Redskins fans can hold their heads up high because of the emergence of a few of players on the line of scrimmage who are on the right side of age 30 and have performed for this team in a lost season. Defensively, LB Rob Jackson, LB Chris Wilson, DE Jeremy Jarmon, NT Anthony Bryant, OL Kory Lichtensteiger, OL Will Montgomery, and TE Logan Paulsen have found niches on a mostly veteran team. And, of course, there's Trent Williams, the team's franchise left tackle.
The placement of these players is excellent from the perspective of wanting to build your teams through the lines first. All of those players play in the trenches. They haven't all had great seasons, but if the problem with the line play is in fact some underachieving veterans could not stop the bleeding all season, well, that's one of the more fixable problems an NFL team can encounter.
It's also important because the Washington Redskins are going to need to acquire an expensive quarterback project within the next year or two years, and those projects are much more likely to fail if you have no young talent or depth in the trenches on either side of the ball. At this time last year, the Redskins probably didn't have as much talent in the defensive trenches as we thought, and likely didn't have any depth in the lines on either side of the football. This represents positive change, not in the overall direction of the franchise, but in one of the very first steps of a rebuilding project.
The direction of the franchise will be determined by who the next quarterback is, as well as with the development of it's receiving corps, the decision the team will make at RT with Jammal Brown, Stephon Heyer, and others, and how dominant the defense can become with LaRon Landry and Brian Orakpo and all the other pass rushers the team will need to add. The youth in the trenches will play the role of the supporting actors. But a good cast would be just a mediocre one if it doesn't have it's contributors. Guys like Jarmon, Bryant, Jackson, and Lichtensteiger are minor players, but important ones.
The Redskins have two draft picks and a lot of free agent dollars to add the players they will need to improve their offense and defense: a couple of quality defensive backs, and a couple of quality pass rushers, a quarterback, a wideout for the new quarterback to throw to and develop with, and a few key decisions on the offensive line. Mostly, the Redskins largest need is to convert their 5+ second day picks into quality depth pieces (and to add more to those picks).
It will be interesting to see if the Redskins can solve all their needs in one offseason. Last offseason, player movement was limited, and the Redskins had just one draft pick in the first three rounds. There was nothing they could do to fill every one of the needs they diagnosed. This is not to excuse the horrible offseason and all the decisions to play underachieving veterans that helped the Redskins build one of their worst rosters ever, and the worst of the Snyder era. Only to say that the means to fill all of the roster's holes last year did not exist. Win or lose, this was going to be a flawed Redskins team. The losing is not excusable simply because the perfect roster was unobtainable. This offseason, the perfect roster is theoretically obtainable.
That doesn't mean it is likely to be achieved. I have diagnosed four defensive and three or four (pending a Moss extension) offensive needs that the Redskins have, and only two of those can be achieved by drafting quality players in the first two rounds. If the Redskins are going to heed my suggestions and spend their first two picks on 1) a quarterback or receiver, and 2) a pass rusher, then free agency must be sufficient for three other defensive needs and at least two other offensive needs.
The offensive line needs would be most easily solved by a key free agent signing, with many strong guards available on the market. Wide receivers are also plentiful free agents this year. Quarterbacks: not so much. There's a couple interesting trade options, headlined by Chad Henne, Carson Palmer, and Kyle Orton. But the best available free agents: Seneca Wallace, Matt Moore, Matt Leinart, and Tavaris Jackson. There's not a lot of great options there. The draft may be the best option to get next year's quarterback.
One of the unintended consequences of Michael Vick's impending free agency with the Eagles is that he may occupy the team's franchise tag, making their best safety, Quentin Mikell, an unrestricted free agent. San Diego's Eric Weddle would be a nice consolation prize. I also think that Ike Taylor would be an excellent free agent addition by the Redskins in the secondary. With the free agent pass rushers expected to be quickly sucked up by franchise tags and big money re-signings, the Redskins will likely have to go to the draft for some sort of pass rushing help in the second round.
An aggressive free agent strategy will be necessary if the goal is to fill all the holes this offseason, and with Mike Shanahan's job security involved, it may have to be that way. Because of last year's limit on player movement, there are more than five available free agents who fit the Redskins scheme. Expect one of the more aggressive free agent spending sprees of the Snyder-era. Doesn't that make you feel warm and fuzzy?
Still, Redskins fans need reason to believe, and some individual player development in the last few weeks could provide some of that reason. Help is on the way. Now, without a creative trade, the Redskins will not be able to avoid giving the keys to a rookie quarterback and growing as a franchise along with him. Realistically, you're looking at 2013 being the next time the Redskins are in competition for the NFC East division, and that's if everything goes according to plan. We still have little idea if there is a plan, or whether we can trust the people currently in control of the franchise. But if the Redskins finally commit to rebuilding -- beginning in 2011 -- a younger, more talented Redskins team would be expected to emerge on the otherside. And in the NFL, the other side may never be as far away as one may think, for those franchises who know how to do it right.