So the Redskins are pretty bad. I mean, they've been competitive in some games this year, and they've even won a couple, but overall, they're just not very good. Historically, I'd have a standard response to this issue, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that my old solutions are symptomatic of the overall problem with the Skins (and to a lesser extent, the Capitals).
A change in personnel will not improve this team.
In the past, I've constantly come up with trade ideas or exciting potential free agent acquisitions, always thinking of ways to "win the offseason" in order to become a better team. This very rarely works. Teams that are good tend to have gotten good over the course of time. The Seahawks didn't show up out of nowhere; they'd been building up for years.
Now, with the impending change from Robert Griffin III to Colt McCoy, there's a lot of frustration in the air, and with good reason. Some people think Griffin deserves to finish out the season on merit. Others believe McCoy doesn't have a future as a starting QB, so any game he starts is a waste of an opportunity to learn about other QBs like Griffin or Kirk Cousins. And a lot of people are just pissed off that we're in this situation less than two years after the Griffin-led Redskins beat the Cowboys in week 17 to get into the playoffs. They're all valid gripes, and par for the course in Washington...which is exactly the problem.
I didn't agree with signing Ryan Clark in the offseason. He's past his prime, and I never thought he was a great player to begin with; he benefited from one of the most consistently strong defenses in the league in Pittsburgh. But he did have a history of playing on good teams, and I think that's what this Redskins team lacks the most. So many of the Skins' players are longtime Redskins, which means they're longtime losers. The culture of failure and disappointment is I think what's most problematic in Washington. That doesn't get solved overnight, and it doesn't get solved by addressing a skill concern.
The way I would approach trying to fix the Redskins is a "five-point plan" overhaul (I'm still feeling political; Election Day wasn't that long ago):
- Refuse to accept losing. After a near lifetime of disappointment, we in Washington expect to fail. So, why not "fail big" in order to improve draft status? I would cite the 76ers, the Raiders, and the Jaguars. The players you acquire have to hate losing. Fighting tooth and nail for every win is a direct way to improving the team's culture. And that means giving Colt McCoy a chance.
- Stick with the same coach. Some people don't like Jay Gruden, but I think his tell-it-like-it-is nature is refreshing. And by the way, other than Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins' fan base was on board with every coaching change the Redskins have made in recent years. Steve Spurrier was panned, Jim Zorn was despised, and Mike Shanahan was soured upon. Don't get pissed at Dan Snyder for changing coaches when you call for exactly the same moves.
- Draft people, not skillsets. The players who pay off the most are players who are driven to perform from within. JaMarcus Russell was an impressive physical specimen with great arm strength and size, but he seemed to coast along, expecting those skills to carry him. You want guys who have fight in their hearts, who strive to improve every day. Football is such an intense sport that guys who take plays off are going to cost you, on the field and in the locker room.
- Stop signing bad players to bad contracts. Albert Haynesworth was one of the worst signings in NFL history, but he's far from the only mistake Washington's made in recent years. Signing guys off their best seasons, signing accomplished veterans for starter money when they aren't worthy of starting any more, signing guys because of their names and not because of their skills. All bad. I don't know if it's a scouting issue, or an "owner-involvement" issue, but the Skins have had trouble using their funds appropriately of late. So, in the same vein...
- Sign the "right" guys. There are thousands of guys trying to play professional football, and hundreds more come in from college every year. But there are a few key components the Skins have been missing. This past offseason was the first time they'd spent any legitimate money on a punt/kickoff return guy, even though it's been a weakness for a decade. They still lack a LOT in the leadership department; when DeAngelo Hall went down, could anybody name a leader on this defense? Plenty of good players, but no leaders. If I could draw a blueprint for the perfect guy for the Skins to sign, he'd be a productive middle linebacker with pedigree, leadership skills, a clean bill of health, and experience winning in the playoffs. I know that's a narrow definition, but I'm not saying it's got to be Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis. Just someone who can play.
I'm just trying to get there.