history. Washington agreed to trade its 2nd round pick that year and 4th round pick the following season, in exchange for Donovan McNabb, the veteran quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. Along with this decision, came the move to trade Jason Campbell to the Oakland Raiders for a 2012 4th round pick.
They also picked up Jamaal Brown on June 19th for a 3rd or 4th round pick in the 2011 draft. Brown would go on to have a litany of hip issues, and would spend most of his time in Washington on the PUP list.
The Redskins were without their 2nd and 4th round picks, but still managed to pick up a few valuable pieces in the 2010 draft.
Round 1 Pick 4 – Trent Williams - OT
Round 4 Pick 104 – Perry Riley – LB
Round 6 Pick 174 – Dennis Morris – TE
Round 7 Pick 219 – Terrence Austin – WR
Round 7 Pick 229 – Erik Cook – C
Round 7 Pick 231 – Selvish Capers – OT
Brandon Banks – WR
Logan Paulsen – TE
Keiland Williams - RB
While some of these names are out of the league, Shanahan struck gold with Trent Williams and Perry Riley. Logan Paulsen has also emerged as a valuable member of the Redskins offense. That’s not a bad haul considering the dearth of higher draft picks.
Redskin nation was eager to see if McNabb still had some gas left in the tank, but by December, the decision was made by the coaching staff that he did not. After having his cardiovascular endurance questioned, and Wristband-Gate, McNabb was benched and Rex Grossman finished the season as the starting QB. The club would go 6-10 for the season, and they would enter the offseason with more questions swirling around the QB position.
The 2011 season saw a lot of house cleaning as well, as Shanahan continued to turn over a roster that was old and over-paid. Among the players shipped out were Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb, Derrick Dockery, Andre Carter, and Carlos Rogers. It was clear that Shanahan wanted to make this roster cheaper and younger.
Entering the 2011 draft, much speculation surrounded the Redskins’ 10th overall pick, and whether or not they would use it to get the next franchise QB. Shanahan decided to forgo the QB position (and skip drafting Blaine Gabbert, whew), electing instead to trade back multiple times in an effort to stockpile picks. Among those selections was Pro Bowl LB Ryan Kerrigan, who has become a formidable member of the Redskins linebacker group. Here is the full draft class:
Round 1 Pick 16 – Ryan Kerrigan – OLB
Round 2 Pick 41 – Jarvis Jenkins – DT
Round 3 Pick 79 – Leonard Hankerson – WR
Round 4 Pick 105 – Roy Helu Jr. – RB
Round 5 Pick 146 – Dejon Gomes – S
Round 5 Pick 155 – Niles Paul – WR (TE)
Round 6 Pick 177 – Evan Royster – RB
Round 6 Pick 178 – Aldrick Robinson – WR
Round 7 Pick 213 – Brandyn Thompson – CB
Round 7 Pick 217 – Maurice Hurt – OT
Round 7 Pick 224 – Markus White – DE
Round 7 Pick 253 – Chris Neild – DT
With the exception of Gomes, everyone chosen in the top 6 rounds is still with the team. This is either a testament to good drafting or the desire of head coaches to validate their draft selections. The Redskins became a lot younger with this draft class, and plugged some key players into crucial positions. But the most notable position on the football field, quarterback, remained unaddressed. The Redskins decided to enter the season with Rex Grossman and John Beck, having acquired Beck from the Ravens in a trade for Doug Dutch.
The team would struggle behind that tepid tandem, and finish the season at 5-11, marking the worst single season record Shanahan ever had. Despite their poor record, the season provided valuable experience for the new platoon of rookies. At this point, Shanahan had gone a combined 11-21 in his first two seasons. It was glaringly obvious what piece was missing from the Washington Redskins to make them a contender: a franchise signal caller. Retreads and long shots were not going to cut it any longer.
It was March 9th, 2012 when the Redskins announced a landmark trade with the St. Louis Rams. The teams swapped 2012 first round picks, and Washington gave up their 2nd round selection that year as well. Washington also gave St. Louis their 2013 and 2014 first round picks. The price was steep, but it was one Shanahan was willing to pay.
Washington was in for a nasty surprise on March 12th, the eve of free agency. The league announced it was imposing salary cap penalties on Washington and Dallas for contract maneuvering "against the spirit of the cap" in the uncapped 2010 season. Washington was penalized 36 million dollars for front loading the contracts of Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall, while Dallas was penalized 10 million for Miles Austin’s contract. The two clubs filed a grievance but it was dismissed by an arbitrator. The Redskins were able to spread the penalty over 2 years, but this still put a damper on free agency.
The penalties did not stop Shanahan from going out and grabbing two physical WR’s in Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Otherwise, free agency was relatively quiet, except for another string of releases. Among those who were handed walking papers were LaRon Landry, Mike Sellers, O.J. Atogwe, Jabar Gaffney, and Chris Cooley. With the cap penalty, Washington was limited in what they could do through free agency. But everyone knew the biggest impact would come from the draft.
With the 2nd overall selection in the 2012 draft, Washington selected Robert Griffin III, to the elation of (most) Redskins fans. Washington had its new face of the franchise, but that wasn’t all the draft had to offer. Here is the full draft class:
Round 1 Pick 2 – Robert Griffin III – QB
Round 3 Pick 71 – Josh LeRibeus – G
Round 4 Pick 102 – Kirk Cousins – QB
Round 4 Pick 119 – Keenan Robinson – LB
Round 5 Pick 141 – Adam Gettis – G
Round 6 Pick 173 – Alfred Morris – RB
Round 6 Pick 193 – Tom Compton – OT
Round 7 Pick 213 – Richard Crawford – CB
Round 7 Pick 217 – Jordan Bernstine – CB
Not only did Washington land its quarterbacking face of the future, they added a number of critical pieces to the team. Kirk Cousins, a pick widely criticized around the country at the time, has emerged as one of the most talented backups in the league. And Alfred Morris, the unheralded RB out of Florida Atlantic, steam rolled his way to a franchise single season rushing record with 1613 yards. The jury is still out for the rest of the group to one degree or another.
After paying so much for the rights to draft Griffin, expectations were high. Questions arose regarding whether or not Shanahan would shape his system to fit his quarterback (mostly from jaded ex-QB Donovan McNabb) It turns out Shanahan did just that, implementing a hybridized read option offense that excelled at running the ball and selling play action.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the season. After shocking the Saints in their home stadium for the season opener, Washington ended up at 3-6 following a loss to the Panthers at home. It was then that Mike Shanahan would come under intense scrutiny for this quote:
"You lose a game like that, now you're playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come. I'll get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at."
After seemingly giving up on the 2012 season, Shanahan’s words appeared to galvanize the team. Washington would go on to win its last 7 straight games, including a convincing win over the Dallas Cowboys in week 17. Alfred Morris piled up 200 yards rushing in that effort and accounted for 3 TD’s. That victory helped Washington win its first division championship since 1999, and earned the Redskins a spot in the playoffs.
Griffin had been dinged up quite a bit in the regular season, having been knocked out of the Falcons and Ravens games. He also missed the Cleveland game that followed the Ravens. All of the abuse Robert took finally culminated on January 6th, 2013. On an errant snap from Will Montgomery, Robert went to the turf awkwardly, tearing his LCL and damaging his ACL as well. Cousins tried to rally the team, but he couldn’t save the day this time.
The media circus that followed that game still continues today. Accusations flew, condemning Robert, Shanahan, and the medical staff to varying degrees. Whoever you want to blame for the situation, the results were the same. Washington’s shiny new QB was broken, and on January 9th, Robert began his journey back with reconstructive knee surgery. Shanahan would endure some of the strongest scrutiny he has received since becoming coach of the Redskins.
Entering the offseason, all eyes were on Griffin and his recovery process. The success of the 2013 season hinges greatly on his ability to return to form after his second major knee surgery. Meanwhile, Shanahan had the unenviable task of navigating free agency for the second straight year with an 18 million dollar cap penalty hanging over his head.
The first priority of Shanahan was to take care of the incumbent veterans that helped Washington earn the division title just a few months prior. Out of 22 starters, 21 returned, with the only significant loss in general being special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander. Otherwise, a few new acquisitions quietly took place, including Darryl Tapp, E.J. Biggers, and Bryan Kehl, who all made the final 53 man roster. Being cash-strapped for the second straight season, Shanahan once again turned to the draft for an infusion of cheap young players.
Most of his focus was on improving the overall quality and depth in the secondary. Without a first round pick, it was imperative that Shanahan hit on his other higher picks. Here is the full draft class:
Round 2 Pick 51 – David Amerson – CB
Round 3 Pick 85 – Jordan Reed – TE
Round 4 Pick 119 – Phillip Thomas – S
Round 5 Pick 154 – Chris Thompson – RB
Round 5 Pick 162 – Brandon Jenkins – LB
Round 6 Pick 191 – Bacarri Rambo – S
Round 7 Pick 228 – Jawan Jamison – RB
It’s obviously too soon to grade this draft class, but already we’re seeing signs of some of these players contributing this season. Rambo figures to be starting alongside Meriweather. Amerson has already flashed his ability to pick off passes. And Chris Thompson appears poised to make an impact as a punt/kick returner. Thomas is lost for this season, but looks to figure into the picture next year. Even Brandon Jenkins has impressed, prompting Haslett to put some defensive packages together to utilize additional LB’s. Anticipation is high for this draft class.
Assigning a Grade
Wow, that escalated quickly. I tried to keep my synopsis brief, but I wanted to include all of the information that I thought was important in assigning a grade to Mike Shanahan. When I think about giving him a grade, I consider drafting, free agency moves, and the handling of his players.
As far as drafting goes, Mike has completely reshaped the roster since arriving. You can count the players on one hand who were here before Shanahan arrived. He seems to have hit on quite a few of his picks, even some of the late rounders (most notably Alfred Morris). He paid a king’s ransom for Griffin, but so far that looks like a great deal. My only complaint here is that he continued to ship out draft picks for free agents early on, even after Cerrato left the coffers bare.
My Grade: B
Free agency has been a mixed bag, with more successes coming in the latter seasons. He’s had a number of free agency fails, none bigger than Donovan McNabb. It wasn’t until the salary cap penalties dropped that Mike started making lower key moves. He made some great moves in the division, grabbing players like Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, and Sav Rocca. One of the most recent damning moves (or non-moves) was not bringing in legitimate competition for Tyler Polumbus at RT. I have another knock here, but it goes more to player handling than free agency (which I will address below).
My Grade: B
Player handling was sketchy for Mike, at least the first year. The way he handled Haynesworth and McNabb devalued them considerably to the point that we had to beg another team to take them. If you plan to part ways with a player, you don’t drag them through the mud beforehand. He deserves credit for molding his offense to fit Griffin, but I’m dinging him for letting Robert go back on to the field against Seattle, when everyone in the world could see Robert had no business out there. I also give him credit for sticking behind his players in this cash-strapped offseason and taking care of them.
My Grade: C
Overall, I give Mike a B. This franchise was a laughing stock when he arrived. A losing culture was wiped out and replaced with one that rewards hard work and competition. Washington is no longer just a place for players to come pick up a paycheck. The team has more depth now than at any point since I started following them. We sit atop our division right now, and the future continues to look bright. But what about you? How do you rate Mike Shanahan up to this point as the head coach of the Redskins? Cast your vote, and please discuss why you voted the way you did in the comments section.
Thanks for reading, and HTTR.