Update [2006-12-19 16:4:8 by Skin Patrol]: Ben's take adds much to the discussion. Check it out.
Dan Steinberg's DC Sports Bog alerted me to an Examiner story the guist of which has been getting enormous traction among Redskins fans. The Examiner piece says it is time to trade Clinton Portis. I'm going to address the article first and then will explain why this trade ain't happenin'.
But that Clinton Portis is the better back and that it will cost us a fortune to cut him is precisely why we should keep him. 8 (or 10!) million is no paltry amount especially facing salary cap woes given our recent bungling of the Adam Archuleta situation, documented here and here. And until we get the 2007 payday players (of which CP is one) restructured, we won't have any idea whether an 8 million dollar hit is even feasible.
We'll be able to negotiate with CP in a few years, but I doubt that any team wants to pick up his contract right now. His salary grows by over a million every year from here on out; nearly +3 mil next year, +1.5 mil the following year, +1.5 the next, +1 mil the next, and finally +1.1 (for 8.7 million total, which I doubt Portis will see).
His value to this franchise, as he knows the offense and has worked with our Head Coach now for three years, is higher than his value to any other franchise. And, frankly, the amount on his contract is likely more than other franchises would grant his worth particularly given two season shortening injuries in 2006.
One advantage that Betts has enjoyed this season that CP did not enjoy this year was a committment to a zone blocking scheme (partially similar to the one CP ran behind in Denver so effectively in 2002-2003). Fans have short memories and all we know is that Betts has piled on four straight 100 yard rushing games and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry in December. I'm not trying to take anything away from that. It's an impressive accomplishment and I'm thrilled to see Ladell Betts have so much success behind this line. But I am not ready to claim that only Betts can have success behind this line. We should remember that in 2005, CP also racked up a nice five straight 100 yard rushing performances on our way to the postseason.
Is Betts a better "fit" for this offense? I don't think it's reasonable to conclude that yet, though I would love to hear my reader(s?) thoughts.
Where we struggle most is our scoring offense which is ranked just 25th. And the endzone happens to be the one area where Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis differ significantly. Whatever else can be said of Portis, he has a nose for the endzone. Ladell Betts has 7 touchdowns in his career, CP had 7 on 127 carries this year alone. Ladell Betts is about as good a back at picking up 10-15 yard chunks and moving the chains, but he isn't a break-into-the-secondary and score kind of player. The longest run of his career was 27 yards, in 2002. The shortest season long CP has is 38 yards this year, though he broke one for 47 yards last year and 64 in 2004. On nearly 70 fewer carries than Betts this year CP has as many 20+ yard rushes, 5 more touchdowns, and a longer high than Betts.
And an offense that struggles to find the endzone needs a guy who can break those long runs every once in a while. They change the tempo of the entire game and turn it into "Redskins Football" because controlling the clock and holding the lead with a pound it in your face run game is always easier when you demoralize an opposing defense with a long run. Don't forget the points.
Two headed rushing attacks are working throughout the league and having a persistently rested RB is to our advantage. Ladell Betts can spell Clinton Portis even while the opposing defensive line rests their hands on hips (a sure sign of them wearing down). Both backs have unique talents -- CP is a break out runner with open field speed and a superb pass blocker while Ladell Betts is a downhill chain-moving back with great hands. I have to think that with a Hall of Fame Joe Gibbs and a proven Al Saunders, we have the coaching staff necessary to take advantage of both players strengths.