Seven Steps to a Contender

Robert Griffin III (10) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99)

Photo: Geoff Burke/USA Today (via Hogs Haven)

Last night was the low point of the Washington Redskins’ season. They embarrassed themselves and their fans on national television. That it happened on my birthday made the experience even worse for me.

The season is effectively over now and so are the excuses. A team that won seven games in a row last year to win their division has lost three in a row for the second time this season. They are guaranteed a non-winning record, and all-but assured a losing  record for the fourth time in five seasons. The talent is there, and some holes, but it’s the same talent and the same holes as last year. Yes, Robert Griffin III is recovering from a serious knee injury, but the rest of the starters have been unusually healthy. The problem is simple. The Redskins are not a team anymore, and when that happens the blame goes to the top. The Mike Shanahan Era is over in D.C. It’s time for the Redskins to move on. Last night’s debacle proved that.

But many Redskins fans, knowing Dan Snyder’s history, dread the thought of him going back to his old ways. I hope he’s learned from his mistakes and build upon solid core that Shanahan has built here and take the proven steps to build a winning team. Here are seven that I’d specifically like to see in the upcoming off-season.

Step One: Hire a real general manager. Not a Cerratoesque yes-man or a Bruce Allen style glad-hander, but a GM with real authority. Maybe promote from within—both Scott Campbell and Morocco Brown have worked their way up through the scouting ranks—or hire someone with a similar resume from outside. But hand the reigns over to someone who can build for the long term and not mortgage the future to win now at all costs.

Step Two: Get Allen (as Exec. VP or some similar administrative title), the new GM, and maybe A.J. Smith (in an advisory role only) to vet candidates for head coach. Avoid old retreads, coaches in the booth (no Cowher, no Chucky) and anyone who has won a Super Bowl. There’s a reason why no coach has won with two different teams. Every coach who has won once wants to write their ticket to Canton, and cares more about his own legacy than the team he’s currently coaching. Also be cautious with the next big college name. For every Jimmy Johnson there’s a bunch of Steve Spurriers. Look for the up-and-coming coordinator or a young coach who’s gotten close but not quite. Get someone who wants to build a legacy, not cement an existing one.

Step Three: This HC will either be an offense or a defense guy, so be sure to hire an experienced coordinator for the opposite side of the ball. My gut says hard-nosed defensive-minded HC and brilliant young OC who can groom Griffin. But it could work the other way around too. Be sure this coordinator can hire his own staff and run the O/D that he feels works best for the talent on the team. Then bring in a second coordinator who meshes with the HC’s area of expertise. Hire talented assistants at every position One caveat—no relatives! Also hire an experienced special teams coach. With scouting and coaching staff in place, started analyzing draft and FA talent as soon as possible.

Step Four: Wait 24 hrs after free agency begins to let the big money fly. Resign our key FAs on D—Riley, Hall, and Orakpo or Jackson—for reasonable contracts—let them test the market first if necessary. Then go out and find the best WR, ILB/MLB, and FS coming off their first contract. These are the three positions of need that can best benefit from experience. Make the necessary dead-wood cap cuts on OL and DL to clear space for rookies.

(Note: I’m not assuming a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. These steps work either way, with subtle adjustments.)

Step Five: Put Kirk Cousins on the market. Trade to the highest bidder. Either keep Grossman as #2 or find a vet backup for a similar price.

Step Six: Set up the draft board to prioritize OL and DL talent. Unless a can’t-miss prospect drops dramatically, draft best-available from these two lists for rounds two through four. Depending on the Cousins trade, this could net four or five linemen and allow for a thorough rebuild on both sides of the ball. Then draft best-available in rounds five through seven to build depth and improve special teams.

Step Seven: From mini-camp on, make it the overriding goal to build a long-term contender. The pieces are in place now. Key talent on offense (Griffin, Morris, Helu, Garçon, and Reed), an all-pro left tackle (Williams), a potentially elite DT/DE (Cofield), and OLB/DE (Kerrigan), a hopefully revitalized LB core, and a young secondary anchored by Hall and a veteran FA free safety. Build on that foundation with homegrown talent, and like many other successful franchises, the Redskins can return to the status of perennial contender that they once held.

That should be the overriding goal.

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