Thank You, Clinton Portis

Clinton PortisEvery news source you hear this morning reports that the Washington Redskins will release star running back Clinton Portis as soon as today. Eighty-four games, 8,164 total yards and 49 touchdowns since joining the team, this seems a good time to look at the best ‘Skins running back this decade.

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said during an interview at the NFL Combine late last week that high contract-value players like Portis should have the chance to test the market for his services…when that player was not going to be offered his next bonus to stay with the team. Portis in turn acknowledged that, if it was his time to go, he was ready to do so.

Portis joined the Redskins in 2004, the second controversial trade of Joe Gibbs’s second run as Redskins head coach. Unlike Mark Brunell, Portis was young, 23, with his best years before him when he came to Washington. But the Redskins gave up Champ Bailey, the league’s best shutdown corner, and a second round draft pick to acquire Portis.

Too many fans figured the Redskins got snookered by then Denver Coach Mike Shanahan on the deal. Not enough remember that Bailey forced the team’s hand by refusing to accept Washington’t contract offer. Bailey was made miserable by turmoil in the coaching ranks (three head coaches, five defensive coordinators) and a front office that didn’t know how to win. He was not happy to be named a franchise player. Even with Joe Gibbs’ return (I’m not sure Bailey knew who Gibbs was and what he meant to Washington), Bailey made plain that he was outta here when his franchise year was up.

Mike Shanahan built his reputation on a knack for discovering running backs. Clinton Portis was one of those finds. Not that Portis was a hidden gem. He was the star running back on the Miami Hurricanes National NCAA championship team. Never-the-less, he was a second round Draft selection by Denver. Pundits did not expect what Portis delivered in 2002 and 2003–3099 yards, 29 touchdowns, 5.5 average yards per carry. Portis was the best fantasy football back in those years. I know because I owned him.

Portis agitated to renegotiate his contract for a deal consistent with first round selectees. Shanahan held that Portis was a system back whose success was due more to his (Shanahan’s) offensive scheme and the zone blocking than to Clinton’s inate skill. Not the last time we would see the pattern of thought from Shanahan that star players are easily replaceable.

Shanahan also craved a shutdown corner and Bailey was the ticket. I suspect Shanahan would have accepted a straight swap of Portis for Bailey without that extra pick. Many fans saw Portis as over-priced goods because Gibbs and Snyder threw in the pick instead of using it.

But wait, there’s more.

Gibbs used Portis as a between-the-tackles power rusher in the mold of John Riggins rather than the slashing edge rusher in Shanahan’s West Coast offense. CP struggled in 2004, but would become Washington second leading rusher after Riggins. He led the team to the 2005 and 2007 playoffs with his rushing prowess.

For all the focus on the quarterbacks, Washington’s failures in 2009 and 2010 has more to do with Portis’ absence by injury than to any shortfall by Jason Campbell or Donovan McNabb.

Runs are important in both Gibbs’ and Shanahan’s offense. At his best, Portis scored once every 32 times he carried the ball. That’s twice as productive as Ladell Betts who replaced him in 2006, and better than Ryan Torain in 2010.

Neither Torain nor any of the young backs Shanahan will turn to has matched Portis prowess as a pass blocker. Washington cannot retool the offensive line in one season. If the back can pass block as well as Portis did, the Redskins can free up Chris Cooley for a pass pattern. Cooley blocking is Cooley wasted.

Still need runs in a pass first offense

Mike shanahan never won a Super Bowl without John Elway. Elway never won one without Shanahan in three prior tries. Neither won a Super Bowl without strong running by Terrell Davis. Shanahan never won a Super Bowl with Champ Bailey who went to four Pro Bowls as a Bronco, but he might have won with Clinton Portis as lead rusher.

None of the above proves anything, but we Redskins fans hope that no Portis won’t mean no Super Bowl for coach Shanny. 

Point after: “Release” doesn’t necessarily mean good-bye. Shanahan says he wants Portis to be free to test the market for his services. He no doubt expects Portis to find a thin market for his services. Portis says he’d like to stay. Long-time players say that kind of thing. Sanatana Moss said the same earlier this month. Both could re-sign with Washington at a lower salary. That would help with the salary cap. Moss and Portis would on the roster would also stand in the way of younger players taking the field. 

Whether they leave now, or stay for another season, we are witnessing the sunset of the Joe Gibbs Gang. We owe a debt of gratitude to Portis and Moss, especially for those marvelous playoff runs in 2005 and 2007.

Thank you. 



Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.

Thank You, Clinton Portis

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Redskins


I’ve been thinking much about Clinton Portis lately.

Washington’s quirky running back is on everyone’s boot list, as in boot him off the team. Don’t look for that to happen, but Portis managed to offend fans and teammates alike last season for his perceived special treatment by the hated owner and by calling out fellow players when he failed to bust 500 yards for the season.

I’m grateful for Portis. Somebody had to call the team out. How else would paying fans have known what was really going on with the 2009 Redskins? Not from the coaches.

Jim Zorn would not in public. Neither did Joe Gibbs, old mister “all of us together fighting our guts out to get a win” himself.

It falls to players to clue us in.

A mysterious player, believed to be Adam Archuleta, blew the cover on coaching dysfunction in the disaster of 2006.

Albert Haynesworth went public with his frustration with Greg Blache’s defense schemes that Big Albert believed held him back.

Well yeah, coaches do that. Gregg Williams was famous for it. His schemes demanded consistent precision from players who were seen as interchangeable parts. Remember the bit about “everyone’s a starter?” There were no stars for Williams.

Blache was even more rigid than that.

When the Redskins traded for elite defensive end Jason Taylor, Blache would make no better use of him than to replace Philllip Daniels, rather than adapt his scheme for the best active sack-master in the NFL.

The Taylor episode should have clued the front office in about how Blache would use, or misuse, Albert Haynesworth. They did not need to sign the leading pass-rushing defensive lineman for all that money only to use him the way the Skins use Anthony Montgomery.

Yes, Haynesworth’s rant was self-centered, but it put a spotlight where it was needed. Maybe Jim Haslett will make better use of Big Albert.

Which brings us to Portis.

Was he wrong to poke at an offensive line in need of criticism? At the end of the 2008 season, Joe Bugel fessed up that the O-line was the major contributor to the late-season breakdowns of that year.

Was he wrong to go to the coaches to demand that Todd Yoder replace Mike Sellers in a game that Sellers wasn’t blocking well? Why didn’t Zorn or Bugel make that call? That’s what I want to know.

Portis didn’t go public with his complaint about Sellers. The matter came to light a week later with news of their locker room dispute got out. The public sided with Sellers. But we saw Portis’ point as the season progressed.

Portis had issues with Jim Zorn’s offensive schemed. So did the front office after the Detroit game. Vinny Cerrato’s fix was more disruptive than anything said by Portis. 

Portis questioned that quarterback Jason Campbell has the personality to lead the team. Ouch. That hurts on a personal basis. I sense from Campbell’s demeanor that he and I have similar personalities.

I’ve heard the same criticism about me over my business career. Nice guys finish last, but quiet guys don’t have to–if they learn to assert themselves. That’s the lesson of a career lifetime from one quiet man to another (and to all you other strong silent types out there).

What’s the knock on Campbell? That he plays, but doesn’t lead. He’s not clutch.

Doc Walker and others have said that Campbell asserts a quiet leadership on the sideline. That’s well and good. But in the next fourth quarter, game winning drive when Campbell has been knocked on his butt, or forced to rush a pass, because somebody failed to block, I want to see more animation by Campbell at the perpetrator.

I bet Campbell was raised to believe that sort of thing is rude and impolite. If he’s like me, he may even find it painful to do. Without going too far in the other direction, Jason has to find the balance. Then, Clinton Portis won’t have to call players out. He can concentrate on running.

It’s better when quarterbacks do it. Until Campbell does, I’m glad to hear what Portis says.


Anthony Brown

About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.