The Redskins “Old Guard”: Who Still Has Value, and who Needs to Hit the Road

There will be plenty of opportunities to talk about the future of the Washington Redskins.  I spend a lot of time doing peak projections for the “prospects” on the team, and take great delight in talking about players who will be great Redskins in the future.  It is, perhaps, my greatest contributon to this blog.

This post will not focus on youth.

Before we can adequately get into the draft chatter, and even before we can begin to evaluate the roster, Bruce Allen is going to have to make his decisions on the team’s veterans.  In the case of each veteran, Allen can choose to extend their contract, keep the player in his current role on his current deal, or cut ties with the player (via either a trade or an outright release).  This article is my best attempt to offer my suggestions if I was advising Mr. Allen.

The first step is to define what I mean by “old guard.”  I could talk about all players who were acquisitons by either Gregg Williams or Al Saunders or Joe Gibbs.  But the team is still largely built out of those players, so that doesn’t narrow it down quite enough.  I could limit myself to all free agent acquistions from 2004-2007.  That would narrow it down considerably.  But it would also ignore decisions on some restricted free agents such as Jason Campbell, Carlos Rogers, and Rocky McIntosh who would be considered “home-grown” talent.  So I don’t want to do that.  But I also don’t want to talk about Campbell right now, so what I’ll do is define the “old guard” as any player who was a full-time contributor to either the 2005 or 2007 playoff run (either in December or January), and is still on the roster in 2010.

Let’s start with the 2005 Redskins playoff contributors.

RB Clinton Portis is really the centerpiece of not only the 2005 team, but also the entire conversation about whether now is the time to move on from the idea that the team’s heroes of the past can still be contributors in the future.  And the debate over whether Portis should return is really cluttered with personal feelings about Portis’ work ethic and team-oriented attitude, or lack thereof.  But a much more important debate will soon rage about whether or not Portis has anything left to offer his team after two excellent seasons in Denver followed by six workhorse seasons in Washington with varying effectiveness.  When I look at LaDainian Tomlinson’s career, his decline from his 2006 MVP year to present day happened in nearly perfect increments.  He went from the league’s best player in 2006 to a very valuable back in 2007 to a roughly league average player in 2008 (still valuable) to basically replacable in 2009.  At age 30, Tomlinson’s future is as a one-cut situational runner who can pass block.

Judging Portis is much more difficult. Portis has not done anything completely unpredictable since that 2005 playoff run, but unlike Tomlinson, he has not enjoyed an easily chartable decline.  He’s been injured twice, three seasons apart.  He’s played incredibly well while injured, and very poorly while injured.  He’s played incredibly well while healthy, and very poorly while healthy.  2009, however, was the first season since 2004 where Portis was actually without rushing value, snapping a run of four years as the Redskins primary offensive threat.  Portis turns 29 just a week before opening day, and it’s reasonably safe to say that Portis will have little left in the tank on the other side of 30.  2010 is effectively a guarenteed year in Portis’ contract.  He’s going to get paid whether or not he actually plays, so if Portis has enough left in the tank at age 29, he should be kept on the roster.  My conclusion is that Portis is not done in the same way Tomlinson is, but unless Shanahan can get him running exactly like he was at the beginning of his career, he won’t be able to turn it around in Washington.  RB Ladell Betts, who is two years older, still offers enough receiving value to justify his roster spot.  However, the Redskins roster will likely break into an either Portis or Betts type situation, as it’s pretty clear both will not be back.  My guess is that Portis’ carries will be slashed and Betts will be gone altogether.  Me, personally?  I would let them both go (and pay Portis), and make the RB position the center of my rebuilding project.  Rock Cartwright can handle the bridge year just fine anyway.  FB Mike Sellers probably doesn’t have much of a future in Washington, and I think he’s going to be gone despite his midseason contract extension.  His 2008 season will remain one of the more odd breakouts in recent Redskin memory, and the fact that he didn’t keep it going can’t be all that surprising.  Sellers will be 35 before any more football is played.

WR Santana Moss hasn’t really had an encore season after his 2005 pro bowl year when he (if not Steve Smith) was the NFC’s top receiver.  He did make it to 1,000 receiving yards in 2008, but they weren’t really valuable receiving yards, compared to earlier in his career.  There’s little doubt at this point that Jason Campbell and Santana Moss are never going to be a strong passing tandem, but what’s more ambiguous is whether Campbell hurt Moss more than Moss hurt Campbell.  I think the tape suggests the latter.  Moss has given up on a whole bunch of routes during the last two years, probably more routes than any other Moss in the league.  He does deserve some credit for playing to the end of blowout losses that the Redskins never seemed to be in back when Gibbs was the coach, but now that neither Al Saunders nor Jim Zorn nor Sherm Lewis has been able to extract a good season for Moss, there’s little reason to think that Mike Shanahan is going to get anything here.  If points really do come out of the passing game, I would submit that the Redskins PPG is highly reflective of Moss’ career path as a player.  His best years were 2004, 2005, 2006, and those were also the team-best offensive years on Moss’ career.  Like Portis, Moss’ salary is guarenteed to him for 2010, so he will return, but the two starting receivers on this team will be Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly.  Moss, age 31 next season, should settle in nicely as the team’s primary punt returner for a season before his career likely ends, but don’t be surprised if he comes off the bench to offer some big plays.  He’s still a very good route runner, if no longer a burner.

There’s little doubt that TE Chris Cooley will be back in form this year, but he will likely find himself in an H-Back styled role while Fred Davis takes over as the primary TE.  If you’re an avid fantasy player, Cooley is the no.1 guy here at the position.  Davis is only the “primary” in-line TE from an X’s and O’s standpoint.  Cooley might have been a better TE with Brunell at QB, but he has still had a major role in Jason Campbell’s development, at least as much a role as Jim Zorn has.  His best seasons are probably with Mike Shanahan calling the plays.

Randy Thomas is left out of this analysis because he was not a component on either the 2005 or 2007 playoff runs, due to injury.  He may not be a factor on the 2010 Redskins due to…well, consistent injury.  Go figure.  The left side of the offensive line during the 2005 playoff run consisted of LT Chris Samuels, LG Derrick Dockery, and C Casey Rabach.  Rabach is an unrestricted free agent.  He’s actually the only UFA on the Redskins this year (excluding Renaldo Wynn).  Recent signings at the postion indicate that the Redskins are happy letting Rabach test the market.  Dockery left and came back last season after cashing in big in Buffalo.  He’s on a team-friendly contract, so he’ll continue to help anchor the middle of the line, even if the two guys he has played next to forever are not back.  Dockery really isn’t a Shanahan-style lineman, so his future past 2010 is really in doubt, but he will be the starter at LG next year, at least.

Samuels is a tough call if he is cleared to play by a doctor with his career threatening case of spinal stinosis.  On one hand, the Redskins need all the help they can get at the tackle position, and Samuels can still play.  On the other hand, Samuels probably should retire, and if the Redskins should be lucky enough to spend the 4th overall pick on Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, they will have a hole not at LT, but at RT.  If Samuels plays, he might be asked to move across the field to finish his career.  I have no idea how that would work out.

DT Cornelius Griffin is still getting done on the inside of the Redskins defense, and his salary situation dictates that he will return, although as this team starts to run more 3 man fronts, Griffin figures to see his playing time cut considerably, and it’s safe to conclude that 2010 will be his last season here.  The other person on the Redskins DL who was part of the 2005 playoff run is DE Phillip Daniels who, on March 4th, will celebrate his 37th birthday.  Daniels has shown no desire to retire, but it seems hard to believe that the organization would bring him back.  Ditto for Wynn, who is a youthful 35 by comparison.

Amazingly, CB Carlos Rogers is the only player in the entire defensive back seven who played on the 2005 playoff team.  Rogers, the third corner that year, started in the playoff win against Tampa Bay in relief of Shawn Springs.  Rogers was roughly a league average player for his first two seasons, which is not what you want out of a top ten draft choice–especially when Pac-Man Jones was setting all those interception and punt return records early in his career.  But in 2007, Rogers became a top level corner until a knee injury ended his season, but he recovered quickly and had a career year in 2008.

Rogers had the worst season of his career in 2009 playing in a zone-heavy scheme that essentially was built to protect against DeAngelo Hall’s weaknesses.  Rogers was below average for the first time in his career, and recorded no interceptions for the first time in his career, but he was better at adapting to the role than the other man coverage corner still on the Redskins, Fred Smoot.  In making the decision about whether to keep Rogers or trade him, the Redskins need to address what coverage system they will be playing.  There probably isn’t a simple coverage scheme that will allow Rogers to reach his potential while protecting Hall’s weaknesses, and this is what Greg Blache struggled with early in the year.  If they decide to keep Rogers, Hall might need to be tried at safety.  If they’re going to keep Hall as the number one corner, they’re best off trading Rogers now while he still has value.  Rogers flashed his ability at the end of 2009, enough so that the Redskins could get something for him in a trade, if only a third or fourth rounder, but Hall is the one who Vinny Cerrato committed all the money to, and the Redskins have to live with that.

The other half of this analysis is those who helped on the 2007 Redskins playoff run:

QB Todd Collins won a battle for his job in the preseason with Colt Brennan, but wasn’t very good this year when put into games.  He had his moments, including two deep completions to Santana Moss this year, but after watching Collins fumble around in the Kansas City game, a lot of the shine of his work on that 2007 playoff run has worn off.  On one hand, it was good that the Redskins had Collins on hand after Jason Campbell took all the snaps for the Redskins in 2008.  But on the other hand, keeping Collins cost the Redskins a free look at another quarterback with some potential future value.  It’s unlikely that Collins will get another job if/when he is released by the Redskins.

WR Keenan McCardell is back with the Redskins after a two year hiatus–which beats his 16 year hiatus between being drafted by the Redskins in 1991 and first playing for them in 2007–but this time as a position coach instead of a mentor.  If Devin Thomas struggles, maybe the Redskins will consider putting the pads on McCardell.  Or maybe not.  But Antwaan Randle El, who may or may not be back next season, has long been a very underrated receiver (and highly overrated punt returner, at least by the Skins coaching staff).  2007 was his breakout season from a receiving perspective, and 2008 was even better.  Randle El has come back to the pack a little bit in 2009, but he’s much better suited for the slot role than is Santana Moss (who is much better suited for the PR job than Randle El).  Randle El has been the go to third down receiver for Jason Campbell, and a primary reason why he has been able to keep his completion percentage over 62% for his career while converting on third down at a league average rate.  He deserves to return as the third receiver next year, but the Redskins have a contract option on him which makes him a cheaper severance than Moss.

RT Stephon Heyer was a much-maligned character in 2009 for the Redskins, as he was one of the worst pass protecting offensive tackles in the NFL in 2009.  Heyer did improve a lot as a run blocker throughout the seasons, and for all his flaws as a protector, he was probably the Redskins best lineman in 2009.  That’s not a defense of Heyer as much it is a criticism of anyone who would have the Redskins passing on Russell Okung if he makes it to No. 4 overall.  The Redskins couldn’t block a three man rush most of the year.  And it’s not the University of Texas over there with the ugly star on those helmets.  Heyer might not be suited for anything more than a backup role in the NFL, which is understandable, but if it’s true, it’s not because he failed to live up to his potential, but because he never really had it in the first place.

Remember DT Anthony Montgomery?  He was a future superstar in the Gregg Williams defense in 2007?  Well, that’s probably his future as well.  I think he could be a valuable backup in the multiple front that Jim Haslett is going to play, and he’ll get more playing time than he did under Greg Blache, but he’s not getting that long-term contract from the Redskins.  He will be that year to year player until the Redskins get a worthy trade offer, or until he fails to make the 53 man roster.  Being pushed to the back of the pecking order by Blache is hardly something to be discouraged by, sometimes, you just have to have an SEC pedigree to survive.

DE Andre Carter gets better and better with age, and while the Redskins might opt to decline the option on Antwaan Randle El, it’s nearly certain that they will excercise it on Carter, and pick up the next four years of his contract.  Carter doesn’t really have a position in a 3-4 defense, so it is safe to say he will have his reps cut from the last three years or so, but the Redskins will play a lot of 4-3 defense and nickel fronts as well.  That’s where Carter can go and earn his money and help the defense win.  With the drafting of Brian Orakpo, and likely free agent help at the OLB position, Carter doesn’t have to be a go-to guy anyway.  He just has to be good at what he does.  And, by and large, he is.

It was amazing that no players from the 2005 LB corps are still with the Washington Redskins, but of all the players who played after the Rocky McIntosh injury in Week 15 of 2007, Randall Godfrey and Marcus Washington were out of football, and HB Blades did not have a big impact as a rookie, so only NFL pro-bowler London Fletcher is still with the team from the 2007 playoff run.  That’s even more amazing than the fact about the 2005 team.  Fletcher will certainly be back for a 4th year in Washington, but what he has left to give at age 35 to a team that is changing the scheme on him is very much in question.  He heads into 2010 the unquestioned defensive leader, but I’m really doubting his ability to play every snap of this season.  That would be some kind of feat.  If he misses a few games, what other linebacker could take charge in the huddle?  I think Blades is the most obvious answer, right now, but that’s a question the Redskins will have to consider in the offseason.

CB Fred Smoot enjoyed a pair of career years with Gregg Williams calling the shots in both 2004 and 2007, but every other season in the last half decade has been some sort of a disaster for him.  On the whole, it hasn’t been a good second half of a career for Smoot, with failures ranging from the Love Boat to getting posterized by the crazy legs of Matthew Stafford.  Smoot has been particuarly terrible the last two seasons, as you’d be hard pressed to find a CB who has been worse since the beginning of 2008.  Regardless of the team’s decision with Rogers, Smoot has to go if for no other reason than to save my sanity.

I can’t really see what the future holds for S Reed Doughty, but I do know he was the best player in the Redskins secondary in 2009.  That’s a good indicator of a team that lost double digit games, which the Redskins did, but Doughty’s play against the run was excellent by any standard.  The Redskins, as a team were excellent against the run, with Doughty being the biggest reason.  There is, unfortunately, no easy solution with LaRon Landry.  Cutting him outright isn’t an option, which makes things a bit easier, but trading him is an option.  If you move him to strong safety, are you going to get more production than you are currently getting from Reed Doughty?  Are you even going to get comprable coverage?  And what of Chris Horton at that position?  If LaRon Landry is merely the third best strong safety you have, why would you move him to that position?  Maybe he can develop into a decent coverage safety, and maybe an aggressive defense would help protect Landry from having to think too much.  The tone for the defensive off-season will be set by the direction the team goes with Landry.  They’ll probably keep him and try to work with him, which might end up being the right move, but if I could get a second round pick for his raw talent in a trade, I’d be awfuly tempted to just start over.

For those of you who didn’t bother to keep track of where I think the old guard will end up, here’s what I would do.  I would, for the 2010 season, keep: Chris Cooley, Derrick Dockery, Antwaan Randle El, Cornelius Griffin, Carlos Rogers, Anthony Montgomery, Andre Carter, London Fletcher, and Reed Doughty, which means I would ship away (or at least if the price was right), Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Mike Sellers, Santana Moss, Chris Samuels, Casey Rabach, Phillip Daniels, Renaldo Wynn, Fred Smoot, and LaRon Landry.  That’s keeping 9, and moving 10 members of the old guard of the Washington Redskins.

I don’t know if that makes a true rebuilding process, but I’m not concerned about rebuilding.  I’m more into getting rid of the dead weight, while keeping the players who can be part time contributors.