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Washington Redskins Finish 5-11, And Rebuilding Effort Must Take Big Step Forward In 2012

The Redskins had enough bright spots in a 5-11 year to save Mike Shanahan's job, but his rebuilding project better take a major step forward this winter.

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins walks onto the field prior to a game against the New York Jets at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04: Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins walks onto the field prior to a game against the New York Jets at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I'm OK with the Washington Redskins finishing 5-11 the way they finished 5-11 this season. They did it with promising youth, getting more out of their 2011 draft class that I could have expected. Even with Sunday's 34-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the season ended with far less drama and far more certainty than 2010, which means this was a positive step forward.

Here's the thing, though: in 2012, a season like this isn't going to fly.

This winter and summer represents a pivotal time for the Redskins' rebuilding project. As Mike Shanahan noted earlier this week, this all has taken more time than he expected. I'm fine with that, because we all knew it to be the case. But no football team can be bad for three years straight, especially one coached by a man who has created some self-inflicted wounds to slow down this process. Careers are simply too short.

Related: Complete 2012 NFL Draft coverage

Priority number one is fixing the team's lagging offense. Rex Grossman played about as well as we could have expected this season, and that's not good enough. The players supported him, sure, but that's because Option B in John Beck was so much worse. Grossman threw 20 interceptions in 13 games this year, with at least one in all his starts. In 2006, his only other full year as a starter, he threw 20 interceptions in 16 games. This is who he is. If he is the starting quarterback for Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season, the Redskins have failed. Priority number one has to be to find a quarterback, and hopefully it's Robert Griffin III, even if a trade up is required.

But there's more work to be done. The Redskins need playmakers on the outside, especially after Santana Moss badly regressed this season. Jabar Gaffney did his part as a possession receiver and Leonard Hankerson is poised for a breakout next year, but if the Redskins draft a quarterback, they need to give him weapons. The Redskins chased Santonio Holmes last offseason and appeared to have dodged a bullet, but that shouldn't stop them from exploring a deep 2012 class that includes Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordy Nelson, Reggie Wayne, Stevie Johnson, Wes Welker and maybe even Mike Wallace. There's also the matter of Fred Davis, who is a free agent himself and is coming off a four-game suspension.

There's also lots of work to be done on the offensive line, where so much is unsettled. The unit's anchor, Trent Williams, is one failed drug test from a year-long suspension. The team's other bookend tackle, Jammal Brown, was made inactive on Sunday even though he said he could play. The top interior lineman, Kory Lichtensteiger, is a free agent and coming off a torn ACL. Will Montgomery is worth keeping, but the rest of the line is an issue. Youngsters Willie Smith, Tyler Polumbus and Maurice Hurt got playing time, but are any good enough to start next year? If the Redskins get a new quarterback, they need to protect him, and this current unit won't be able to do that.

There are some units that are settled, to be fair. The Redskins' front seven on defense fared well, with Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and rookie Ryan Kerrigan having excellent seasons. Rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster both showed great flashes at running back. If Davis returns and he avoids more suspensions, he's a playmaker at tight end. But now the Redskins need to solidify other units so they can build on the successes they had in 2011.

That's the danger of a slow rebuilding project. As you fix some units, others could easily regress. While the defensive line was much better this year, the secondary was far, far worse, negating the line's work with poor coverage that led to big plays. While Helu and Royster helped solidify the running game, Moss regressed on the outside. While Kerrigan was an impact player right away, the special teams took a major drop. If the Redskins want to make a move forward, they need to solidify all their units at once, not just some.

That's why this winter is such a big one for the Redskins. Last winter was all about reconstructing units that the organization didn't think needed to be reconstructed. There was progress this year after that work was done, but it was very incremental. Now that those units have been stabilized, the Redskins have to build quickly instead of hoping those units can hold up over a multi-year period. This is the NFL, and in the NFL, things can change very quickly.

Now is too soon to judge Shanahan's rebuilding project. Next year, though, isn't. Let's hope the Redskins make the necessary progress with the roster and become a playoff contender in an increasingly watered-down NFC East in 2012.

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