When the Redskins traded two high draft picks for the NFC East's best quarterback, Donovan McNabb, many of us shook our heads in surprise. Why would a team that finished last in the division last year, and went 0-6 against NFC East opponents, make a play for an older quarterback when they need so much more to even compete?
I wrote originally when the trade happened that the trade represented, to me, a power play that said, "Hey, we're a great quarterback away from competing with anyone in the league." Most of our readers seem to completely disagree that we were.
It should be clear to all of us now that the people who matter most -- Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen, and others in the Redskins organization -- are certainly acting like the team is ready to compete today, with one of the league's best QB's in the fold.
I want to outline what I think we should expect for this offseason, what the Redskins expect for next season, and what we should expect for next season.
Let's start with the facts. Generally, it takes a 9-7 record to make the NFL postseason. In the last two years, two teams that were considered by many experts to be horrendous, the Cardinals and the Jets, snuck in the playoffs as 5 and 6 seeds with the help of some good luck and ended up taking down a few heavy favorites en route to big-time playoff games.
The reality is that the "best teams" during the regular season, teams that cruise to victory week-in and week-out, don't always dominate in the playoffs. Did anyone have the Chargers going down so early last year after they beat the Titans by about 100 on national television a few weeks before the postseason? When the Giants won the Super Bowl, they were the second team in the NFC East -- but they got hot at the right time and beat the best regular season team in history in the Super Bowl.
There is no possible way, given the lack of quality free agents, having only 4 draft picks, and having a JV offensive line to go from the product that was on the field last year in Landover to a team as good top-to-bottom as the Colts or Saints from last year. It's not possible.
But with an amazing quarterback behind center, is it that unlikely that we could turn into a playoff team led by veterans like McNabb, Moss, Fletcher and some others?
We saw it in Miami, we saw it in Arizona and countless other cities around the league. Sometimes, a team with a veteran quarterback, with a hungry coach, with one side of the ball that is very strong -- sometimes those teams can make runs.
I think that's what Shanahan wants and can reasonably expect (optimistically, of course, but he has to be) of himself and his squad. At this point, I think any of us would take a playoff berth. Because once the playoffs begin, anything is possible.
And frankly, I think that's a reasonable expectation for the team to have. They should expect to be a playoff team with a defense as strong as the one they had last year, with a new quarterback who will lead them to more division wins, and a WAY better coaching system. Not saying we should all expect that, because I don't yet, but it's certainly a possibility.
The main reason for positive thinking is this: the path to the playoffs is through the division. It is my opinion that a division record of .500 or better in the NFC East literally equates to a playoff team. If you can beat the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys once each, you are not only on the way to having a good division record, but you can also consider yourself a contender versus any team in the league. Let's face it, over the last 10 years, at least one or of those teams have been in the discussion for Super Bowl contention every single season.
Now, we have a quarterback who has the 3rd best winning percentage in the NFL behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. He's won more games in the NFC East than anyone on a consistent basis since Troy Aikman. The guy just knows how to win games. Of course, the Eagles have long been a good team, and it's not like one player is responsible for scores of victories. But when you get used to winning, you have a habit of continuing to do it. Let's hope that's true here.
But the most underrated attribute of Donovan McNabb is that he straight up knows how to play the NFC East. He knows how to play the Eagles defense and knows the offense backwards. He knows how to play the Giants and Cowboys as well or better than anyone in the entire NFL. These intangibles are going to help the Redskins in the division without question. And if the team can get 3 wins in the division -- just win at home! -- and pull off 6 wins with a schedule that includes the Rams, Lions, Bears, Jaguars and Buccaneers, the Redskins will be in the playoffs. Then, anything is possible.
Obviously, this is a highly optimistic viewpoint given the way the team played last year. It's tough to estimate how much of an impact a coach like Mike Shanahan has on a team that was as poorly conditioned and mentored as the Redskins were last year, but you have to assume that the team will improve. Right?
In order to do so, I think the Redskins now have to make a few moves before September.
- The Redskins need a young body at running back. As long as there is someone who can hold onto the ball and break out some big plays, I think the Redskins will have shored up a really questionable spot on the field. I am one of the few who believes Portis will be relevant this year, at least for as long as his body holds up.
- The 'Skins are obviously drafting a left tackle at some point in this draft. If it's Russell Okung or Trent Williams or someone else at the top of the draft, they will be game-ready by the time the season rolls around. There's no question. I would also explore, as the Redskins are, the signing of Flozell Adams, if for no other reason than that he is better than Stephon Heyer and that it would make for another person who can compete for a job (and prove something to his old team in the division). He could easily slide over to right tackle. Yes, the man commits more penalties than anyone possible, but those kind of mental mistakes can USUALLY be coached out of someone. This is not an ideal solution, but it's a patch-up until we can address this in future drafts. Not ideal, but we're living in reality.
- The Redskins will trade Jason Campbell for a 4th or so. If they trade him anytime around the NFL Draft, his value will probably be higher because someone will miss on Clausen and feel like they need to make a move for a starting-level QB. A blogger at ESPN suggested that a team like the Raiders or Bills should send a 2nd rounder to DC as soon as possible to get their hands on the best available quarterback that's not in the draft. I hope they agree, but frankly, I'll take a 3rd or 4th for Campbell immediately at this point.
- The Redskins should not trade Albert Haynesworth. It's no secret -- when the guy is playing hard, he is the best DL in the game. We saw it in the Giants home game last year. He was completely disruptive on a defense that had no shot at competing with that Giants offense. We saw him make a few huge plays stuffing the run and creating opportunities for Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo all season. Maybe all this talk about Suh being a beast, the trade talk, the idea that he was overpaid and underproductive has him motivated. But frankly, if your system doesn't fit Albert Haynesworth, you make it work. The guy is just ridiculous. Make the man happy and he will be the most dominant player on the field. He always has been.
This is not an ideal team, nor is it an ideal situation. But the Redskins clearly are competing for a winning team in the next few years. Shanahan isn't going to coach the Redskins for 10 years, and Donovan McNabb isn't going to play for 10 more years. Neither is London Fletcher, Chris Cooley, DeAngelo Hall or any of the players that are currently the faces of the franchise. Mike Shanahan did not come to the Redskins to rebuild. He came to win. And that's exactly what he's trying to do. So let's see what he, and our new quarterback, can do in the world's toughest football division. This blog has felt overwhelmingly negative lately -- but I think we're taking interesting steps towards being a relevant football team. And that's all we can ask for.