1. I love snow storms. I really do. You want to keep snowing all the way into spring? Be my guest. When it snows on St. Patrick's Day, it is even more special, because it reminds me of harsh weather tailgates. On St. Patrick's Day, those of us who choose to honor the tradition of St. Patrick dutifully make our way to bars and taverns to toast...Irish stuff. (I didn't say this was going to be a history lesson.) Just like on those days when the parking lot at FedEx is getting pounded by Mother Nature, the people who are braving the elements this morning to make it to their preferred St. Patrick's Day destinations are the people you want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with--these people are there because they want to be there, because they need to be there. (We can talk later about the need to risk life and limb to make it to such destinations...prior to 10 AM.)
2. Lots of chatter in Redskins Nation about the job this front office has done so far this offseason. Given our many team needs, there is plenty of ground to cover with the guys the team has signed, but I love how the conversation has generally been more about Bruce Allen than it has been about the players he has signed. I say that is 100% fair.
3. Losing $18 million of salary cap space in each of the past two seasons has hurt us in multiple ways. Of course we lost the ability to bring in at least one young, big-name impact player at a position of need in each of the last two offseasons. More importantly, the ability to invest in and maintain quality depth went out the window. This, in particular, led to one of the worst special teams performances in a season in...uhhhh...a very, very long time. As we plod through this offseason and I contemplate the grade I would give to this front office for the job they have done so far (and I know it is only "so far" because there is a lot of time to go), it is important to consider this issue of creating quality roster depth. It is more than about bringing in warm bodies--that is what you do when you are sucking down $18 million penalties. With a full wallet, we have the opportunity to add a handful of middle-tier players that help form the meat of this team. In addition to improving our abilities on special teams, a few of these backup guys will be leaned on at some point when injuries inevitably strike. This is why I like a guy like Darryl Sharpton. When Brian Cushing went down for the Texans, all Sharpton did was jump in and get 115 tackles and an interception. Whether he is coming off the bench for us or not (you have to believe he is coming here to start), I like having a guy who understands the mindset of a backup and succeeded at the job. What I mean by that is this--some guys sit on the bench and mope, and some guys don't. When it is "next man up" time, the second-stringer who has kept his head up and in the game is going to do the best job. The other guy is going to struggle. Sharpton proved he was up to the task of filling in for one of the best linebackers in the league. Whatever his job is for the Redskins, I want that player on my team.
4. As for the guys we have signed that we will need to start right away (again, probably includes Sharpton), some people will choose to be rather unimpressed. My thought here is that this is not a one-offseason task. As much as I hate saying and writing it--again--the fact is that our roster is more than an offseason away from being considered among the top teams in the league. We can patch some holes and add some players that will hopefully allow us to be far more competitive in 2014, but it doesn't seem like we can make the jump to "elite" just quite yet. The good news is that if Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden add the right mix of free agent veterans and mid-round draft picks this offseason, we could find ourselves in a position next offseason to add a few "final pieces." I know that just by writing this, I worsened the chances for it happening. I know that we are not far removed from winning the division. I know that we have some very awesome pieces in place already that have progressed nicely. When you change head coaches though, you automatically lose the benefit of some of that momentum. (There are examples of new head coaches that came in and won with the previous regime's players, but I am not betting much that we have that kind of setup.)
5. I am not saying that if we had kept Mike Shanahan as the head coach, we would be that much closer to building an elite roster. Can you imagine that universe? I can just hear the press conference now, with Shanny looking into the camera and saying, "We think this offensive line can get back to the way they played in 2012. We don't believe we have to invest heavily in any free agent to drastically improve our team. We just need to keep moving forward and keep believing in the system. That said, we are bringing in seven new wide receivers and five new running backs." I am sure plenty of you remember me suggesting we should keep Mike Shanahan as the season turned against us (I changed my tune before the point of no return). The main reason why I changed my tune was because of this free agency period. If we believe that we need two great offseasons to set this club up for a nice window, than we needed to start with a fresh perspective. Regime change brought us this, and with a new coach in place, there is also the comfort of knowing that everything we are doing now is probably going to get three or four years to work out. You don't want your "fresh start" threatened by the prospect of firing a potential Hall of Fame head coach at some point.
6. Jay Gruden is in the first year of his tenure in Washington. Thanks to Dan Snyder's tendency to chew through coaches over the years, we have had the opportunity to see quite a few guys take these first swings. What I have commented on the most through these regime changes is how quickly the new guy can adapt his roster to his style of play. That has been a bigger issue in the past than it is now, but there is still some of that going on today. It was far more dramatic when Joe Gibbs inherited Steve Spurrier's roster. Gibbs preferred a power running game and it took him a couple of years to really install the players to fit his style. When Jim Zorn arrived, he inherited Gibbs' roster and he set about trying to turn it into a bit of a more high-powered finesse group. It did not go that well if I remember correctly. The truth is that Mike Shanahan probably did the best job in the last decade of taking the roster he inherited and turning it into one that could do the things he wanted to do. The end result wasn't one we would have preferred, but he did move quickly to churn the roster. I suppose Jay Gruden will enjoy some of the benefit of Shanahan's efforts. After all, the Redskins have a top tier left tackle, quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end all cemented in the starting offensive lineup. The holes on defense and special teams will take time to adequately fill, but that is less roster churn than roster building. (Churning would indicate that we already have guys but they don't work, while the truth is that we simply don't have guys.) What we are seeing right now is a fairly admirable effort to build the foundation of both a team and a regime. The 2014 Washington Redskins might not win any beauty contests, but they can and likely will win games that the 2013 team could not, thanks to the presence of competent guys at the #2 and #3 spots on the roster. Of course the draft looms large and will ideally land us one or two guys who will start sooner rather than later if we are lucky. Even so, it will likely be the next offseason that sees us add what we would all agree are those last complementary pieces that turn a team from good to great.
Enjoy yourselves today.