No disrespect to Georgetown, Virginia, and VCU, but March Madness in the DMV is not about college hoops right now. It is about NFL free agency and, yes, the Redskins, who once again struck quickly in the free agent market by picking up a pair of wide receivers despite suddenly having $36 million fewer to spend over the next two years.
The Redskins are, like the rest of us, just spectators when it comes to the Peyton Manning "Victory Tour" around the NFL. Getting an audience with Manning is like meeting the Pope these days. The 'Skins were never in the race despite their best efforts to get a meeting because they play in little brother Eli's division, and if you have not followed Peyton's career he is NOT a mentor. RGIII, it seems, will get to learn on the job.
In this week's Chain Reactions we deal with whether or not the Redskins really upgraded at WR and ask if it's time for the Skins to lawyer up against the NFL.
Wide Receiver by Committee?
Day one of NFL free agency for the Redskins had a familiar feel as they once again are in Extreme Makeover: Wide Receiver Edition mode. They locked up Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan (H.D. Woodson/Virginia Tech), and they even had dinner with Broncos free agent Eddie Royal (Westfield High School/Virginia Tech).
However, despite the fine dining the Redskins were unable to close the deal. Royal might want to wait and see what a certain free agent QB is going to do, or maybe he was scared off by the sheer numbers (call him this year's Brandon Stokley). He did have the best year of his career in Mike Shanahan's offense with 91 receptions as a rookie and he also returns punts.
All three are nice players, but none are that big red zone target the 'Skins need. They never got in the market for Vincent Jackson, who is a big play WR and a big risk off the field. Could you imagine having Jackson, Fred Davis, and Trent Williams on the same offense? Well, maybe the Skins couldn't either unless they signed Ryan Braun's lawyers to be on standby.
Overall, the receiving corps is still lacking that true No. 1 guy and big Red Zone target at wide receiver. Sure, Washington has Davis and perhaps Leonard Hankerson, once fully healthy, can prove to be that guy. What they did acquire with Garcon and Joshua Morgan are younger wide receivers (aged 25 and 26, respectively; sorry Santana) who can take it to the house thanks to their big-time yards after the catch numbers. Garcon has steadily improved; last season he had a career-high 70 receptions and 947 yards without Peyton. He also dropped his number of, well, drops. Is he ready to be a #1? Did the Skins pay too much? Garcon's former general manager, Bill Polian, does not think so.
"He's had increasing production every year," Polian said by phone Wednesday. "There is room to get better. I don't know that we've seen his ceiling yet. I think it was a good signing." Garcon rejected a five-year contract offer from the Colts, reportedly worth $35 million, before free agency.
"He's a big-play guy," Polian added. "He can run. He's a tough guy. He plays with a lot of emotion. There will be a drop every now and then, but he works real hard on his hands."
Morgan, like Garcon, is a YAC guy, too. (13.5 YPC despite playing with Alex Smith, who was a punch line before last season's breakout year). The Redskins are trying desperately to remake the offense this off-season. The first step was the big deal to get into RGIII's neighborhood. Did they do enough to help the rookie? On paper it is still probably the 4th best group of WR's in the NFC East, but does that really matter? Do the teams with the best wide receivers win Super Bowls? Not necessarily, however, all good and great quarterbacks have guys they can count on to make plays and move the chains.
I am on the wait and see side of what the Redskins did so far, but I like the fact that there is a method to it.
Where's the Beef?
If you asked most fans of the burgundy and gold what positions need help next, they would say offensive line and secondary. The 'Skins offensive line would not make anyone forget the old Hogs, but please allow me to talk some fans off the ledge. I continue to hear "RGIII is going to get killed with that offensive line." Quick trivia question, how many games did the quarterback duo of Rex and Beck miss last season due to injury? Anyone? Zero. So as bad as the offensive line was, they didn't get any quarterbacks killed. Also, RGIII is a world class athlete so he can protect himself and extend plays if needed.
Without Trent Williams for the final four games of last season, the unit was pretty good. The Redskins ran the ball very well, and thankfully got more committed to running the football, which was probably not a coincidence given the circumstances. They do need a more dependable right tackle than the oft-injured Jammal Brown. Perhaps Willie Smith or Tyler Polumbus could battle for the spot. Also, Eric Winston, Kyle Shanahan's former right tackle in Houston, is available if the Skins want to go outside the Park for help. They need guard help, too, and Ben Grubbs is reportedly coming in for a visit.
The secondary situation should be the first concern; there is no starting safety from last season on the roster right now. Laron Landry is as good as gone and Oshiomogho Atogwe was released after a one and done, injury plagued season in D.C. The team brought in strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who was once a Pro Bowler with the Patriots, but was most recently benched by the Bears. The free safety position will likely be filled by second year player DeJon Gomes, and veteran Reed Doughty is still in the mix as well. The Skins could also use cornerback help, which may have to wait until April's draft.
Skins Cap Hit Late By NFL
Anyone that has followed the Redskins over the salary cap era knew it was not completely shocking that they could have colored outside the lines to improve their cap situation. The easy punchline here is clearly there was NO competitive advantage for the Redskins and Cowboys, who were both nowhere near the post season in 2010.
However, the rules were not written, just discouraged verbally "several" times by the league. Yet the penalty was pretty severe: $36 million in cap space lost over the next two seasons. The NFLPA signed off on the punishments after some league
blackmailing arm twisting. Keep in mind, all contracts must be approved by the Commissioner's Office, which happened with the Albert Haynewsorth and DeAngelo Hall deals that reportedly have the Skins in hot water.
Taking the confusion a step further, the league has since reportedly admitted to the Redskins they did nothing wrong. Yet they are being punished still. I'm not a lawyer, but fortunately Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio is and had this in a recent post following the conference call with the league.
What many in the media are missing is that this entire controversy proves the league engaged in collusion in 2010, and that the Redskins and Cowboys are suffering the consequences now for refusing two years ago to participate in a violation of the labor laws.
So if the league did engage in a 30-team collusion in 2010, what's next? Does Dan Snyder channel his inner Al Davis and take the league to court along with fellow maverick Jerry Jones? Is it worth the trouble? Is this just another example of Commissioner Roger Goodell's GOD-ell persona? Keep in mind, if the 'Skins do want to take the fight to the league it would be tough to prove. If there is any evidence that could help the 'Skins cause, I would bet Goodell has already put it next to the Spygate tapes.