For all the talk about what the Washington Redskins might do in the first round, the real conversation should be about whether they keep the 21st overall pick. Based on comments from general manager Scot McCloughan at the NFL Owners Meetings, there's a strong chance they won't.
When combined with Washington's quiet start in free agency, the bigger picture plan becomes more evident: McCloughan the free agency decider is helping McCloughan the heralded draft evaluator bide his time, maybe two years, maybe more, as he stockpiles players of his choosing. That's why the more picks the better.
First, here's McCloughan on his draft plan. From Redskins.com:
On Sunday, he told “Redskins Nation” host Larry Michael that if he gets his way, the Redskins will turn their eight 2016 NFL Draft picks into 12.
“The thing is, the more you kind of swing at it, the more chances you’ve got to hit,” McCloughan said from the annual NFL Owners Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. “And I think last year we had a solid draft – we got some guys that came in and helped us win a division – we’re going to keep adding to it. And the more picks I can get, the more younger guys – the more healthier guys – I’m going that route.”
There are many ways a GM could turn eight picks into 12. The easiest involves dropping down if not out of the first round. Such a move could garner 1-3 additional picks. It wouldn't take much to reach a dozen overall picks from there.
Based on Washington's primary needs -- defensive line, safety, running back - moving back makes logical sense. ESPN's Mel Kiper explained the strategy where the Redskins wait on DL until round two because of the position's impressive depth. After projected top-5 pick Jalen Ramsey, the next safety likely won't come off the board until Day 2. Regardless of any momentum for Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott's stock, the draft value of running backs remains depressed.
As of early Monday morning, the Redskins haven't been terribly active in free agency, an approach followed by perennial powerhouses in New England and Green Bay. They've kept a large handful of their own, including Kirk Cousins, Junior Galette and Will Blackmon, while adding only three outsiders. That trio provides depth, but not clear starters. Plenty of time remains for spending more coin, but there are also plenty of spots open for rookies.
This brings us to another McCloughan quote from Sunday:
“I preach and preach and preach and I’ll never change: you build through the draft,” he said. “You identify your own – who can play, but not just from a talent standpoint, but from a personality standpoint, character standpoint, a passion standpoint, a competitive standpoint where you know, ‘This guy fits what we’re looking for. We can build on these guys.’ And they teach younger guys how to do it.”
Focus for many fans plus some in the media centers on the present. Does the team have enough this coming season to win games and lots of them? No doubt an important question, but not necessarily McCloughan's primary goal. He's not just building a roster, but a culture, a winner. Players will change over the years. That doesn't mean the tone should.
What the Redskins lost during all the years of adding hired guns was a true core. In the absence of stability, money dictated leadership roles and at times that mean some false prophets. By bringing together a group of kids, they can grow together, forming a bond. McCloughan the talent and character evaluator will pick the group, plucking them ripe rather than invest heavily in those that have already fallen off of the tree.
Last year McCloughan targeted the likes of Terrance Knighton and Dashon Goldson for reasons similar to adding David Bruton and Terence Garvin in 2016. "They have seen it. They know what it looks like," McCloughan said. "They know how to practice, they know how to take notes, they know how to lift weights – they understand, ‘This is what we have to do to be successful."
Such players help provide leadership in the present and do so without taxing Washington's future costs thanks to 1-year deals. They also help form the strong outer shell and fuel attempts at winning now while McCloughan drafts the eventual core. That's why he's down with more picks. That's why nobody should become too attached to 21.
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