The measured approach taken by Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan this off-season should eliminate any lingering concerns held by fans that the Redskins are not heading in the right direction. Coming off a magical 7-game winning streak to capture their first NFC East title in over a decade, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that the Redskins spend all of their available resources to tighten up the secondary for 2013. But, thankfully 2013 does not appear to be the target in the minds of the decision-makers in Ashburn.
In my opinion, addressing their needs with great players would have set them further back long-term. The team was already handicapped coming into the off-season with the second year of an $18 million dollar salary cap penalty. If Allen and Shanahan had opted to restructure more contracts or cut younger contributors to free up the space to sign a big name or two in the secondary, they may have been just unintentionally extending the cap penalty into future seasons by limiting their options. Instead, the Redskins re-signed the core group of players that helped them win a division and added the best players available when they drafted last month.
I believe that the biggest mistake you can make in the NFL is to attempt to “load up” for a focused, short-term run to a championship. Every NFL season is littered with countless odd bounces, bizarre breaks, and coin-flip type plays that the best chance to win championships is to put your team in position to contend over a long period of time. Think of it as a lottery drawing: the more ping pong balls you have in the hopper, the better chance you have to win the jackpot.
Even if you succeed in piecing together a great team in the regular season, you don’t really increase your chances of winning it all. Look no further than last year’s Broncos who rode Peyton Manning to a first-round bye. That team had everything laid out in front of them to win the AFC. But a blown coverage and some conservative play-calling in the playoffs had them watching a mediocre Ravens team win it all. Then you have the 2007 Patriots who were historically dominant and undefeated as they entered the Super Bowl against a solid, but unspectacular Giants team. After 60 minutes, that Patriots team is known as one of the biggest disappointments, not the greatest team of all time.
On the other side of the coin, the teams that have won Super Bowls tend to be the teams that are in the discussion year in and year out. Look no further than the teams I mentioned above. Since 2005, the Giants have finished .500 or better each year, making the playoffs five times, and have been rewarded for that consistency by winning two Super Bowls. The Ravens have a similar story as they’ve won 9+ games each of the past five years culminating in their Super Bowl title last season. In fact, all other recent championship teams (Steelers, Packers, Colts, Saints, and Patriots) all share that same trait. Even the 2002 Buccaneers, who took an almost immediate nose-dive, won their championship on the heels of four straight playoff appearances.
By focusing on the big picture and maintaining roster continuity this off-season, the Redskins have set themselves up for a sustained run of contending for a championship. They will enter 2014 with a dynamic franchise quarterback who is entering his prime, the luxury of finally having their full salary cap allotment to work with, and a relatively young team that has been together in the same system for several years. With all the variables that can impact a given NFL season, that’s the true recipe for success and I believe it gives the Redskins the best chance to reclaim their spot at the top of the NFL again.
What do you think about the long-term prospects of this team? Do you think they are positioned for a sustained run of division titles, playoff appearances, and Super Bowl contention?