Wednesday, November 24, 2010 2:45 PM
By Rich Tandler
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Clinton Portis never was dull. The trade to bring him to Washington was controversial. His difficulties in engaging the filter between his brain and his mouth frequently led to him saying provocative things. Some saw him as an overpaid prima donna, always willing to take advantage of owner Daniel Snyder's open door for star players. Others saw him as a tough as nails player on the field who would sacrifice his body to take out a blitzing linebacker or gain an extra yard or two. Still others recognized both sides of the player and the man. Portis, the Redskins' second-leading career rusher, was placed on injured reserve by the team, ending his season and, probably, his career in Washington. He is due to make 8.254 million in 2011 and given the fact that this is the second consecutive season that Portis has ended the year on injured reserve it is likely that he will be let go during the offseason. Perhaps he could come back under a vastly reduced, incentive-laden contract but given the injury issues, the high mileage on his 219-lb. body (2,477 career touches), and the fact that he will turn 30 just before the season starts will likely lead the Redskins to part ways with him no matter how little money Portis is willing to play for. So, it is appropriate to refer to him in the past tense, at least as far as the Redskins are concerned. Here is a look at some of the highlights of Portis' NFL career: The Beginning Mike Shanahan selected Portis for the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2002 NFL draft. He took the NFL by storm, gaining over 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons and scoring 31 touchdowns. After the 03 season, however, there was trouble brewing. Portis did not want to work under the rookie contract he signed in 2002. At the same time, the Redskins were having difficulties signing one of their star players. Cornerback Champ Bailey's original contract had expired and as negotiations proceeded it became obvious that Bailey and the Redskins were not going to come to an agreement on a new deal. So, the Redskins and Broncos worked out a trade. The Redskins put the franchise tag on Bailey and, a few days later, they sent him and a second-round draft pick to the Broncos in exchange for Portis. The second-round pick has always been a bone of contention among Redskins fans. Bailey was the more established player in a position where it is harder to find standout players and yet Joe Gibbs agreed to 'throw in' a second to get the deal done. The truth was that the Redskins didn't have many options. Few other teams were willing to meet Bailey's asking price and Shanahan and the Broncos took advantage of the buyer's market. Even though the Redskins did not have to give Portis a new contract for two more years, they gave him an eight-year, 50.5 million contract with some 17 million in guaranteed money. Over the years, that deal would be redone numerous times with most of the renegotiations increasing the value of the deal to Portis. The record, the costumes, and the run In 2005, the Redskins got off to a 3-0 start, but a midseason slump had them sitting at 5-6 and needing to win out to earn their first playoff spot in Gibbs' second stint with the team and Washington's first since 1999. And win out they did, with Portis leading the way. He gained over 100 yards in each of the final five games of the year and scored six touchdowns as the Redskins did indeed run the table to finish 10-6 and land a Wild Card playoff spot. The late-season push gave Portis 1,516 yards for the year, breaking the team record set by Stephen Davis in 2001. During the season, Portis started to show up as various characters during his weekly media availability. Southeast Jerome, Sherriff Gonna Getcha, and Coach Janky Spanky and others drew national attention. Not all of it was positive as some did not condone such goofing around in a serious setting like and NFL training facility. But others just saw it as Clinton harmlessly being Clinton. The beginning of the end In 2008, the Redskins came roaring out of the gate under new coach Jim Zorn. At the midway point of the season they stood at 6-2 and Portis was one of the major reasons why. He had 944 yards rushing including five straight games of over 120 yards to close out the first half of the year. The letters MVP were being associated with Portis. It all came unglued in November and December. The Redskins finished the year 2-6. Portis had only one 100-yard game and gained just 543 yards the rest of the year. Portis did not wait until things started to go downhill to stir up some controversy. After the first game of the season, he said that he wished he could run behind the Denver offensive line. "I really wish that I could switch places," he said. "I get a lot of touches with nowhere to run. I could see if I got all those touches and had some lanes, but there's nine or 10 men in the box."
"You know, I'm dodging all the people in the backfield, fighting just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and people are looking around like, 'Oh, he just missed it.' I'm dodging people getting the handoff, because nobody's really respecting us as a passing team."
Things hit a low when Portis sat out most of the second half of a Week 14 loss to the Ravens. Zorn said that Portis had not practiced during the week and didn't know the pass protections well enough to play in a situation where a lot of passing was needed. Apparently this did not get communicated well between the player and the coach. On his radio show that week, Portis sarcastically said, "We got a genius for a head coach, so I don't know. I'm sure he's got everything figured out. All I can do is when he calls a play is to go out and execute to the best of my ability." The following week after the Redskins lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, Zorn called himself "the worst coach in America." Portis did not argue. Called out by the new coach Portis was having a subpar 2009 season when it ended in a Week 9 game in Atlanta. Two Falcons converged on him during a run, giving him a concussion that eventually landed him in injured reserve. Zorn was fired hours after the end of the season and, as was widely expected, Shanahan was hired a few days later. When asked about Portis during his introductory press conference, Shanahan said, "Like all players, as they get older, the key is how they work in the offseason program, and what they do to make themselves better as veterans. I've been around some veterans that have been very successful, and all of the sudden they quit working out, and as a running back you can fall off of a cliff." Shanahan referred to the 2008 season, a clear sign that he believed that a lack of offseason conditioning had caused the decline in Portis' play. Portis was notorious for preferring to spend his offseasons in Miami instead of at Redskins Park. And he had the luxury of the fact that 6.8 million of his 2010 salary was guaranteed so he would collect a nice paycheck whether or not he was on the roster. But, to his credit, Portis was present in Ashburn for nearly every offseason workout. By all accounts, he was in excellent shape going into the season. As it turned out, however, his conditioning didn't help much. He gained 63 yards in the opener against Dallas and that proved to be his highest output of the season. There was controversy in Week 3 in St. Louis when he apparently gave himself up after breaking into the clear. He had a good first half in Philadelphia before suffering from a separated groin and being sidelined for the next seven weeks. Again, he was off to a good start in that game, picking up 32 yards on five carries and another 14 yards on a pass reception. But after this play late in the first quarter: (Shotgun) 26-C.Portis left guard to WAS 39 for 3 yards (55-S.Tulloch, 78-J.Ford). He left the game and did not return. After an examination revealed an an injury near the groin that would require surgery, he was placed on injured reserve.
Legacy On Sundays from September through December, Portis gave every play his best effort. Even after his running skills deteriorated he remained among the very best pass blocking backs in the game. Portis had Hall of Fame talent and he might have made it to Canton. But he spent too many offseasons doing what he wanted to do instead of what he needed to be doing. You can't start to make up for that starting at age 28. Had he paid serious attention to conditioning starting when he was 23, he might have extended his career long enough to post numbers worthy of Canton. No question that he will be missed, both as a personality and as a player. Still, there will be the feeling that he never was quite what he could have been. You can reach Rich by email at RTandlerCSN@comcast.net and follow him on Twitter @RealRedskins. Join Rich Tandler for an in-game chat during the Redskins-Vikings game on Sunday. Rich will be watching the game from the press box at FedEx Field. Things will get underway on www.CSNwashington.com shortly before kickoff and continue all game long.