Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan came to Washington under a very dark cloud. The franchise had produced just 5 winning seasons since their 14-2 1991 Superbowl season. They have gone through 20 quarterbacks and 6 head coaches to that point, seven if you include the brief stint of Terry Robiskie.
In 1999, a young, smart, but egotistical businessman, Daniel Snyder, purchased the franchise after the death of late owner Jack Kente Cook. Snyder embraced a philosophy of active ownership and heavy involvement in roster building. Vinny Cerrato, along with Snyder, inflicted heavy damage on the franchise, spending big free agent dollars and draft picks for over aged prima donnas that produced little on the football field. Not only were there serious salary cap implications from awful contracts but the Redskins traded away draft picks, leaving the franchise drained of young talent.
To emphasize the point just take a look at Cerrato's last few draft classes. Cerrato's last draft class was 2009. The Redskins had 6 draft selections. Only one remains, first rounder Brian Orakpo. Cerrato's 2008 draft class yielded ten draft selections, only two remain, TE Fred Davis and LB Rob Jackson. Cerrato took two wide receivers within the first three picks. Both were complete busts. Neither Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly are even in the NFL today. Thomas had one good collegiate season and Kelly had massive knee issues throughout his collegiate career. That did not stop Cerrato from targeting both receivers. Although former Redskin S LaRon Landry was selected to the Pro Bowl yesterday, he is no longer a Redskin. None of the five 2007 draft picks remains on the Redskins. Finally, in 2006, the Redskins had 6 selections. Only Kedric Golston, a reserve defensive lineman, remains on the roster. From 2006 to 2009, the Redskins selected 27 players, of which only 4 remain a part of the franchise. That is an absolute recipe for franchise failure.
That is what Mike Shanahan faced when he took over the front office and sidelines on January 5, 2010. I still remember that day. One thing that Shanahan and new GM Bruce Allen preached was patience. Everyone knew it was going to take several season to undo the damage done by years of incompetency in the front office. Snyder knew it too. That is why he backed away as an active roster building owner and turned the keys over to Shanahan.
There had been expressions of frustration from Redskins fans during Shanahan's first two seasons. He produced nothing out of the normal for the Redskins fan base, a 6-10 and 5-11 seasons. Redskins fans were sick of the Redskin normal Still, Shanahan preached patience. After admittedly making a mistake in trading for former Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, Shanahan knew the only way to turn around a morbid franchise was to establish a franchise quarterback. Might even buy him time as well.
He rolled the dice. He made an unimaginable trade, unloading three first rounders and a second rounder to move up in the 2012 Draft to select QB Robert Griffin III. It was a gamble worth taking, according to Shanahan. He staked his entire reputation and the Redskins future on this one quarterback. Now, months later, the gamble was well worth it, The previously morbid Washington offense has vaulted to the top of the NFL. It is one of the most prolific offenses in football that even draws the awe of other team fans. Suddenly, and uncharacteristically, Redskins fans find themselves shifting and making room for bandwagon fans. Their quarterback has become one of the most popular sports figures in all of sports.
Flash forward to this season, the Redskins started the season out typically as they have the last 20 seasons, much optimism and enthusiasm from a very hungry fan base, only to fall into despair as the Redskins dropped games to teams like Carolina and St. Louis, to finish the pre-bye week schedule at a miserable 3-6. However, we must admit, it was a bit different for Redskins fans. At the least they had the pleasure of watching the most dynamic football player in the NFL, Robert Griffin III. Left for dead by most NFL analysts at the bye week, this Redskins team chose to embrace the unfailing enthusiasm of their rookie quarterback and refused to cede the rest of the season to failure. Instead, through inspired play and total team effort, the Redskins have marched through their remaining schedule, collecting 6 straight wins. With a win Sunday night against Dallas, Washington could make their first NFC playoff appearance and division championship since 2007.
Griffin has experienced some injuries due to his running style of play. Fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins strung together two wins, one in relief of Griffin against Baltimore and a huge win on the road in Cleveland. What those wins proved is the fact that the six game winning streak is more than just RGIII, more than just one player, although a very critical element, it has truly been a team effort led by many of Mike Shanahan's draft selections and rookie signings.
Give Cousins credit for two wins. Furthermore, take note, the offense never slowed under Cousins. They still put up over 30 points and Cousins threw for 329 yards.
How about rookie kicker Kai Forbath. After releasing veteran K Billy Cundiff, it would have been easier for Shanahan to go with a more tested veteran like Olind Mare or Josh Brown. Certainly appeared to be the safer option. However, Shanahan liked what he saw in untested rookie Kai Forbath. He liked his poise, his demeanor, and his distance accuracy. To continue the youth movement, Shanahan went with his gut, signing the untested rookie. Forbath has responded with a 17 for 17 effort, setting a rookie record for consecutive field goals made. He hit the game winner in overtime against Baltimore. He is 11 for 11 from 40-49 yard and 1 for 1 from plus 50 territory.
Rookie 6th round pick Alfred Morris has rushed for 1,413 yards with a 4.7 yards per carry average. He has tallied 71 first downs and 10 rushing TDs. If not for Robert Griffin III, Morris would clearly be the MVP of the Redskins for 2012. Morris was scouted by Shanahan late last season and drafted in the 6th round out of the small Florida school of Florida Atlantic. That's right, sixth round!
Rookie seventh round pick Richard Crawford sparked the overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens with a 60+ yard punt return. With the suspension of Cedric Griffin for drugs, Crawford has earned valuable playing time on the Redskins secondary. Still a ways to go before being an effective secondary player, but Crawford is learning. After averaging just 6.8 yard per punt return, former starter Brandon Banks was benched. The punt return game was handed to the speedy Crawford. Crawford has returned 6 punts and has average 23.0 yards per return.
2011 first rounder Ryan Kerrigan has helped fuel a defensive resurgence after a huge failure the first part of the season. Since the Bye Week, Kerrigan has 23 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 4 sacks, and 3 pass deflections. He is playing some of his best football.
2011 second rounder Jarvis Jenkins has stepped in because of injuries and has played quite well on the Redskins defensive line.
2011 third rounder Leonard Hankerson is starting to turn into the receiver that Shanahan envisioned when selecting him in the third round. He is dropping less footballs and making more big time plays. Since the Bye Week, Hank has 11 receptions and 2 TDs. Hank has become a steady third or fourth receiver behind Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.
Fellow 2011 draft picks Niles Paul, Aldrick Robinson, Evan Royster, and Maurice Hurt have all been helpful in ways this season.
2010 first rounder Trent Williams has earned his first Pro Bowl berth this season. He has been absolutely splendid in his blind side protection of RGIII. He gets a well deserved nod and will backup up Seattle's Russell Okung. Despite being hobbled by various nagging injuries, Williams has allowed just three sacks all season.
Shanahan selected Perry Riley in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Riley earned the starting job inside with London Fletcher mid last season. Since that time Riley has seized the opportunity. He has provided outstanding pass pressure and is one of the Redskins best pure tacklers. Many believe Riley has been the most effective and consistent on the Redskins defense this season.
There is a huge difference in looking at the success of Shanahan's three drafts in comparison to the last five drafts of the Snyderrato front office. The dividends of front office competency are starting to be paid. The Redskins bye week resurgence is being fueled by young players, most brought in by Mike Shanahan.
We are seeing similarities of the Redskins to the Washington Nationals. After five years of losing, the Lerner ownership preached patience as they needed time to rebuild the former Montreal franchise from the bottom to the top. Years of depletion by major league baseball left the franchise devoid of talent. That compares to what Mike Shanahan faced when taking over a franchise that was run by Snyder and Cerrato. The benefits of patience are beginning to be reaped in Washington DC baseball. Perhaps we are beginning to see the same benefits of patience develop for the Washington Redskins.
Note, two of the Washington Pro Bowlers and the one Pro Bowl Alternate, Robert Griffin III, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris, are all Mike Shanahan draft choices. Big time difference in Washington, DC. Shanahan's youth movement is beginning to pay big dividends.