Over the past decade, anytime the Washington Redskins would acquire any player, whether it be through the draft or free agency, there was always a certain kind of flash associated with it. From Deion Sanders to Jason Taylor to Albert Haynesworth to the draft-day trades that brought in supposed "franchise" quarterbacks, there certainly hasn't been a shortage of sexy acquisitions.
For each one, the team had always attracted more attention, both good and bad, from media and fans alike. Dor the vast majority of these moves, the style outdid the substance. The cycle continued for each successive coach in the Dan Snyder era. Even when Mike Shanahan first came on board last season, he couldn't help but add to that legacy when he traded for in-division rival Donovan McNabb.That move alone launched the entire season ticket ad campaign and was a rally cry for an organization that believed they were closer to competing than they actually were.
But as the 2010 season began to unfold, Shanahan had to endure a painful realization that the team he inherited had more problems than he probably realized. One of the chief problems he inherited was having some players who were not high character guys, and who don't love football. Sure, there are some character guys on the team like team captain London Fletcher, who organized team workouts during the lockout, but as we all know, there were a few bad apples in the locker room as well. He also inherited players whose best days were behind them and relied more on their name rather than their current ability.
So after the season was over, Shanahan began to change his tune and started to speak publicly about how the team still had a ways to go before they could compete for a championship. He constantly preached about how any future acquisitions would be players who are young and talented, but most importantly, had good character.
Fast forward to this past weekend's draft, and Shanahan's actions showed he is willing to practice what he preaches. After the Redskins traded down six spots, most people did not have Ryan Kerrigan as the player the Redskins wanted. Most thought the Redskins were going to draft one of the other pass rushers in the draft, or even perhaps reach on a quarterback. Shortly after the pick, the feeling from the fanbase was one of very brief bewilderment until they saw the guys statistics and accolades.
But most importantly, they saw that Kerrigan was a high character football player. He was one of the captains on his team, won the team award for tenacity and seems to have a love for the game that the Redskins so desperately need. At his introductory press conference, Kerrigan had the look of someone who was happy to get started and viewed getting drafted as a beginning, not as the end of a dream come true.
That pick set the tone for the rest of the Redskins draft class. They seemed to value character as much as ever. Jarvis Jenkins, the defensive end out of Clemson, said he is willing to play whatever position the team needs him to play. His versatility will allow him to play both the end and nose tackle spots when necessary. Sounds nothing like a certain someone who is still on the roster. From there, the majority of the remaining picks, by all accounts, are stand up guys. Together, they can help form a new identity for this franchise.
By bringing in players like Leonard Hankerson, Roy Helu Jr, Markus White and Evan Royster, the Redskins have started to make a seismic shift towards respectability. Not only are they bringing in younger talent, but it's clear they want guys with more of a workman-like attitude. Lunchpail guys. Guys who would play football in a parking lot with no one watching. These will be your Washington Redskins now.
When Mike Shanahan first came to Washington, it was assumed that he alone would be able to instill a new way of life, one that would permeate the locker room and promote a culture of winning. While he certainly started that process a year ago, he knows it's going to take more than just his presence to create a winning environment. The addition of hard-nosed, team-oriented players in this draft is a sign that this franchise could really begin to turn the corner. After a few seasons, the fans will once again be able to dream big without feeling misguided.
That's what happens when you bring in winners.