It would be diffficult, and perhaps impossible, to argue around the fact that the Redskins offense was not where it needed to be in 2013. The Redskins ranked in the top ten in yards per game, but just 23rd in points per game, and followed up a year where they had the best tunover rate in the NFL with one where they were among the worst offenders of turning the football over. You can strip away a lot of the elements of luck that went against the Redskins, and the truth is that they were no better than mediocre at any point in 2013, and downright awful following the second Philadelphia game.
The impressive yardage totals? Built off the back of having to throw while trailing some of the leagues worst defenses. Pierre Garcon's 100 yard games? There were five of them, and none of them came against a defense worth anything. Defensive pass DVOA and NFL rank in parenthesis: Garcon had 143 yards vs Green Bay (21.3%, 28th), 172 yards vs San Diego (23.9%, 31st), 119 yards vs Minnesota (22.0%, 29th), 129 yards vs Atlanta (24.6%, 32nd), and 144 yards vs Dallas (20.8%, 27th). Every one of the defenses that Garcon went over the 100 yard plateau against was lower rated defensively than the Redskins were. In reality, Pierre Garcon's great year wasn't great at all, he actually put up a couple of stinkers against Oakland (22.1%, 30th), at Dallas, and both games against Philadelphia (16.6%, 25th), and Detroit (9.9%, 20th).
The offense tanked after the Philadelphia game for an unavoidable reason: they lost Leonard Hankerson and Jordan Reed for the balance of the season, right before they started to play strong defenses. 12 times this year, Washington lined up against a well below average defense. The other four times were Robert Griffin's final three starts (home games vs San Francisco, the Giants, and Kansas City), and the season finale in New York. Without the two most dependable targets on the team, and against teams that wouldn't let a second rate target like Garcon beat them, the Redskins offense really struggled. Understandably.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the problems on the offensive side of the ball are very fixable. In a future article, I'll example how the issues on the defensive side of the ball probably can't be fixed in an offseason (but are also not as bad as you think they are). Here's how those specific issues can and will be fixed by the time the calendar flips to the summer.
Fire Mike Shanahan. Check. Fire Kyle Shanahan. Check. Fire Mike McDaniel. Check. Hire Jay Gruden, find competent assisstants (promoted Sean McVay from TEs coach to QBs and offensive coordinator, added Wes Phillips as TEs coach, Ike Hilliard as WRs coach, and Randy Jordan as RBs coach). Check.
What's interesting is that the Redskins didn't overhaul their coaching staff. They cut out the most cancerous parts of it, promoted McVay, who turned 28 this week, and really tried to keep the status quo at most levels. The quarterbacks and receivers were the most poorly coached units on the entire roster (possible exception linebackers and hard, obvious exception special teams, which we will not speak of), and now with McVay and Gruden in charge of those guys, there should be more development going on. Ike Hilliard was the WRs coach in 2011 and 2012 under Mike Shanahan, and those were Leonard Hankerson's two best seasons. However, Aldrick Robinson seemed to emerge once Hilliard left, and Niles Paul had to switch positions to see the field more consistently.
But the Redskins will continue to stress line continuity under Chris Forester, who I think has done a pretty good job overall. Remember, Forester follows Joe Bugel as Redskins OL coach, and Bugel is one of the more revered coaches in the league. But the line has received much better coaching since Forester took over. They will not be able to lean on the exact same five guys that have started 32 of 33 games since 2012, however.
Jordan replaces Bobby Turner as RBs coach, and no one could have the kind of success that Turner has enjoyed coaching that position in his career. Luckily, one of Jordan's primary skills in his playing career was receiving out of the backfield, and in inheriting the players that Turner has coached, that's one of the few areas where Redskins RBs can show some improvement in 2014. Jay Gruden does love the screen game, after all. Jordan finished his career in Oakland playing for Jon Gruden and Marc Trestman.
The coaching staff has been safely upgraded, although hardly revolutionized. If the Redskins can win more than they lose in 2014, it wouldn't be because of the coaching staff, but they also won't have to win in spite of it now.
Unbench Robert Griffin? That seems easy enough.
Kirk Cousins was predictably terrible playing on a horribly coached, undertalented offense at the end of the 2013 season. I don't think this stretch of play really impacts his trade value much at all, but it's not going to pull any teams into the trade discussion that weren't already interested. The Redskins will likely get some calls for mid-round selections in exchange for Cousins, but even a team willing to give up a second round pick for a quarterback is probably not going to offer it unless the Redskins shop Cousins aggressively. Cousins did answer any questions teams may have had about his arm strength and his release, although he probably created more questions about his accuracy. He'll be in Washington in 2014 as the backup, unless something weird happens.
It would be near impossible to improve the highest producing position on the field in 2013. Alfred Morris established himself as a top flight running back (who admittely struggled after Griffin was benched), and Roy Helu had the breakout season we thought he would have in 2012. Evan Royster is an excellent no. 3 who is not a lock to make the team in 2014 at a stacked position. Jay Gruden was plodding along with BenJarvus Green-Ellis the last two years in Cincinnati and Cedric Benson the year before that. Neither of those guys would crack the top three on the Redskins depth chart.
The fullback gets kicked to the side often in the spread formations favored by a lot of the modern WCO coaches, but Darrel Young is as good as anyone in the league (non-Marcel Reece divison) right now. He'll play a whole bunch next season as Gruden searches for a no. 2 TE to play in his more prefered '12' personnel packages. Honestly, Young could probably be the right guy for that job as well.
Receiver has been the most consistently disappointing position in Washington over Mike Shanahan's tenure, and really, much before that as well. Garcon was able to establish himself as a quality starter in 2013. There's value in his blocking, and run after the catch ability. Garcon's line in the four games against quality opponents (and remember, he's got no help in these games from anyone else on the roster): 28 catches, 202 yards, 0 TDs, which breaks down to 7/51/0 per game. If you're charitable, that's a no. 2 receiver in this offense.
Hankerson played 10 games, and was the second most productive reciever on the team last year, and got off to a nice start in the first four games, but that was a disappointing third season. Aldrick Robinson probably "flashed" more than Hankerson did. Against those same four opponents, Robinson was shut out of the gameplan twice, but also put up lines of 4/67 and 3/33. Robinson is ultimately a no. 3 or no. 4 guy in this league, but can be a good one in that role.
Santana Moss and Josh Morgan are scheduled to hit free agency, and the truth is that the Redskins would have been better off if they just didn't do each of their current contracts.
Washington's receivers were simply not adequate enough to keep them in the discussion as a playoff team, even beyond the other issues the team had. They have to get better in 2014, and will have money to spend. The FA receiver who will help Griffin the most is Anquan Boldin, who turns 34 but is coming off a career year at 33. Age should help soften some of the up front cost on Boldin (who to be fair, may love San Francisco enough to do an extension prior to hitting the market). He's an eight million per year guy, so it would cost something like 3/$24 million to get a deal done. Boldin hasn't been able to separate from a DB in about five seasons, but he's one of those always open technicians that relies on strength and agility to separate only at the point of the catch. Griffin's single biggest need is a guy who is never a bad option for a target. Boldin, even at age 34, is the kind of player who would be able to handle the amount of targets Garcon (and AJ Green) received last year.
This is also a position that can be addressed in the draft, as the Redskins can get involved at the top of the third round. It's nice to be able to save the second round pick, for an equally pressing need, allow a lot of the misevaluated junior receivers to go in the top two rounds, and then use events like the Senior Bowl and the combine to find a fringe number one type that lacks some feature of higher round receivers. Last year, Keenan Allen (a top 20 talent in last year's draft) went in the third round because he had a questionable medical evaluation of his knee, and didn't run well at the combine or his pro day. He was one of the ten best receivers in football as a rookie this year, and San Diego went to the playoffs. You can't expect to get a top 20 talent at receiver in the third round of the draft every year. But top 35? That's reasonable. Leonard Hankerson was a top 35-ish talent in the 2011 draft coming out of Miami.
I don't know if Boldin is going to be available yet, but if you can add him and someone like Oregon's Josh Huff or Wyoming's Robert Herron in the third round to Garcon, Hankerson, and Robinson, that's a group of receivers that can help a quarterback instead of hurting him.
Kyle Shanahan called this group the deepest unit his team had last year, and one of the many issues that the Redskins had last year with talent evaluation. Logan Paulsen, who was fighting a knee injury that would have sidelined a lesser human being, was the least productive TE in football last season according to Football Outsiders. Fred Davis was both ineffective, and not allowed to contribute. Niles Paul is Niles Paul. Only Jordan Reed kept this position from being a disaster last season, as he was an early season breakout candidate. Reed's season ended on a Week 11 concussion, however, and that puts his football future into some shade of doubt. I don't doubt that Reed will try to play again, but the vast majority of concussion symptoms clear up after a week. Reed was not cleared for contact as of four weeks after impact. That's a serious issue.
Robert Griffin's knee injury rehab was national news last season, but there's no question Griffin will come back 100%, the only interesting thing about the rehab is how long it took/will take. Reed's injury comes with a far greater amount of uncertainty. We don't know if 2013 Jordan Reed is going to be better than any other version of Reed. He's probably going to recover to 100%. We just don't know. With Griffin, we know.
Behind Reed, there's very little. Davis is an unrestricted free agent, facing a six game suspension for a violation of drug policy, hasn't been effective since prior to his 2012 achillies injury, and is still somehow the best of all the options to be the no. 2 TE next season. Paulsen is not a lock to be back, based on performance. Niles Paul remains Niles Paul. Some upgrade in some form is needed at tight end. I expect the Redskins to use a late round selection here. You can find good TEs in the sixth round.
The line was the other major issue last year, beyond the receivers not getting open/slacking off. The issues have been two fold. 1) the Redskins traded for Jammal Brown in 2010, he hasn't played since 2011, and they haven't spent money on a replacement. That means that Tyler Polumbus has been playing RT for league minimum type salary. Polumbus has outplayed his contract, which is good when you're on a tight budget, but he's also out there if the defensive coordinator really needs to scheme up a quick pressure on the QB. 2) the interior offensive line is far more problematic because the team isn't cheaping out like at RT. Will Montgomery is a $3 million a year guy, Kory Lichtensteiger is a $3.5 million a year guy, and Chris Chester is a $4 million a year guy. None of those guys are good. None are safe for the 2014 season.
They all have experience playing the center position in this scheme, so one way or another that position is settled. Will Montgomery is probably the weakest of the five lineman Washington started last season, and according to people who are at Redskins Park daily, has gotten some criticism for not correctly setting the pass protection leading to hits on the QB. Let me say this: as an analyst, Montgomery is limited and probably nearing the end of his NFL career, but he's much more adequate than Casey Rabach was at the same point in his career. The problem for Montgomery is that he's not physically able to play a position on the line that isn't center. He's probably going to get released.
Chris Chester, on the other hand, plays a much more demanding position at RG, and could be salvaged by moving further inside to center. He's the second most expensive guy on the line though, and comes with a damaged knee that he played the entire 2013 season with. It makes a lot more sense to release Chester than to do anything else (even keeping Montgomery at center one more season probably makes more sense than keeping Chester as the center).
Kory Lichtensteiger is one year into a five year contract that contains very little guaranteed money. He's an adequate, if underwhelming, left guard who struggled with the best pass rushers he faced this year, but handled most of the guys he should have. Lichtensteiger would be a true asset at center, as a 29 year old on a team friendly contract. I think that's the way the Redskins will and should go: Kory to center, Montgomery and Chester waived.
The problem is that the Redskins do not have any ready-for-the-field guards breathing down their necks. They have bodies: Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis, and Maurice Hurt were all picked under Mike Shanahan to start at guard. They're all still there. But more prudently, the guards for next season are going to have to come from outside the organization.
There are two ways to address this. There are two offensive lineman who are hitting free agency who played for Jay Gruden last season: journeyman C/G Mike Pollak, and OT Anthony Collins, a longtime reserve who finished the season as Cincinnati's left tackle following some line shuffling. Pollak will be cheaper, and probably a better fit for the needs of the Redskins, but is cut from the same cloth as Montgomery and Chester, just a bit younger. Collins would provide depth and would probably make Polumbus expendable.
The Redskins can also address this in the second round with Notre Dame's Zack Martin, who played in a scheme that featured a lot of zone running and pass protections similar to what Chris Forester coaches under Notre Dame OC Chuck Martin (no relation). In Washington, he's probably the right tackle, but spending his rookie year as a reserve or a fill-in LG while the Redskins wait a year for a better FA class of guards would do wonders for the overall performance of the line. Martin is likely going to be available when the Redskins pick 34th overall, though that's right about where he's going to go off the board.
If you're keeping track, the Redskins have used less than half of their available cap space (after adding in money saved by releasing Chester/Montgomery/etc) and their two second day selections, and they've put an offense on the field that's pretty darn good. At least as talented as the 2012 team, with a lot of common parts. There is enough talent around Robert Griffin now for him to succeed as a passer in 2014. And sure, there's a lot of assumptions: Boldin may not come available, Martin may not be there at the 34th pick, and there's a shot Reed doesn't play next season. But there are no unreasonable assumptions, and the point was to show that the offense can be salvaged, turned into a very good unit, without a heck of a lot of effort.
On defense, it's going to be a little bit dicier. But I'll look at that and the Orakpo contract situation in depth in a future article.