A final analysis of the 2010 season won't be in for a couple more weeks. I still have two more games to go through. And, well, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future performance of the Redskins. I just get the sense -- the strong sense -- that the negatives are going to outweigh the positives.
There aren't a lot of good future players on this roster with their best days ahead of them. There's LaRon Landry, there's Trent Williams, there's Fred Davis, there's Brian Orakpo, and that's your core of talent. Then behind them, you have something useful in Kevin Barnes, Kory Lichtensteiger, perhaps Rob Jackson, Jeremy Jarmon, Perry Riley, Keiland Williams, and maybe HB Blades (if he's re-signed). Brandon Banks is exciting, but currently resides in the hospital.
That's really it as far as players with upside. The rest of the roster is full of players who have already arrived. You have established talent in Santana Moss (free agent), Donovan McNabb (probably available), Albert Haynesworth (rather available), London Fletcher, Ryan Torian, Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, Jammal Brown, Adam Carriker, Lorenzo Alexander, DeAngelo Hall, Phillip Buchanon (free agent), and Carlos Rogers (free agent). That's it as far as "talent" on the roster goes. And in spite of the contributions of those players, the Redskins still haven't enjoyed a winning season in three years.
When you compare the Redskins to division rivals, young talent is in far greater supply around the rest of the NFC East. The Cowboys haven't always built intelligently, yet still have Dez Bryant, Mike Jenkins, Sean Lee, Doug Free (free agent), Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice as projectable young players to support a growing number of established vets. The Eagles will run out Brandon Graham, Trevor Laws, Nate Allen, Kevin Kolb, and Jerome Harrison to their division champion team. The Giants have young talent reserves in Will Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph, Jonathon Goff, and Kenny Phillips.
At best, the last-place Redskins are not growing at the same rate as the rest of the division. That would be considered a dire expectation -- at least it would if there was any expectation for the Redskins to make a push next year. There isn't, and for good reason.
Perhaps this is the very best illustration of why the Redskins' quarterback struggles of the past 8 years or so have been overblown. Right now, they are an undertalented team that has both fewer established stars, and fewer players who are likely to develop into stars in the future. Pointing out that the Redskins also have the worst quarterback situaiton in the division is not necessary. It's true, but even if they could acquire a quarterback on the level of Eli Manning (lets say: Carson Palmer) with hardly any investment, the Redskins would still be hopelessly overmatched in the division. Adding a quarterback, even a young first round prospect, to this team doesn't do anything but solve an isolated need -- a need that didn't exist prior to the Shanahan regime.
The question for the Redskins to answer is: where are the Redskins going to find enough meaningful young talent that fits into their plans of being a run-action offense and 3-4 defense to consistently compete in the division, and how long will it take? Trying to beat the other teams in the division should be a secondary concern, at least until the roster can grow at the same rate as others do. How quickly can this organization get into the same class as others around the top of the NFC? It may be a couple of offseasons, minimum, to give the Redskins a strong enough base of scheme-related talent to join other organizations up at the top of the league.
Free agency, when its pararmeters are set by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, can and should be used by the Redskins to help speed up the process of constructing a talent base. But the process itself is the draft. In the past, the team may have tried to replace the draft with a combination of veteran signings and money spent on players with star power, but no team has proven able to actually replace the draft, and especially not the Redskins, who have found only mixed success in free agency as well. Selective free agency (best available should be a draft-only term) can help facilitate a quick return, with a focus on the draft.
In the intermediate, there probably won't be a lot of legitimate Redskins-related hope for the 2011 season. At least I would hope there isn't. Last year's "hope" came through some incredibly well-paved channels, channels that have delievered little success under Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato. 2011 is yet another chance to start doing it differently. It would be a good time to start.