Mike Shanahan will be feeling the pressure in 2012 after the Redskins went from 6-10 in his first season to 5-11 in 2011. Definitely not the kind of progress the former Super Bowl-winning coach would have been hoping for. However, beneath the surface there is a lot for Redskins fans to be optimistic about going forward.
Shanahan has the team going through a rebuilding phase as the days of overpaid veterans and busted trade deals appear to be over. The Redskins are a much younger team compared to two years ago. Some key positions were addressed last season through free agency and the draft as they continue to move forward. The Redskins venture into the 3-4 defensive scheme is now entering its third season and further results will be expected of Jim Haslett’s unit. The real pressure however, is no doubt lying with Kyle Shanahan and the mess of an offense Washington has been burdened with for the best part of a decade.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that all three positions of need come on that side of the ball. Let’s take a look at what’s needed in the nation’s capital.
Primary Need: Quarterback
This is hardly a shock, right? If you’re looking for the last time Washington had a “franchise quarterback”, you’re talking over two decades ago. Jason Campbell and Mark Brunell were the last two men to lead the Redskins to the playoffs. Neither turned out to be a long-term solution and once again the revolving door of QB’s was in full swing in 2011. Rex Grossman actually started the season pretty well, and at 3-1 the Redskins looked like they might just have an unlikely answer. Four interceptions against Philadelphia in Week 5 saw Grossman’s, and the Redskins, season derailed completely (Grossman received a -7.5 grade for this alone, and finished -13.2 on the season). A short stint with John Beck (-6.5) as signal caller ended in disaster (the Redskins lost all four games Beck was featured in) and Grossman was then reinstated. The encouraging thing for Washington is that when “good Rex” turned up, the Redskins looked like they could compete, but he just couldn’t do it often enough.
The draft is highly likely to provide the next man to try and answer the call. However, there are several options available via free agency. Matt Flynn is the obvious candidate if the Redskins decide they want to forego any rookie options, but far more likely is a veteran who can serve as a mentor and/or backup to someone fresh from college. Kyle Orton (-2.9) fits the bill here, or perhaps even a return to the NFL for David Garrard could be in the cards. Our 12th-ranked QB in 2010 (+10.3), Garrard could be an excellent short-term option for a team like Washington.
Secondary Need: Wide Receiver
Notice a trend? The Redskins offense hasn’t ranked in the Top 10 since 1999, in large part due to the team’s inability to piece together and run an effective passing game. Santana Moss has been the main weapon since 2005 and his impressive 2010 season (+5.3) saw him earn a new contract. A frustrating 2011 (+1.1) was set up by injuries which restricted his impact. Entering the 2012 regular season, Moss will be 32, meaning it’s time for the Redskins to start looking at other players in an attempt to give options to whoever the starting quarterback will be.
One player Washington should, and probably will think very strongly about re-signing, is Jabar Gaffney. Gaffney (+7.3 receiving grade) was the Redskins most targeted player in 2011, and their leading receiver with 947 yards. The free agent pool for receivers is rich with talent in 2012, and players like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston could be the kind of playmakers the Redskins need. Colston (+17.3) could well be the most likely to hit the open market from this trio.
Tertiary Need: Right Tackle
Washington can’t claim to have had anything resembling a decent offensive line for some years. Where good players have come and gone elsewhere to other teams, the right tackle position has remained a constant problem for the Redskins. Check out these numbers which show the main players who started at right tackle, their overall grade for that season and how many combined QB pressures they gave up:
2008 – Jon Jansen (-22.7) / Stephon Heyer (-5.0) – 44
2009 – Stephon Heyer (-10.5) / Mike Williams (-5.9) – 47
2010 – Jammal Brown (-18.3) / Stephon Heyer (-8.8) – 62
2011 – Jammal Brown (-18.5) / Tyler Polumbus (-11.7) – 56
While it’s highly likely Jammal Brown will return in 2012 due to his contract, it doesn’t mean the Redskins shouldn’t be looking elsewhere to upgrade the position. One possible solution could be Vernon Carey, who graded rather disappointingly -4.1 in 2011, but that was at right guard. Between 2008 and 2010, playing right tackle, Carey averaged just 27.6 QB pressures per season and had a combined grade of +39.8. Quarterbacks simply can’t produce if they are running for their lives constantly and an upgrade here is sorely needed.