(photo by Brian Murphy)
I think it’s safe to say that most people believe Super Bowl XLVI will not involve the Washington Redskins. And honestly, who could blame them?
For a decade or so, the front office was content to cut corners and take shortcuts when assembling the roster. Draft picks were routinely traded away, and when they were utilized, too often they went towards skill-position players who were better suited to sell jerseys rather than fill a specific need.
Trades and free agent signings often brought great headlines during each offseason, but little in the way of results once the season actually began. Washington officially became a destination for players looking to get paid, rather than players looking to win games.
For all of the millions upon millions of dollars management has thrown around in pursuit of a championship, the Redskins have exactly one playoff win since 2000.
During head coach Mike Shanahan’s inaugural season in Washington, it appeared as if the Redskins were happy to repeat the cycle. The Redskins had plenty of over-the-hill players, but not much in the way of depth.
That, of course, leaves little room for error. So when a starter gets hurt or the team faces any sort of adversity, it’s only a matter of time before the losses start to pile up.
But I will say this about Shanahan: he’s not afraid to make changes if things aren’t working out.
Just look at the franchise one year later – the distractions are gone and the roster is noticeably younger. Draft picks were stockpiled.
Rather than reaching for a flashy quarterback in the draft who may or may not have fit the current offensive system in place, management opted to trade back and target players who filled specific holes in the lineup.
Veterans acquired in free agency weren’t awarded the biggest contracts. Again, they were younger, lesser-known players who were targeted because of their specific skill sets.
It might not be newsworthy in other NFL cities, but these are drastic changes for the thought process at Redskins Park.
And looking at the team’s current roster, it appears the franchise is finally heading in the right direction.
Tight end has been the one position of strength in Washington’s offense for as long as Chris Cooley and Fred Davis have been in town. But I’m excited to see what the receivers can do, now that youngsters like Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul join veterans like Santana Moss, Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney.
History shows Shanahan’s offense can turn seemingly any running back into a 1,000-yard rusher, which is why the battle between Ryan Torain, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu should be fun to watch.
The offensive line looks better than the train wreck Washington trotted out a year ago, although, if I’m being honest, none of the back-ups inspire much in the way of confidence.
Basically, if one of the quarterbacks can be anything better than mediocre, Washington’s offense could very well be respectable in 2011. That’s my stance, heading into the team’s first preseason game.
Apparently though, I might be setting the bar a little bit lower than others around town.
“We’re fine being the sleepers right now,” said quarterback Rex Grossman during an interview with Comcast SportsNet. “You know, we’re just waiting in the wings, ready to take over the NFC East. Nobody’s talking about us. That’s right where we want to be. You look at us from top to bottom out here, there’s a bunch of great players. And we don’t need people saying we’re the best right now, but when it’s all said and done, I really feel like this team’s gonna win the East.”
Sexy Rexy wasn’t done there.
“I look around, this offense from top to bottom is better than that offense I had in Chicago,” said Grossman, referring to Chicago’s 2006 Super Bowl season. “The defense is gonna make a ton of strides this year. I know they are. It’s gonna be fun. I know we’re gonna be a good team.”
And here’s the craziest part – Grossman isn’t alone in thinking it’s only a matter of time before the Redskins take the world by storm.
“We’re not gonna settle for a 12-win season, this and that, go to the first, second round of the playoffs and lose,” said tackle Jammal Brown during an interview with Chad Dukes and LaVar Arrington on 106.7 The Fan. We have one goal, and that’s to win a Super Bowl, and that’s what we’re gonna try to do. And coming from Coach Shanahan, he’s won two Super Bowls and he’s been to Super Bowls, so he understands and he knows what to do, and that’s one of the main reasons I came back.”
To recap, Brown came back to Washington to win a Super Bowl and Grossman sees a better offense – from top to bottom – than he did the year he played in the Super Bowl.
That makes two Redskins players in the span of a week who have dared to talk about the Redskins and the Super Bowl in the same sentence. And you know what? I’m okay with it.
Look, I’m not about to suggest this team is anywhere close to that level. And even if I truly believed they were capable of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the ’91 season, I’m far too superstitious to actually come out and say it.
But it’s good to hear the players setting lofty goals for themselves. No one needs to go overboard and start booking reservations in Indianapolis just yet, but I’m all for athletes raising the bar.
Of course, this kind of talk goes both ways.
Talk is cheap. Championships aren’t won in July or August. Fans would be much happier rooting for a team that says nothing, but wins regularly rather than a team that talks a ton and goes on to earn a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.
Grossman is right in saying no one is talking about the Redskins as a contender. Well, he was until he then went on to talk about the Redskins as a contender.
Once you open that can of worms, you better be prepared to back it up.
Dallas, New York and Philadelphia aren’t going to roll over for anyone, so the road to respectability goes through those three stops first.
Can Grossman and friends actually make 2011 a season to remember? I’ve got no clue. But one way or the other, we’re about to find out.