Since Dan Snyder bought the Redskins 14 years ago, the team has been run like a bizarro fantasy team. Big name free agent? Sign him the moment the clock strikes 12 and the free agency season is open. A Washington free agent? Sign him at a bargain price or let him leave. No big loss -- there's a free agent market full of potential replacements.
The results...no so good. Since Snyder took over (including his first season, which was really a team constructed by Charley Casserly and John Kent Cooke) the team's record is 101-123. An average season under Synder's leadership is 7-9. Good enough to be in the playoff hunt in November, bad enough to miss. The team's best record over the past 14 years: 10-6, which they've done three times (that first season, the second year of Joe Gibbs 2.0, and this past season).
For years now, the team has been derided for their efforts to "win" the offseason with splashy signings and high-profile acquisitions.
But there's a different management team in place now, and their professional restraint may finally be giving Washington what Snyder long coveted -- an authentic offseason "win."
The cynic could argue that this "restraint" displayed by Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen is little more than the salary cap penalty the league imposed. While I think that's part of it, the reality is that there are an array of accounting and renegotiating maneuvers the Skins could have employed to push cap money into future years and still sign big-name free agents now. Heck, this used to be standard practice for the team even without a cap penalty.
Shanahan and Allen have resisted that temptation and have instead preserved the team's cap flexibility for the future. They have done some renegotiating of existing contracts, but in virtually every case have focused on a straight salary reduction rather than increasing the player's cap hit in the future.
They've brought back contributors from last year at reasonable prices, including DeAngelo Hall (who they released and re-signed at a quarter of his previously scheduled salary), Fred Davis, Tyler Polumbus, Kedric Golston, Rob Jackson and Logan Paulsen.
They've signed a few "fill in the gaps" free agents like Darryl Tapp, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos and E.J. Biggers. Biggers, a solid, versatile cornerback who performs well in coverage, could end up being a major steal at a league minimum price tag.
As I examine the Redskins depth chart with an eye toward the NFL draft getting under way tonight, I'm fairly impressed with the transformation Shanahan and Allen have accomplished. It used to be that the roster would have a star here or there (at least in name) and then...dreck. The current roster has some quality players in starting positions, and then...solid players behind them. There's depth in Washington for the first time in years.
Here are my thoughts on Redskins personnel needs:
Safety -- Easily the team's least deep position. Brandon Meriweather was injured last season, but has the ability to be a good strong safety in 2013. The free safety is Reed Doughty, a guy the Skins have been trying to get rid of for years.
Inside Linebacker -- Perry Riley is solid, but after him there are question marks. London Fletcher finally showed some signs of age last year, though he was still better than average. He'll probably return, but retirement is a possibility. Washington needs to add some quality depth.
Center -- Will Montgomery has done an adequate job, but still gets pushed back too often.
Tight End -- With Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, the team should be set. But, Davis is trying to come back from a torn Achilles, Paulsen is more of a blocker than a pass-catcher, and Paul didn't accomplish much last season converting to TE from WR. If there's a pass-catching TE with potential in the later rounds, he could find a home in burgundy and gold.
Cornerback -- At this point we're solidly into "it would be nice to have" territory. As in, it would be nice to have a young cornerback with potential to become a starter in the next 2-3 years. For the upcoming year, Washington's corners look decent with Hall, Josh Wilson, and Biggers.
Wide Receiver -- The team's top four is set. It would be nice to add a young receiver who could beat out Dezmon Briscoe and Aldrick Robinson for that fifth spot and perhaps grow into a bigger role as Santana Moss enters the twilight of his career.
Given the solid state of Washington's roster, my expectation for this weekend's draft is that Shanahan and Allen will look to add a starting safety and to increase overall depth. About the only thing that would surprise me is if they picked a quarterback.