The Washington Redskins wrapped up the 2011 season with a whimper, getting rolled by division rival Philadelphia, 34-10. They finished 5-11, and 5-11 is not very good, as a certain Ol' Ball Coach of the past once famously said after putting up the same mark as Mike Shanahan's team did this past year.
What's next? I would say the most important offseason of Shanahan's tenure. What happens in the next several months will make or break his time in D.C. I'm all for the new and improved approach of owner Dan Snyder. Patience is a good virtue for now. However, next year at this point, there better be a feeling of significant progress. Yes, wins do count unless you are the Wizards of course.
In this edition of Chain Reactions, we will look at what the crucial ingredients needed this offseason, question the franchise's max protection scheme, and ask if the Nationals should swing for the fences.
Offensive Overhaul Needed
Let's start with the good news (it is all relative) for the Redskins: they probably don't need to do too much with the defense. Sure, they need to figure out the safety situation, i.e. whether to resign Laron Landry and bring back injury-prone Oshiomogho Atogwe. The front seven is solid and adding a healthy Jarvis Jenkins into the mix should improve things.
That's not to say the defense was perfect. They still gave up 22.9 points per game, which is 21st in the league, overshadowing the 13th overall ranking in yards. They need to create more takeways next season (only 21 this season) and cut out the big plays that plagued them. Also, a tackling camp might not be a bad idea.
However, compared to the team's offense these guys are beauty contest winners. Offense is where the offseason emphasis must be, starting at quarterback. Shanahan is 0 for 3 in decisions at that position. However, he can't be gun-shy at that position. He must identify and acquire someone he thinks can turn into a franchise quarterback. The Redskins ranked second to last in giveaway/takeaway category thanks to the quarterback position. Rex Grossman had 20 interceptions and four lost fumbles, and John Beck had four interceptions and one lost fumble. They were responsible for 33 of the team's 35 giveaways. Sure, they all do not fall on the quarterback, just ask him. Funny thing, though: the best quarterbacks do not seem to have such bad luck.
Certainly, it is not just quarterback that will determine the success or failure of the Redskins' next season. They need to strengthen the offensive line as well. They have questions to answer at right tackle with Jammal Brown, who they signed in 2010. That's why offensive line depth will be huge once again. Maybe Willie Smith showed enough to push for a shot at the starting position next season? Or, maybe free agency and some draft picks could help solidify the position.
The Redskins' desperately need big play wide receiver (preferably a big one too) to go along with a hopefully-healthy Leonard Hankerson. Jabar Gaffney had a nice season and could be a good third wide receiver ... or is that the new role for Santana Moss? Tight End Chris Cooley says he will be healthy, but will he be back. Then, there is the issue of free agent Fred Davis, which we'll cover below.
The running back position is in good
hands legs with promising showings from Roy Helu and Evan Royster and perhaps the veteran presence of Tim Hightower if he is re-signed. Darrel Young should continue leading the way for whoever is getting the work.
Still, there is no way Shanahan can just throw random veteran wide receivers, offensive lineman and journeymen quarterbacks at this problem and expect to see a significant improvement from the 18 points per game the Redskins scored last season. They need real difference-makers at those positions or it could be another long year. Shanahan is smart. He surely saw that two fired coaches on Black Monday just completed unsuccessful third seasons.
Redskins' Max Protection Is Baffling
I agree with Shanahan's emphasis on character and the need for it on the roster. That is why, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the organization is shielding Fred Davis and Trent Williams from the big, bad D.C. sports media. This just in: you do not live in New York or Philadelphia. It would not have been that painful for the two dopes to come out and face a few simple questions about their self-inflicted suspension that is now over.
It would make PR sense for them to get it out of the way now and not have to do so in OTAs. All they have to do is give a canned apology and a Mark McGwire "I'm not here to talk about the past." The longer they avoid it, the longer there will be questions if they truly learned from their missteps.
This isn't just the bitter media guy in me here either. They don't need to apologize to the beat writers. No, no, they need to apologize to the fanbase and show their teammates they are accountable.
Williams will be back because of his contract and he's a talented left tackle. Davis was having his best season of his career this season, but he's a free agent. On Monday, Shanahan made it pretty clear he wants Davis back.
"You know, Fred made a mistake," Shanahan said. "We sat down and talked about his mistake. I do feel very good about Fred as a person. I liked the way he worked. I like his attitude. I like his development over the last year-and-a-half I've been here. I think he's had a complete change in the way he's handled himself off the field to prepare himself to be a consummate pro with working out."
The offense has so few weapons on the outside, so it would make sense for the team to keep Davis if it is at the right price. Are the players truly sorry and have they learned their lesson? I have no idea since they are silent. For now we will have to take Shanahan's word on it.
A Prince in the Nation's Capital?
There are understandably those that think it would be a mistake for the Nationals to sign Prince Fielder. They point to a lot of issues: the price, his weight, the length of a deal, his weight, Adam LaRoche's presence at first base, his weight and whether they have money left for Ryan Zimmerman and a centerfielder. Also, they need a leadoff hitter. Did I mention his weight? Could you imagine how big he would if he was not a vegetarian. Are there enough Farmers Markets in the DMV to feed this guy?
I get all that, but since it is not my money, I am all for signing him. The Nationals have a good-looking starting staff with the addition of Gio Gonzalez. However, they are still missing that big bat and Fiedler is one of the few pure sluggers left in Major League Baseball. He has hit 230 home runs in his seven seasons and a .930 career OPS. Could you imagine how much better Jayson Werth will be with protection like he had in Philadelphia?
The Nationals need a big bat in the worst way, and I think that even if it comes at a position that may not be a need, Fielder's resume says he is worth it. For those concerned about chemistry issues: relax.
"Probably the best I can say, he's a combination of Henry Kissinger and Frank Howard," Scott Boras said. "He's got brute strength power. He's a diplomat in the locker room."
There you go: his agent says he's an angel. OK maybe Boras is a tad bit biased, but if Fielder comes here and does what he normally does, the bruised egos will be overshadowed by run production, which will equal wins.
Now if we could get Teddy a win!