August 04, 2008 - Andrew Brandt
The New Look Washington Redskins: We Hardly Knew You
They had me. The Washington Redskins, my hometown team that I grew up cherishing and loved until my necessary allegiances to the Packers took over, had me impressed on their strategy and management this off-season. They were resisting the previous urges they had shown toward quick-fix free agent signings. They were demonstrating learned behavior from their past ways that included years in 2001 and 2002 where they seemed to put together an NFL all-star team –- from 1996! The days of signing the likes of Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier, Jeremiah Trotter, and other defensive players long past their prime seemed to be a thing of the past. They seemed to be focused on building a young team with savvy draft choices, albeit precious few of them due to a habit of having traded the future for the present. They seemed committed to growing the product with a young, ascending player, Jason Campbell, at the most critical position of quarterback. They drafted solid young receivers to grow with him and have the makings of a nice offense that is built to last. They had grown their salary cap to a workable number, in the $10M range, after being the only team in the NFL with negative Cap flow prior to the start of the league year. $10M is hardly the neighborhood of the teams flush with the most Cap room, such as the Chiefs or Packers with over $30M, but a nice cushion and a far cry from where the Redskins have been with their regular scrambles to stay above the Mendoza line of ground zero on the available Cap room chart. So much for all that. That $10M just fell to a little more than $1M and their strategy of building methodically and avoiding the quick fixes suddenly became history. A couple injuries on the defensive line on the first day of training camp practice (the first day for any NFL team) and, after a relatively silent few months, the Dolphins’ phone lines were ringing about Jason Taylor. No doubt there were high-fives and fist bumps in Miami when the Fins were able to unload $8M in salary ($9M next year) and a 33-year-old player that did not want to be there (on a team that didn’t seem to want him there) for a second-round draft choice next year (and a sixth the following year). I know the Redskins argument. The need was there and a player of the highest caliber was available; thus the trade was made. This was clearly not a trade they were interested in making, but for the desperation of the injuries. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and those measures were taken. Jason Taylor has been, and may continue to be, a productive player (and dancer). He may lead the Redskins in sacks and continue to be one of the league's leaders. He may be in incredible physical shape and continue to show no signs of age. That is a best-case scenario. Then, of course, there is reality, which where the NFL forces you to live. Jason Taylor is 33 with a load of wear and tear on his body (he has started every game for the past eight seasons). Despite all the rhetoric about him being in great shape, he is 33 and he would readily admit -– unless he is lying -– that he is not the same player he was years ago. 33-year-old joints are not the same as 26-year-old joints, even in highly conditioned athletes such as Taylor. And he is moving to a new defense, a schematic change for someone who has been in the same system for 11 years. It is difficult to come up with names of defensive players in their 30s who have made impacts with new teams by virtue of trade or free agency. One reason is that there are simply not that many.