Shanahan/Allen Might End Up a Great Era, but Questionable Start Raises Eyebrows

There’s no telling what the outcome of the Bruce Allen-Mike Shanahan joint hires, certainly not before their team gets to play a game, and especially not before they have their first draft.  Still, the more their plan for this team is pieced together, the more questions about these hires are raised in my mind.

I have seen nothing to suggest that my prediction of general competency from the front office will be off, as things aren’t being leaked to the media ahead of time, and in theory, they’ve done their research on all their trade and signing opportunities.  They are not in any way guility of having a quick trigger finger, in a way that Vinny Cerrato always seemed to be.  However, it’s my contention that getting caught with ones pants down is no less embarassing because you gave ample time for a contrary thought to stop the process.  Football, at any level, is a results-based business, and if the results of great study and fiscal conservatism are questionable personnel moves, then take my acts of Redskins-bloggery back to the era of incompetency and general hilarity.  It’s probably healthy for me.

I still think Allen-Shanahan can do the job, but after all, I’m an analytical optimist.  The hires themselves didn’t do anything for me, as I was more anxious that the Redskins could be finally fulfilling the promise of being a better organization from top to bottom.  The building of a winning group takes time, and there’s no way the Redskins were going to enter the 2010 season as “winners” no matter what my projections spit out.  However, the lack of opportunities for positive outcomes should not obscure the fact that strong organizations are always making progress, and it’s clear the Redskins are not progressing through this offseason in any meaningful way.

There have been plenty of positive moves made in 2010, since the hirings of Shanahan and Allen, but there were positive moves made in each year of the Cerrato tenure, and before him, when Gibbs was calling the shots.  Since 2004, the Redskins have made enough good moves to get to the playoffs twice in six years, and pretty close to the playoffs in 2008.  They have not made enough good moves to ever advance past the round of eight.  The changes to the front office were made, I thought, because the status quo was unacceptable.  The Redskins were spending frugally, moving draft picks as if they were diseased, and feeding a reputation of a talent-laden, still-overpaid team without you know, actually being loaded with meanningful talent.  Since Bruce Allen was hired to replace Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins have curbed their spending, released a lot of dead weight thanks to the limited ramifications of the uncapped year, and well, business beyond that has continued as usual.  Valuable draft picks still being used as trade chips, signings focused primarily on names who may or may not be able to help the team, and filling in the roster with flameouts from the GM’s previous stop.  Roster space, which should be in ample supply for a 4-12 team, is being locked up in completely questionable acquisitions.

We’ve come so far, yet, we’re right where we started.

With the draft approaching the fan base has every right to be excited about it’s new faces, and every right to be proactively critical of the work of the front office.  The Redskins are going to explore all of their options to trade down out of the fourth pick, as they probably should.  If, inevitably, faced with having to use the pick, they will have to pick from one of these four players:

  • OT Russell Okung from Oklahoma State, a franchise tackle that projects to excel at both run blocking and pass blocking, both of which the Redskins need.
  • DT Ndamakong Suh from Nebraska, a defensive tackle in the mold of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, who could line up in the 3-4 and play both nose or end equally well.  The kind of player offensive lineman hate to line up against.
  • OT Trent Williams from Oklahoma, a 4-year starter at offensive tackle who played his first three years as the RT for OU before moving over to the left side and struggling, although most scouts believe that LT is his future position in the NFL.  His run blocking is best suited for the type of game that Mike Shanahan wants to call.
  • DT Gerald McCoy from Oklahoma, a disruptive 4-3 defensive tackle in the mold of Tommie Harris of the Bears (formerly of OU).  When on, his game is played in the opponents backfield.

Those who have followed Mike Shanahan’s career can understand what would make Trent Williams’ skill set so appealing to Mike Shanahan, but be skeptical of any line of reasoning that suggests that Williams is such a perfect fit in the new Redskins offense that the Redskins would be wise to select him with Okung still on the board.  In fact, just don’t buy it.  The Redskins can’t save any contract dollars by selecting Williams over Okung, so I’m not sure what benefit the Redskins would reap from selecting the potentially inferior player just because the scheme maximizes his value.

Oh wait, yes I am.  It’s because scheme-dependancy is good for the job security of those involved with the football operations.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to make yourself an irreplaceable asset to the franchise.  The right way is through performance, the wrong way is through creating a dependancy on your scheme.

After all, why wouldn’t the Redskins’ decision makers be self-interested?  They are both on their second (and, probably final) lives in the NFL.  The head coach employs his son as the offensive coordinator.  Right now, they have an unlimited line of credit from a desperate owner.  Frankly, there isn’t a lot of pressure from the fan base to produce instant results, and anyone with an elementary understanding of statistics knows that the Redskins don’t actually have to make positive progress to improve their record in 2010 — they can improve pretty much by taking the current roster into another 16 game schedule.  Even 5-11 should probably be interpreted as regression.  It’s the perfect situation for the NFL version of a “hostile takeover” which can be done by someone just as interested in winning as the owner.  Right now, the Redskins’ job is the most lucerative job in football: you can do anything you want with it and be hailed as an improvement on Jim Zorn.

Self-interest isn’t a grandiose conspiracy theory, it’s just human nature.  The Redskins would benefit more from drafting the best player available at a need position, with Russell Okung holding the numbers one, two, and three spots on the Redskins big board by that defintion.  If Trent Williams sits ahead of him on the Redskins actual big board, it can be easily defended as saying “we really like his potential.”  Of course, he’s an excellent fit for the scheme.  Sure, if the Redskins are coached by someone else in 2013, Williams might end up being mid-round trade bait while Okung is entering the perennial pro-bowl stage of his career — that’s precisely why the Redskins decision makers would love him: he makes them look better no matter what, as long as he’s the player they think they are getting.

Now, if the draft breaks down so that the first three picks are Sam Bradford, Okung, and Suh, it’s not like Williams is a bad fourth (third?) option.  This isn’t to suggest that Trent Williams can’t be either a successful scheme-neutral NFL player or the best available player for the situation when the Redskins pick.  I think he can be, but it’s more like I (and everyone else) KNOWS that this is what Russell Okung already is.  The NFL Draft is all about playing the cards you are dealt, which is exactly why the Redskins fan base needs to hold the front office accountable if it doesn’t do so.

In a division that is breaking down to be super-difficult, the Redskins sit a little bit behind the other three teams in the divisional hierarchy.  They need all the help they can get talent wise, and throughout their first draft, I believe the only reasonable explanation to pass over the best available (offensive) player is because you receive a trade down opportunity for a highly valuable defensive player.  Otherwise, the Redskins need the help more than they need to resemble a Mike Shanahan coached team: bound for 8-8.

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