Following a return to the NFL Playoffs after the 2012 season, the Washington Redskins reverted back to their recent history by posting a 3-13 record to secure the earliest draft slot of any NFC East team. Sure the temptation is there to say that this was due to the Skins woes that came from having a starting quarterback who was hampered by the effects of an offseason knee surgery, but the truth is that the problem runs much deeper than just the passer's limitations. There were and may still be a plethora of issues in Washington.
As bad as the team was, the biggest distraction has to be from off the playing field. Sure there was the on-going dispute over the team's nickname, but that is not to what I refer. The team was forced to deal with a public feud between head coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III. There was no possible way that the team could prosper under those circumstances. The rift was too large and it was obvious very early in the season that somebody was going to have to go.
In spite of the obvious problems faced by the offense, the defensive side of the locker room did not fare any better. A dearth of talent plagued the Washington defense, and what talent that they did have was well past its prime. I have nothing but respect for London Fletcher, but even though the spirit may be willing the flesh is no longer able. This is especially true when there is no supporting cast. The Washington defense was down-right terrible.
When a team allows at least 27 points in a game 10 times in a season, more than 30 points in a game six times, and more than 40 points three times, that's not a great formula for winning.
Dan Snyder and the Redskins front office entered the off season with plenty of opportunities to make improvements. From a Washington perspective, that means that there is a pretty good chance that anything that they try will help make the team better. It also means that it is not likely that Snyder and his staff can resolve all their issues in one offseason.
The first and biggest move that was made was the dismissal of the Shanahans. Father Mike has been replaced with former Cincinnati Bengals OC Jay Gruden. With their fates probably intertwined, the duo of Gruden and Griffin could become a dynamic offensive tandem in the National Football League. Certainly the coach is anticipating the opportunity to work with a top notch athlete.
"I see a guy that can run. I can see a guy that can move in the pocket. I see accuracy, I see long-ball accuracy, I see toughness, I see a guy that wants to win and I see a strong leader. I see every trait that a quarterback has to have to be successful -- I see Robert having all of those." - Jay Gruden
One area where the Redskins managed to hamper themselves was in the draft. They are still feeling the effects of investing far too much in the trade up to secure the services of RGIII. Again they entered a draft without the benefit of a selection during the first round. When Washington did finally send in a name, it was Trent Murphy. While he will likely become a very good edge rusher in the league, that is one area that the Washington defense was actually pretty strong in (Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan make up a more than solid pair). The team followed up this luxury selection by making a well advised choice of Virginia OT Morgan Moses. The big bookend will help strengthen the protection for the teams most expensive asset for the rest of the decade and beyond.
The Washington front office again invested in their passer's well-being by using their second pick in the third round and selecting Nebraska guard Spencer Long. With Stanford OG Davis Yankey still in play, the selection of Long was a reach but he could still be a day-one starter on the Washington offensive line. The fourth round of the draft saw Washington take a very talented but raw Bashaud Breeland out of Clemson. With effective coaching he should develop into one of the better cornerbacks around the league, and due to the defensive secondary being a weak spot in Washington Breeland can expect to gain experience right away.
Washington finished out the 2014 draft by reverting to picks that were not as vital to their needs. Receiver Ryan Grant of Tulane and RB Lache Seastrunk of Baylor will see little to no opportunities on offense but perhaps they were intended to strengthen the abysmal special teams unit that Washington featured last year. With Kai Forbath on the roster, the selection of kicker Zach Hocker of Arkansas is inexplicable.
During free agency the Redskins scored two of their biggest coups against divisional rivals Dallas and Philadelphia. From the City of Brotherly Love, the Skins were able to secure the services of DeSean Jackson. His addition with give the Washington offense a viable weapon to play opposite Pierre Garcon. Add to that the ground attack of Alfred Morris and Griffin's dual threat, and Washington has the ability to put a lot of points on the board. The other big signing was Dallas Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. He will be expected to bring additional heat to opposing passers and help reduce the damage done to the Redskins defense. To further provide some help in rebuilding the beleaguered defensive unit, Washington also brought in veteran defensive back Tracy Porter at corner and former Steelers safety Ryan Clark. Veteran journeyman Clifton Geathers also makes his third stop in the NFC East (Dallas & Philadelphia) as he joins the defensive line rotation for Jim Haslett's defense.
They 2014 edition of the Washington Redskins will be much better than the 2013 unit, simply because they have started down the road to recovery. It is a lot to ask for anyone to expect more than that and Washington should be expected to finish in the cellar of the division once again. The real question is going to be how much have they improved? Only time will give us that answer, but they should be better. With a couple breaks this club could threaten to go 8-8 and as we have seen in recent years, that record can get you in contention right up until the last game is played. Don't count Washington out this season, but they are at least a year, and more likely two years away.