Redskins need to come up with a 3-year plan

Redskins Personnel Washington Commanders

Now some people may be worried from the title that a 3-year plan, implies that the Redskins can’t compete for at least three years, that is not necessarily the case. A three- year plan is what every team should have regardless of where they are in terms of contention and roster development. Whether you are a team like the Broncos or Patriots with a veteran QB and on the cusp of a Super Bowl or a rebuilding franchise like the Raiders and Jaguars who are starting a rookie quarterback and figure to have a top 5 pick in next year’s draft. What your team’s priorities in that three year plan may be different as top contending teams may see a shrinking window, while rebuilding clubs may look to stockpile draft picks or cap money and prioritize youth and development. In the NFL three-year plans should be on a sliding scale so once a season ends you go from a 2014-2016 three-year plan to the 2015-2017 three-year plan. For teams that are well run, they can seamlessly transition from one plan to another, for team’s not so well run there are major bumps in the road, and for the Redskins they show no signs of having any sort of long term plan so it is time to start.

Before I get into the Redskins specifically, why do I suggest the Redskins should (and the whole NFL) should adopt a 3 year sliding plan model? Well it’s simple, that is how the NFL is set up. Everything about the NFL’s structure points to having a three-year flexible game plan as the way to conduct business. With non-fully guaranteed contracts like other sports, NFL teams can get out of contracts sooner than the total number of years. Typically when a 4-7 year long term contract is signed, a player is “locked” into being with that team for the first three years. In that three year window it is very difficult for a team to get out of a deal without taking a significant cap hit (relative to the contract). So when an NFL team signs a free agent for 5 years, they know that it is essentially a 3 year deal with in essence a “buyout” for the final two years. As that contract progresses, that window for that player becomes smaller. Pierre Garcon is the perfect example of this type of situation. Even if Garcon was a disappointment in his first two years the Redskins weren’t going to get rid of him in the third year as they would have taken an $8.4 million cap hit compared to his $9.7 million hit for being on the team. Now though entering next season that debate is very different as the cap hit for cutting/trading him is $4.4 million compared to $9.7 million. Now if the player still proves their value then you “pick-up” the final two years of that 5 year contract, but if not you have an out. For some mega-deals it can be more of a 4 year window where you really have to keep a player, but by in large it is a 3 year window that players should be viewed by. When looking at a free agent or re-signing a player, a team needs to consider how that player fits into their three year plan and what can be expected of them in that time frame. Those extra years can be nice, but really they are meaningless unless a player produces in the initial 3 year window.

Draft picks can also be judged on a three-year window with the way the CBA is set up. All draft picks are signed to a very reasonable 4 year contract, with first round picks the team having the option of a more expensive (though typically cheaper than free agency) 5th year if they want it. Despite the 4 year terms and the possibility of a 5th year option, the first three years are key for draft picks. The NFL is not a developmental league, where they draft a player and season them in the minors for a couple of years like the NHL or MLB. They don’t have any sort of developmental system like even the NBA with their D-League. Players have a short window to show they can play in this league and for draft picks it is typically no more than three years. That is not to say that there can be any developing for young players, but they have to do it as part of the “major league” roster. Whether that means learning on the bench or with game action, you have to prove you are worthy of a 53 man roster spot. The first three years are key also because, that is when teams are first confronted with making a long term decision on a player. Regardless of what round a player is drafted or how well they are preforming they can’t even think of renegotiating a contract with a team or signing an extension until after being in the league for 3 years. The same is true for whether or not teams will pick up a 1st round pick’s 5th year team option. Teams have to decide to pick it up after three seasons, otherwise a first round pick will be entering a contract year in their fourth season if it isn’t picked up. For the vast majority of players you know what you have after three years of NFL experience, there can be some late bloomers from time to time, but overall you have a good understanding of a player’s ceiling and floor after that time frame.

So the three-year sliding window makes sense from how the league is set up, and for most teams that is how they conduct business. For the Redskins there seems to be very little semblance of a real long term plan, much less a three-year plan of knowing the long-term goals of this team. Whether this team views itself as a contender or a re-building team you need to have a plan in place to execute for that strategy, the Redskins don’t seem to be taking either approach and it is costing them. Each and every move seems like it is in a vacuum with no real indication of a greater plan. The Redskins also don’t stick with a game plan year-in-year-out, alternating between aggressiveness and conservative approaches. Nor do the Redskins show an understanding of spreading out your resources across various position groups. This has left the Redskins at a point that even when they do make a good move (drafting Ryan Kerrigan, signing Barry Cofield, signing DeSean Jackson), it’s mitigated by the four wrong moves they made with it or the lack of a game plan.

Take the DeSean Jackson signing the Redskins made this offseason. Signing a young dynamic wide receiver, who is under 30 years old and one of the top 15-20 receivers in the league, looks like a tremendous signing in a vacuum. Jackson is a big time playmaker who can stretch the field and can be a major piece in a high-powered offense. The problem is the Redskins really weren’t in a contending position, and they just weren’t going to have a high-powered passing offense. Even if Robert Griffin turned the corner and reached the heights of his development this year, the Redskins weren’t going to be a team that threw the ball 650-700 times this season. Because of that it not only puts a cap on Jackson’s value, but it also means that in a crowded pass catching group with Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed someone is going to see their value fall dramatically. So while Jackson has been every bit the weapon as advertised and is playing at a Pro Bowl level despite the issues at QB, Garcon and Roberts have seen their value’s plummet. This is a perfect example of taking one step forward, but two steps backwards for the Redskins. Jackson is a great receiver and individually he’s earning every penny of his pay check, but it means the Redskins have too much invested in their WR group and just aren’t getting enough of a return on that investment to justify it. This was a move that was not made as part of a long term plan, and in the long run that will cost the Redskins some, and it likely means that Garcon will be playing elsewhere next year.

Overall you can point to the Redskins not having a long term plan, but one of the worst areas for the Redskins this has shown up of late is the safety position. Since their big signing of O.J. Atogwe in 2011 (a signing that lasted just one year and cost them a pretty penny), the Redskins have all but ignored the safety position. Their big “signing” since then has been Brandon Meriweather, and they have tried to combine that with other stop gap signings (Madieu Williams, Tanard Jackson, Ryan Clark) or mid-to-late round draft picks (Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, Jordan Bernstein). That is just embarrassing for this team as those are the high water marks of their investment in the position group. Where was the plan for this group to be anything above awful, much less average? It’s one thing to try stop gap players for a year or try to develop young guys, but they just haven’t done that. The Redskins will once again head into the offseason needing to make a major move(s) at this position. That is just inexcusable to ignore a position group for so long.

For all moves, be it signings, re-signings, or draft picks the Redskins need to adopt a three year plan and weigh how they will impact the team and their cap in that time frame. Until Washington adopts that style of game plan they won’t ever get out of the cellar on any sort of consistent basis.

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