Post-Cerrato: Are Redskins better?

Post-Cerrato: Are Redskins better?
December 16, 2010, 3:56 pm
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Thursday, December 16. 2010 11:00 AM

By Rich Tandler
Redskins Blogger
CSNwashington.com

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On Friday, it will be a year to the day that Dan Snyder said that it was time for a change and announced the resignation of Vinny Cerrato as the Washington Redskins Executive Vice President of Football Operations. A few hours later in the day on December 17, 2009 Bruce Allen was brought on as the teams Executive Vice PresidentGeneral Manager. Less than three weeks later, there was more change in the air as Jim Zorn was shown the door and Mike Shanahan became another executive vice president, but he had the title head coach after the slash. So, what has the change at two the two top positions in football operations brought? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan and countless politicians since, are the Redskins better off today than they were one year ago? Lets take a look: Roster changes On the 53-man roster going into Week 14, the Redskins had 25 players who were not on the 53-man roster at any time last year. Here are the newcomers: Offense (17): FB Darrel Young, OLs Jammal Brown, Kory Lichtensteiger, Trent Williams, and Erik Cook, QBs Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and John Beck, RBs James Davis, Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, and Andre Brown, TE Logan Paulsen, WRs Roydell Williams, Anthony Armstrong, Brandon Banks, and Terrence Austin Defense (7): CB Phillip Buchanon, DLs Vonnie Holliday, Maake Kemoeatu, Anthony Bryant, and Adam Carriker, LB Perry Riley, S Macho Harris Special Teams (1): LS Nick Sundberg Nineteen of the additions were on the initial 53-man roster and Torain, Cook and Austin were on the practice squad. Davis, Andre Brown, and Harris signed on during the season. Offensively, the major upgrades have been at tackle. Trent Williams has struggled at times against top pass rushers and Jammal Brown has been hampered by various injuries all year but they are major improvements over Levi Brown and Stephon Heyer. McNabb replaced Jason Campbell, who is enjoying some modest success in Oakland this year. The jury is still out on if that move was an upgrade. With Clinton Portis on injured reserve last year, as he is this season, and his backup Ladell Betts also on the shelf with an injury, the Redskins played out the string with Quinton Ganther and Rock Cartwright as their primary running backs. Health issues aside, Torains 4.9-yard average per carry is much better than anyone on the team posted last year. Despite some blocking as shaky as the backs faced in 2009, through 13 games Torain, Keiland Williams, and Davis have combined for 859 yards rushing. Last year Portis, Cartwright, and Ganther combined for 849 yards all year. Armstrong replaced Antwaan Randle El as the second wide receiver. The 27-year-old rookie probably will wind up with fewer than the 50 catches that Randle El had in 2009 but he will get a lot more out of his catches. Randle El compiled 530 yards receiving, averaging 10.6 yards a catch. Armstrong already has 672 yards and he averages 19.2 yards a grab. Randle El also has been replaced as the punt returner and Brandon Banks clearly is an upgrade there. Last year Randle El returned just 19 punts in 16 games and he averaged 6.0 yards. In 10 games, Banks has returned 32 punts for an average of 10.8. Sundberg is in his first year and he was inconsistent, particularly on field goal snaps and the one extra point snap that got away at the end of last Sundays game. We dont know what the future holds but Ethan Albright made virtually every snap perfectly in 2009 just has he had since joining the team in 2001. It is hard to make an apples to apples comparison defensively since the team switched to the 3-4 defensive scheme. Buchanon has been nothing special as the nickel back and fill-in starter but neither was Fred Smoot, who has yet to find an NFL job since he was released. Nose tackle Kemoeatu didnt directly replace anyone but he has not been as effective as was the duo of Albert Haynesworth and Cornelius Griffin at defensive tackle. Adam Carriker has been solid at 3-4 defensive end but, again, there really isnt a comparable player from 2010. By the numbers Here is a quick breakdown of the comparative numbers: 2009 offense 22nd with 312 yards game, 26th with 16.6 pointsgame 2010 offense 16th with 338 yardsgame, 28th with 18.3 pointsgame 2009 defense 10th 320 yardsgame, 18th with 21.0 pointsgame, 32nd with 17 takeaways 2010 defense 32nd 395 yardsgame, 22nd with 23.8 pointsgame, tied for 10th with 24 takeaways As you can see, its a mixed bag. The offense has been somewhat more productive although with scoring up around the league their ranking in terms of points scored hasnt improved. The switch to the 3-4 defense appears to have helped in terms of takeaways. If, however they continue to give up yardage at the same pace they have through 13 games they will end up yielding 6,320 yards. That would be the worst performance in team history by a wide margin, with the current dubious mark being held by the 1996 team at 5,723. Their current pace would land them in eighth place on the list of all-time worst NFL defenses in terms of yardage given up. The most important number, of course, is wins. The Redskins currently have five after getting four all of last year. They might be able to tack on another win or two the rest of the way but that still would not represent a major improvement as their playoff chances in December of 2010 are the same as they were a year agozero. A younger team According to the NFL, the Redskins were the oldest team in the NFL when the 2009 season started and they still held that distinction when 2010 started. Now, however, they no longer have the oldest 53-man roster in the league. There hasnt exactly been a revolutionary youth movement but the players brought in by Shanahan and Allen have skewed to the younger side. The members of that 2009 team averaged just a shade over 28 years of age. Of the 25 new Redskins as of today, 20 of them are under that average age of 28. Only five are older than that. Since the 28 holdovers have aged a year since 09, the average age of the roster hasnt dropped dramatically; it now sits at 27.8 years of age. Still, it is a move in the right direction. Offensive linemen in the draft When the Redskins drafted Trent Williams fourth overall in the 2010 draft, it was the first time that they had drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since 2000, when they took Chris Samuels. They didnt stop there last April. For the first time in over a decade, Washington took three offensive linemen in the draft with Selvish Capers and Cook going to the Redskins in the seventh round. Maybe Capers and Cook will work out and maybe they wont. But the O-line represents almost a quarter of your starting lineup and about 20 percent of the active roster. A team would be wise to dedicate a proportional number of its draft picks to the position. But while Cerrato had varying degrees of control over the draft the team eschewed selecting offensive linemen. They took no linemen in three drafts, 2009, 2007, and 2005, and just one in four other years. Only in 2004 and in 2000 did the Redskins pick as many as two O-linemen. All told, in 10 drafts with Cerrato, the Redskins eight offensive linemen. Other than Samuels, none were picked higher than the third round. Allen and Shanahan did continue the tried and generally failed tradition the Redskins have for trading away draft picks for veteran players. Picks in 09 and 10 went to the Eagles for Donovan McNabb and it looks like the trade for Jammal Brown will end up costing the Redskins about 80 spots in the middle of the draft (the approximate difference between the Redskins third-round pick and the Saints fifth rounder). They need to start trading away spare parts and stockpiling picks. Cap room to spare This is perhaps the biggest change from last year and from the entire Snyder era. In the past, the Redskins have gone into the offseason either over the salary cap for the next season or scraping right up against it. The standard operating procedure was to renegotiate existing contracts to push the accounting of the money into future years. Not only was this system self perpetuating, it led to having a large number of players who would receive the bulk of their pay for the year up front. That worked against every coachs desire to have a hungry, motivated team. The constant reworking of contracts also has made it prohibitively costly against the cap to release older players. That has contributed to the fact that the roster has been aging over the years. Things will be different going into 2011. According to J. I. Halsell of SalaryCap101.com, the team has committed 96.9 million in salaries for 2011. There is considerable doubt as to how high the 2011 cap will be as that is one of the major points of dispute in the ongoing CBA negotiations. Halsell estimates that the 2011 cap will be in excess of 130 million, meaning that the Redskins could have about 33 million in salary cap space to work with. They are likely to clear more space by releasing some older, more expensive players. If they cut or trade Portis, Haynesworth, Derrick Dockery, Andre Carter, and Casey Rabach they will lop off more than 10 million of their 2011 salary obligations. The key will be how Shanahan and Allen utilize the cap space. If they give big contracts to either unmotivated (Haynesworths, in other words) or who are at or near the end of their prime seasons (Deions) or who are not a fit for the schemes (Archuletas), they will have learned nothing. They would be taking a step in the right direction if they used some of the available money to get players closer to 25 than 30 who fit the system and who are likely to keep playing hard after they get paid. It would also be a good sign if they used some of the cash to sign LaRon Landry to an extension and to account for a good chunk of the money in 2011. We saw some signs of restraint this spring when they didnt appear to be interested in signing the likes of Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby, and Antrel Rolle. Whether or not Better off? At this point, all that we can say is that things are different a year post Cerrato. The team is younger but it may not be any better. Allen was able to take advantage of the uncapped environment in 2010 to push a lot of guaranteed money, mostly for Haynesworth and for DeAngelo Hall, into 2010. They bought a good amount of 2011 cap space this way. We will see if they Redskins continue to go into each offseason with some salary cap flexibility or if they end up having to push money into future years. Again, the bottom line is wins. There may be a move in the right direction this year but the moves look like maybe two steps forward and one step back. Until the team is not only in contention for the playoffs but also for the division title and home playoff games the jury will remain out. 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-Cowboys game on Sunday. Things will get underway on www.CSNwashington.com shortly before kickoff at 12:45 Eastern and continue all game long.