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Need to Know: To get the Redskins to the Super Bowl, McCloughan must change team’s DNA

Feb 1, 2015, 7:05 AM EDT


Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 1, 17 days before the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL assemble in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.

Question of the day

We’re changing up the format of Need to Know for the offseason. Every day I’ll give an in-depth answer to a question submitted by a fan on my Twitter feed, via the Real Redskins Facebook page, or in the comments section here. On Twitter address the questions to me at @Rich_TandlerCSN with the #NTK hashtag. There will be a comment thread set up on the Facebook page and if you’re asking your question here, put “for NTK” at the start of the comment.

Today’s question is from Twitter:

This is an interesting topic to dig into a bit on a Super Bowl Sunday morning. The Redskins have not been to a Super Bowl during the unrestricted free agency/salary cap era, which started in 1993. The cap was set up for parity, to give every team a chance year in and year out.

But there have been 22 opportunities for an NFC team to make the Super Bowl since that season and the Redskins are 0 for 22. Perennial losers like the Bucs and Cardinals have been, as have the Panthers, who didn’t exist until 1995.

Where have they gone wrong? Stop me if you’re heard this before, but they have been too reliant on free agency to build year in and year out rather than placing an emphasis on the draft.

The organization did not suddenly become infatuated with free agency when Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999. It’s part of the team’s DNA, its culture. Some pre-Snyder free agent pickups during the 1990’s included defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson. The latter actually was a trade, which was the worst of both worlds. They gave Wilkinson a big contract and gave up their first- and third-round picks in the 1998 draft.

But the Redskins were buying free agents before 1993. CB Pat Fischer, DT Dave Butz, and LB Wilbur Marshall were all signed after their contracts expired with their old teams. The rules at the time required draft pick compensation for such signings. John Riggins was signed when a one-year window allowed for unrestricted free agency to take place. A “gentlemen’s agreement” was in place that discouraged signing free agents (it would be called “collusion” today). But George Allen was having no part of that and signed several players, including Riggins.

Butz, Marshall, and Riggins all helped the Redskins win Super Bowls and without a salary cap their salaries didn’t matter all that much. That changed in 1993. The way to go became to use draft picks to build your team with relatively cheap labor and then give the big money to your homegrown talent. An occasional free agent pick up to bolster a weak spot is fine but it needs to be a supplement to the draft, not the other way around.

It has become a cycle in Washington. When there is a hole in the lineup it gets plugged with a free agent. If a player is drafted at that position he doesn’t get an opportunity to develop. So when the original free agent gets too old or too expensive there isn’t a player ready to take his place. Snyder gets out the checkbook and another free agent signs on the line.

Scot McCloughan knows the right way to do things. He had a hand in building the Brett Favre teams that went to the Super Bowl twice in the late 1990’s, the 49ers that went there in 2012, and all three of the Seahawks Super Bowl teams, including the one that is playing today.

Can the new GM change the Redskins’ culture and get a franchise that keeps on trying to build a team using methods that worked 30 or 40 years ago but don’t any more to start doing it the right way? That is his biggest challenge.


—It’s been 35 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 224 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL Combine 17; NFL free agency starts 37; 2015 NFL Draft 88

If you have any questions about what’s going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I’m always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

  1. rayvil01 - Feb 1, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    I’m delighted to see this post. As much as Charlie Casserly is respected he did a lousy job when the cap system was implemented. His last draft was his best when Mke Ditka traded NO’s entire draft for Ricky Williams. Got Champ and a few others. Draft-first mentality is the way to build.

    The key seems to be the undrafted guys and how well the GMs do with them. Just quick math says a 53-man roster with an average career of 3 years can’t be maintained by only adding 7 players a year. The undrafted FAs are the mortar between the bricks it seems. Redskins haven’t done well there, either. Hoping McC changes that.

    • deepball1 - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:03 AM

      if the average career of most of your players is 3 years then that team will never win. Most young players take at least 2 years just to develop and the years 3-5 is when they begin to peak. Yes there are players who get injured or don’t work out who leave the NFL after 2-3 years but those are scrubs picked up after the draft.

      If you draft well and sign a couple of solid free agents after the draft, then after 5-6 years the bulk of your team will be guys that the team drafted and molded. That is what Scott M has in mind I do believe….but that is the opposite of what the Skins have done. They have been signing players in free agency every year from other teams and most of those players have already peaked in talent….i.e. Hatcher…Ryan Clark…..Merriweather…..or in the case of Cofield and Bowen the Skins get a couple of years out of them and then BOOM…worthless.

      Also this whole process should be applied to coaching as well. When a team turns over its coaching staff every 2-3 seasons AND so many players….there is a hodgepodge of a mess and confusion and no continuity. This is obvious from what has been occurring it doesn;t take a brain surgeon to figure it out because I am not in the medical field.

      • rayvil01 - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:25 AM

        Don’t disagree. The 3-years is just the league average. Considering Tom Brady has been in the league 15 years, there must be a lot of one-and-dones.

        Undrafted FAs are still a key in my mind. And the Redskins have not done well there.

        • Rich Tandler - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:31 AM

          That three-year average is somewhat misleading. It counts every player who was on a roster for even a game. If you last one year on a roster, chances are you’ll survive, I think, five years on average. And the most established you become, of course, the longer your career is likely to be.

          But, yes, UDFA’s help. If you get your starting WR’s as UDFA’s like Seattle did, you save the $19 million in cap that the Redskins are paying Jackson and Garçon.

  2. kenlinkins - Feb 1, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    This IS the dirty little secret most Redskins fans hate to see in print. The main reason for the Redskins getting to the Super Bowl was it’s owner, who was willing to spend the money on players. Guys like Art Modell who had limited funds (he was NFL team rich but cash poor) could not keep up with the Super Rich owners like JKC who would spend 3 and 4 times what the so called “Small Market” guys would. Players wanted to come to DC for the pay day and a shot a getting to the Super Bowl. Everything changed with the Spending Cap, now you require some football and business smarts to win it all in the NFL. Something the Redskins have lacked for many years now.

  3. kenlinkins - Feb 1, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    Rich: Dave Butz was a first round draft pick who only played 2 years with St. Louis before coming to the Redskins. I recall the Redskins giving 2 first round pick and maybe a 2nd round pick for him. How was this deal worked. Wouldn’t a first round pick get a longer contract then 2 years? I know it has been a while, but I was thinking the Butz deal was a trade, and not free agent signing. What am I forgetting?

    • Rich Tandler - Feb 1, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      No, per my notes from my books and per his own website:

      Butz played out his option with the Cardinals and signed with the Redskins. Not sure what the details of the rookie deal but it wasn’t a trade. Butz had the option to sign elsewhere and he did. The compensation was firsts in 1977 and 1978 and a second in 1979.

      • kenlinkins - Feb 1, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        Thanks for the information. I guess I am just shocked that a 1st round draft pick in 1973 would only get a two year contract or have an option.

        • Rich Tandler - Feb 1, 2015 at 2:32 PM

          Why sign them for longer? The owners essentially had perpetual rights or got insane compensation like the Cards got for Butz. If a guy did great you might have to give him a slight raise to keep him from holding out. But if he got hurt you could dump him. It was a very different world.

          > > >

  4. celticsforever - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    I’ve waited this long for success. If SM is allowed to do his job, things will improve, but not overnight. But yet you never know! Young, fast, hungry players eager to prove themselves can make a big difference in W-L records. Trade the 1st rounder to Philly for their entire draft and next years 1st & 2nd, and 2017’s 1st. That should help.

    • Joe Greene - Feb 1, 2015 at 4:23 PM

      I see you’ve started your SB drinking early.

  5. deepball1 - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    looking forward to an exciting season this year with about 15-16 new players on the team. YOUNG players and not old free agents. Redskins could be the youngest team in the NFL by next year.

  6. mr.moneylover19 - Feb 1, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    Ill say they will go after one maybe two free agent this year and start focusing on the draft and signing undrafted free agents…its so many late round players playing in the super bowl and the reason is that they carry that chip on they sholder to become the best…thats why I say ppl shouldn’t be so hype that we have a high pick in the draft and theres no excuse to have not picked up no talent in the years we gave our picks to the rams….im glad we got breeland tho hes a fighter and never back down but david amerson he drop his head everytime he makes a mistake and he cant do that hes just giving the wide receiver hes facing more confidents to score on him

    • mr.moneylover19 - Feb 1, 2015 at 12:20 PM

      Texas picked clowney with the first pick and they claiming hes injury prone or a bust but u take a look at redskins when they picked breeland its a clear sign high draft picks are overrated most the time

  7. skins365 - Feb 1, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    for NTK – Barring any trades, if there is a highly graded starting LT prospect at No. 5 when the Skins pick, such as La’El Collins or T.J. Clemmings, do you think the Skins should draft Collins or Clemmings, or do you think the Skins should draft DE Randy Gregory, DE/LB Shane Ray, or some other possible OLB/DE? The reason I ask because there may be a run on OTs in later picks of the 1st round. Thank you.

    • Joe Greene - Feb 1, 2015 at 4:24 PM

      There isn’t a legit top 10 OT in this draft, period. Someone like Gregory could work, and Leonard Williams would be the best option if he slides for some reason, but it’s a spot that’s custom built for a trade down to some team that wants one of the guys who isn’t that good at #5.

    • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 1, 2015 at 6:45 PM

      Gregory and Ray are too small to play OLB in a 3-4. Better fit in a 4-3 scheme. I like Collins and think he would be a great pick. Clemmings wouldnt be bad either. Both could start day 1 on the Oline weather it be RT or G. I like Collins better. With the rookie pay scale it really doesnt matter that they arent day 1 starters at LT drafting that high because the money isnt huge like in the past. Plus getting a starter on Our Oline that needs 4 guys isnt a wasted pick. I also wouldnt mind us Drafting Sheldon NT.

      • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 1, 2015 at 6:52 PM


      • captblood3000 - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:13 PM

        Gregory and Ray are both in the 240-245 range. If they are both too small to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, they can’t play 4-3 defensive end either. They will need to add weight to defend against the run. In the interim, if you draft either one, you may play Murphy where you expect the other team to run.

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 2, 2015 at 1:14 AM

          Most OLBs in a 3-4 are about 260lbs. A DE in a 4-3 can be a little smaller if they have the jump off the ball but they usually cant hold up against the run.

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 2, 2015 at 1:29 AM

          I like DANTE FOWLER JR., OLB better he fits our scheme better

        • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 7:51 AM

          Ray is short as well. He’s maybe 6’3″. Gregory has the kind of frame that can easily gain weight at 6’6″.

      • captblood3000 - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:31 PM

        Given Clemmings’ struggles at the Senior Bowl, it’s hard to see him starting in the NFL next year. As you will see stated often here, there
        appears to be no tackle worthy of the #5 pick. That includes Collins. If you do a good job scouting and are patient, you may well draft a starting offensive lineman at #40, or eventual starters in later rounds. Also, if a lineman doesn’t start year 1, he’s worth 25 or 20 percent less than he would otherwise.

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 2, 2015 at 1:24 AM

          I have said many times I would take SHELTON NT at 5 since Williams will be gome Thats if we cant trade down. If both are gone and we are stuck at 5 I would have no problem Drafting Collins he is a day 1 starter either at RT or G both of wich we need. IIhave also said I woud like to get Brown and Miller both linemen from Louisville and Mason from Georgia Tech. We need 4 linemen. I know we have Mose, Long, and LeBerius. But non of them have shown much and we need depth so out of those seven we should get a good shot at 4 ofthem showing up and playing well

        • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 7:52 AM

          Senior Bowl is just about as meaningless as the combine. Game film plus interviews are the key.

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 2, 2015 at 1:04 PM

          Seniorbowl is far from meaningless its the top players competeing against each other

        • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 8:14 PM

          Wow. Every year you get a handful of mid to late first rounders and a bunch of other guys. Occasionally you’ll have someone really good play there and confirm their status. Good GMs pay almost no attention as it’s not a real game and it’s not played with real football rules. Game film matters, the Senior Bowl doesn’t.

          The players that benefit most from the Senior Bowl are QBs who get taken too high based on how they play there. Here’s the last 5 QBs to go in the 1st round based on their stock rising during Senior Bowl week:

          EJ Manuel
          Brandon Weedon
          Jake Locker
          Christian Ponder
          Tim Tebow

          That’s a massive 0-5 with Locker literally being the only one who has shown any signs of being an NFL QB. The Senior Bowl is a massively overrated supplement, just like the combine. Good GMs don’t rate it highly, they just go to try and interview/get to know potential draft picks the same way they do at the combine.

  8. skins365 - Feb 1, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    for NTK – The 2015 schedule looks very tough at this moment for Skins. If the Skins go 3-13, 4-12, 5-11, or 6-10, barring any major or numerouse injuries AND RGIII does not develop, are Bruce Allen AND Jay Gruden on the hotseat? [Note: Jay Gruden should not be the ONLY guy on the hotseat if the 2015 season goes very badly IMO.] What happens to RGIII under that scenario?

    • bangkokben - Feb 1, 2015 at 5:34 PM

      Two things:
      1) If RG3 doesn’t develop for any reason he is finished in Washington; he would no longer be under contract and free to explore his options.

      2) How do you see the ‘skins 2015 as very tough? It is quite the opposite. SEVEN games against teams (6) coming off double digit losses compared to FIVE games against teams (3) with double digit wins – the ‘skins were 2-2 against these same teams (Dallas and Philly) in 2014.

      Home: 59-69 (NFC East 28-20; rest 31-49)
      Dallas 12-4
      New York Giants 6-10
      Philadelphia 10-6
      New Orleans 7-9
      Tampa Bay 2-14
      St. Louis 6-10
      Buffalo 9-7
      Miami 7-9
      Away: 62-65-1 (NFC East 28-20; rest 34-45-1)
      Dallas 12-4
      New York Giants 6-10
      Philadelphia 10-6
      Atlanta 6-10
      Carolina 7-8-1
      Chicago 5-11
      New England 12-4
      New York Jets 4-12

      When you’re drafting 5th, most of the teams are better than you, yet this schedule is crazy favorable for improvement. (.409 winning percentage outside the division.) A look further: 4 games against new coaches (Buffalo, Atlanta, Chicago, and NYJ); 4-6 games against teams with likely QB changes (NYJ, Buffalo, St. Louis, and Tampa – maybe Philly) and more importantly only two games outside the division against bonafide quarterbacks: New Orleans and New England.

      If you can’t win 7 games against this group then you really haven’t improved – barring catastrophic circumstances.

  9. timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 1, 2015 at 5:14 PM

    I feel our major problem over the years have bin scouting and GM more than anything. Free agency shoud be used to fill a 2 to 3 holes besides depth when needed with the Draft being the maiority of your roster weve bin doing it backwards mainly out of necessity because our Scouting has bin so bad.

    • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 1, 2015 at 6:24 PM

      A prime example of this is us taking Rocky Macintosh instead of Devin Hester. That year we needed a CB and KR/PR. Anyone who watched The U could tell who the better talent was but our scouts had no clue same with the GM They also took Hankerson instead of Travis Benjamin. This comes from them not watching film and not going to pro days. I was glad to see the. GM was going to the allstar games and I hope they send people to the Prodays this year because mostly we dont have people at these events.

      • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 8:18 AM

        Hester was a failure as a CB. Yes, he was the most dominant return man ever, but is that really what a good team wants out of the 35th overall pick? Hester was someone who surprised everyone with how good he was at one particular skill, but he was also someone who had absolutely no impact on many games.

        As exciting as he is, he’s a guy with 37 career TDs and 255 career catches in 9 years of play. He was a legit #3 WR for maybe 2 years of his career. We’re talking 4 TDs a year. I’m not sure that’s good enough for a top 40 pick and maybe not even for 57th where he was taken.

        Better than McIntosh, okay, but not good enough for 35th overall. BTW, Rocky was looking good as a WLB and then we moved to the 3-4 and he was lost at ILB. Injuries derailed him at that point, and he never recovered. If we stay in the 4-3, he’s probably still a good starting WLB today.

        As far as Hankerson goes, he has looked like he could be a legit #2 WR except for the injuries. He’s a guy who set the all-time reception record at Miami, breaking the mark held by Michael Irvin. Travis Benjamin is so “good” that he’s got 6 starts in 3 seasons on a horrible WR corps in Cleveland. He hasn’t broken the 18 catch mark in a season yet.

        Benjamin has 41 catches, 5 TDs, and 5 fumbles in 3 years with nobody other than Josh Gordon to compete with. Hankerson’s first 3 years produced 81 catches, 6 TDs, and 0 fumbles. I’m not even sure why you compared them since they weren’t even in the same draft. I guess it just emphasizes how completely clueless you are as to what’s going on. Hankerson is several orders of magnitude better than Benjamin even with the injuries.

        Hankerson has literally been twice as productive as Benjamin so far, is 6’1″ instead of 5’10”, and has had real WRs to compete against.

        • timwillhidetimwillhide - Feb 2, 2015 at 1:00 PM

          Devin Hester was switched to WR because of his explosiveness they wanted to get his hands on the ball more not because of his defensive skills he was actually pretty good at CB just raw. Travis Benjamin gained 40 yards everytime he touched the ball his rookie year and also filled a spot we needed WR/KR He has had guys infront of him Josh Gorden Greg Little amongst a couple other big recievers. Regardless watching them play at the U it was easy to tell who was the bigger playmaker. Just because they switch a players position doesnt mean he was bad at it and when one receiver gets more opportunities than another doesnt make him better I watch these players play for the U

        • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 8:25 PM

          40 yards every time he touched the ball as a rookie? Put the bong down dude, you’re literally clueless.

          Benjamin averaged 15 yards per touch from scrimmage as a rookie. He’s in year 3 and he’s got 6 starts on a horrible receiving corps. He’s not even gotten to 20 catches in a season yet. He’s a bum even on a bad team.

          The worst part is he’s COMPLETELY FREAKING IRRELEVANT to Hankerson since they weren’t in the same draft. You desperately need to learn what facts are and start applying them to your “biusness” education.

  10. skinsgame - Feb 1, 2015 at 11:46 PM

    So much is being made of the play call at games end, there, in the Super Bowl… while the play call was suspect, at best, Russell Wilson still threw an interception and no one is calling him out. He threw the ball at a covered man. 10 seconds before that, he was the hero and could do no wrong. The ending where the Seahumps started fighting and acting like jerkys said it all. Somehow, the Patriots came across as underdogs and had the party I was at rocking at the end.

    • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 8:21 AM

      You might want to take a look at what Wilson threw into. His WR simply got beat to the spot by a CB who wanted it more. Here’s a pic of the play as Wilson is about to release the ball:

      A WR should get to the ball first and make that catch every single time. If Lockette runs that route like a man, nobody is talking about the playcall and the Seahawks have won two consecutive titles.

      • skinsgame - Feb 2, 2015 at 9:52 AM

        He doesn’t see the CB. Brady didn’t see Wagner earlier in the game. Nobody was calling out the Patriots offensive coordinator because Brady didn’t see the linebacker was about to make a play.

        • Joe Greene - Feb 2, 2015 at 8:20 PM

          It DOESN’T matter if he sees the CB there. If the WR runs the route like he should, the CB is irrelevant on that play.

        • skinsgame - Feb 2, 2015 at 10:40 PM

          Ridiculous. It doesn’t matter that the CB read the play and jumped the route and Wilson didnt see him? Right. Archives

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