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The anatomy of a bad decision

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The Washington Post is running a 3 part story on what went wrong with this season. Most of it is fairly damning and is a must read for fans trying to figure out what the hell happened.

Part One chronicles, among other things, our personnel mistakes. That will be the focus of this post, though I encourage readers to also check out Part Two on the disconnect in Offensive Philosophies between Al Saunders and Joe Gibbs.

The content of these pieces will be of considerable debate and interest throughout the offseason. You'll be doing yourself a favor by reading them. Part Three will touch on our defensive woes and will come out tomorrow. It is likely the most anticipated (and damning) of the three.

I am going to focus on how the Redskins front office makes personnel decisions, a process brought slightly to light by Jason La Canfora's Problems At The Core.

The Redskins use a unique front-office structure with a scouting arm led by vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato and his staff evaluating players, Gibbs and the coaches grading the scouted players and Snyder determining the budget. Director of football administration Eric Schaffer handles the bulk of negotiations although, unlike most other NFL owners, Snyder interacts with agents directly at key moments of the process, according to numerous agents. The group eschews the draft and has shown a preference for building through trades and free agency.

Some would replace the word "unique" from above with "broken". Vinny Cerrato receives near unanimous condemnation from fans and peers alike for his personnel evaluations. Despite what Joe Gibbs says about all decisions being primarily his, there is a personnel heirarchy of decision makers participating where plenty of blame can and should be handed out. Vinny Cerrato is near the top of that heirarchy.

I don't want to spend to much time burning the Dan Snyder effigy, but one result (perhaps) of his direct involvement in the negotiating process is that it increases the tendency of this team to overpay for players of lesser talent. There is a difference between being capable of writing a check, and knowing whether the amount on that check is sensible. There is a market value for players and coaches we frequently ignore. I would like to hear, from Eric Shaffer or Dan Snyder, why Adam Archuleta was worth exactly the highest safety salary in NFL history.

We've already suffered the anti-draft strategy and its results. This is not a deep team as we pay large amounts for FA starters at the cost of draft picks. The effect the Shawn Springs injury had on our defense was devastating and, in my opinion, a main reason for a setback 2006. At some point the Washington Redskins must learn to acquire cheap, young, talented players in the draft. Free Agents must be paid market-value (or above, in our case) making them costly and inefficient long term solutions. But let's return to Vinny Cerrato for a moment:

Cerrato, promoted twice in recent years and now essentially the head of all scouting ventures, has a poor reputation for judging talent, numerous sources said. Several Redskins coaches said they were wary of Cerrato before coming to Washington ("Plenty of people warned me on that one," one coach said) and do not take his talent recommendations highly. Gibbs has continually defended Cerrato's work, saying "I feel sorry" for Cerrato, Snyder and others given the stalled progress of the team.

Part of this reminds me of the Mark Brunell scenario, where I felt the team retained his services as a starting QB for too long. Those of us with eyes can witness Cerrato's errors, and more confusing is that many people throughout the league predicted it before the fact. That someone who makes bad decisions can climb the Personnel Heirarchy through promotion is by itself strong evidence that said Heirarchy is broken.

More confusing, why does Gibbs feel "sorry" for Cerrato? "Given the stalled progress of the team" why should we dole out apologies for the people responsible for said failure? I feel sorry for the consumers of the product. How can there possibly be any accountability on this team when the best the high command of the team offers is pardon? What is Vinny Cerrato a victim of besides his own decisions?

Something to consider that I had not, until this article:

Some of the team's recent free agent signings have struggled mentally with the weight of the lucrative contracts.
I've had a hard time considering the negative psychological effects a large contract can have on a player. My attitude has generally been that that sounds like precisely the kind of problem I'd want to have. But players have to operate around peers who likely aren't making nearly as much, and they are doing it in a new system. Introduce a salary that raises expectations beyond realistic levels, and the player is guaranteed to fail, if only because "success" is ludicrously leveled. The player will necessarily perform below their contract, and their peers will wonder why that contract is so high while their own so low. Worse, the Coaches will view the player as a personnel failure rather than merely as a contractual failure, and are just as subject (unfortunately) to resentment as the 20 to 30 year olds they are coaching. The player gets thrown under the bus, either by the coaches or his teammates. Worse still is the effect it could have on future negotiations -- more on that later.

Let's now focus on a specific bad decision, in this case on Brandon Lloyd. I don't want to waste too much time documenting what went wrong, as we are all fairly familiar with it. He was overpaid to become one of the least productive starting WRs in Redskins history. He has on-and-off field attitude issues that make him a poor fit for the Redskins. Ben at Curly R makes the point with force:

B-Lloyd Blues: Brandon Lloyd was inactive for this game, due to 'bronchitis,' but I think that was bullshit, the team is through with him and his time here is over. His public freakouts probly insinuate a number of private freakouts and he has not started since the second helmet-throwing episode and the two subsequent meetings with Joe Gibbs and his forked-tongue nonpology. Final stats for 2006: 23 catches for 365 yards, a 16-yard average, one fumble and zero touchdowns. He was supposed to be a productive number two receiver for the Redskins and was barely able to surpass nominal number 2 receiver David Patten's stats for 2005, and David went on IR after nine games last year! All that for 30 million.
I do not think Brandon Lloyd will be around next year, but even if he is the role he plays in our offense will be greatly reduced, even as it was this year. I hope I am mistaken, but it is increasingly clear that he is difficult to coach (more coming on that as well). Back to the WaPo piece:
The acquisition of Lloyd serves as a window into the Redskins' approach. Critics of the trade say it's an example of poor front-office talent evaluation and Gibbs straying from his "core Redskins" principles in search of a quick fix. Lloyd was known to be moody and difficult in San Francisco, but the Redskins traded third- and fourth-round picks for him, then gave him essentially the same contract as Randle El, even though he still had one year left on his contract.
That we overpaid for Lloyd was never really in doubt. He was not worth a 3rd and 4th round draft pick unless you devalued draft picks which, incidentally, we do. But it was the kind of overpaying that could be justified, at the time, by a postseason team that was perhaps a receiver short of great. With hindsight I realize that it is never justified in the NFL to blatantly overpay for a player.

We had also heard about Lloyd's problems in San Fransisco prior to his arrival, so it would be disingenuous to act shocked at what has happened with Lloyd here in Washington. What I had hoped was that his production (combined with a winning record) would muffle that attitude. I was wrong.

Here comes the important part of the article:

The process for evaluating Lloyd, as with all Redskins acquisitions, began with Cerrato and his staff preparing reports on possible available wide receivers, considered a weak group. Those reports were distributed to coaches along with game film for each to study. The assistant coaches, Cerrato and Gibbs then assigned a grade to each player. Some coaches based their grades only on what they saw on film; others called friends around the league to get their input.
My initial criticism here is that any coach would evaluate a player based solely on "friends input" or merely video of the player. I always imagined that at the professional level, a much more scientific and exhaustive method was used for player evaluation. I still think a more thorough process exists, just not for the Washington Redskins.
Saunders made it clear he wanted Randle El in the same manner that Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense, had Archuleta and defensive coordinator Greg Blache wanted Carter.
This all sounds too dogmatic. Saunders, Williams, and Blache essentially made Emperor's decisions for particular players. And none of the three who we insisted on getting have done much. Carter has turned it on later in the year but was largely a bust until recently. Randle-El has played well, but not considerably more productive then the people he replaced. And Adam Archuleta... you know that story (and if you don't I'll spare you).
The 49ers had made it clear to all the NFL teams that Lloyd was available but some personnel people around the league wanted no part of him. "Lloyd is a 2, 2 1/2 ," said one general manager, meaning a second wide receiver at best. "Plus, he's a pain in the [rear]."
Hindsight is 50/50 but our foresight is apparently blind as a bat. Some people were making the correct assessment of Brandon Lloyd's ability, they just weren't in our front office. And here comes the most damning piece of the process, in my opinion (emphasis added):
Redskins coaches said their rankings of Lloyd only took into account what they had seen on game film. They never received from Cerrato or the scouting department any information on Lloyd having a possible attitude problem. "I was asked to evaluate him only as a player, not as a person," one coach said.
This is simply unacceptable. Coaches should be considering more than merely a player's ability when making a decision. In fact, from earlier in the article "volatility" is given as the reason we passed on T.O. the free agent. The process grows stranger:
And all the coaches marveled at his ability to make highlight-reel catches. The conversation ended with the coaches grading Lloyd ahead of Jurevicius and Bryant. The latter two graded higher than Randle El overall but Saunders wanted Randle El for his versatility and Gibbs liked his punt return skills.
So Brandon Lloyd is evaluated solely on his receiving talents (as viewed on film) whereas Randle-El is decided on by Saunders for "versatility". Terrell Owens is eliminated for volatility but Lloyd's attitude problem is not used by the coaches for evaluating him as potential teammate. We gave very respectable contracts to the best of an admitted bad receiving class. Regardless, the decision to get Lloyd was made and we moved to the financial part of the transaction.
Lloyd's representatives made it clear they wanted a lucrative contract extension. They could point to the $30 million extension the Redskins gave Moss in a similar situation a year earlier. The Redskins, however, were under no obligation to do anything because Lloyd had a year left on his contract. The team could have done nothing and severed ties with him at the end of the season with no salary cap ramifications. Instead, Lloyd was given a new contract.
Emphasis added. I am not saying that we overpaid for Moss, but that what we paid Moss became a template for what we should pay Lloyd has troubling ramifications for the future. Now that we've engaged in a series of overpayments of players, we can expect future free agents to point to our past indifference to the market as evidence that they also deserve large contracts. This point is made expressly later in the article:
While the coaches unilaterally said they have no desire to deal with the salary cap or haggle over trades, they are unhappy about a strategy that essentially overpays players who have no track record of Pro Bowl level success. When so much money is given to new players, it leaves less for others and repeated overspending can create locker room tension.

Also, I have no idea why we were so insistent on offering Lloyd an entirely new contract where one already existed, though perhaps a reader can inform me why.

Only after the trade was Lloyd brought in for an interview and coaches were able to ask him about his reputation as a troublemaker.
Emphasis added and HOW COULD THIS BE POSSIBLE? How could this team trade for a player without asking him first about his personality problems? Surely his responses would have given some indication that he had a "coaching problem" early on. A wasted/missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Finally let's address some of the attitude problems that are just now coming to light:

"What I saw is that he's not coachable," the teammate said. "He would go off on [wide receivers coach] Stan Hixon all the time and say, 'Bro, that's not how it's done!' right to his face. And we would kind of laugh, like not because it was really funny, but it was funny in that uncomfortable sense of, 'I can't believe he just said that.'"

Lloyd basically ran three routes: the sideline go route, a short slant -- where he was more inclined to drop to the turf instead of turning a short pass play into a big gain -- and the outside curl. He was not comfortable going over the middle, even though a player of his speed could exploit the seams of a defense.

I'll leave the reader with an exchange that allegedly took place with Saunders and Lloyd that I think best demonstrates why Brandon Lloyd cannot be a Redskin in 2007. It took place during the New Orleans game (which we won, by the way) after Lloyd lost a Jason Campbell pass that could easily have gone for a touchdown. That this exchange could take place, could be so predictable had the coaches merely been required or capable of evaluating Lloyd's character prior to his arrival, calls into question the entire process I've outlined above. So many failures, so many completely avoidable mistakes.

According to a member of the organization who witnessed the exchange, Saunders approached Lloyd at halftime.

"Tough one out there. Those lights are tough," Saunders said.

Lloyd looked at him coldly.

"You're joking, right?" he said.

"No," said Saunders. "It looked like you lost it in the lights."

"What? That ball was 10 yards underthrown," Lloyd said. "Go talk to the quarterback."