Overlooked amid talk of a struggling Kirk Cousins, Josh Norman's usage, too many fade patterns and this 0-2 start is this reality: The weaknesses/concerns with the Washington Redskins from last season remain. That means the defensive line, primarily. Also the run defense, pass rush and whatever was needed for the coaching staff to feel comfortable about their own run game.
It's not just that these issues remain. It's that they largely weren't addressed. The question is why.
Clinton Portis is wondering. "We didn’t address any of the issues we needed to address," the former Redskins runner-turned-analyst told the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg after the Redskins lost Sunday.
Theory: Despite winning the 2015 NFC East title, Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan did not alter his long-term plan of rebuilding . We just stopped listening.
There was a pennant to hang, but McCloughan wasn't ready to hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner. Last year's success surprised most. It didn't alter McCloughan's approach. Perhaps that's part vision, part not beating a team with a winning record. Perhaps that's why moves made during free agency and the NFL Draft were about the big picture rather than addressing those obvious needs.
That last line is key -- and a point McCloughan himself emphasized repeatedly. We just stopped listening.
Fans and analysts are conditioned to think that a front office, at least those not run by former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, makes moves with the upcoming postseason in mind. That's especially true if said team just won its first division title since 2012.
Look at what the Redskins did this offseason and it would appear McCloughan does not agree.
“I preach and preach and preach and I’ll never change: you build through the draft,” he said on Redskins.com in March.
Yes, McCloughan signed Josh Norman to a massive contract, but that was a fluke situation. Carolina didn't cut ties with the Pro Bowl cornerback until the bulk of free agency passed. Norman, 28, also isn't an over-the-hill player joining a team not ready to win (That Donovan McNabb trade on the other hand...).
Everything else, low key maneuvers with a focus on depth, culture. The first three draft picks were players with desired upside, who didn't have a clear path to the starting lineup/major snaps and were targeted more for 2017.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that building blocks approach. In January 2015 such talk was like finding an oasis of logic after a decade-plus of walking through the cash burning desert of Ashburnistan. Now, it sounds quaint. Division title one year means eyes set on Lombardi Trophy contention the next, right?.
McCloughan, it appears, wasn't thinking so grand this off-season. He told us so. Here are several 2016 quotes from the Redskins general manager explaining his vision.
"What I want to do is build through the draft no matter what," McCloughan said. "We'll sign some free agents, but it's character, it's a flair, it's the passion, it's the competitiveness. I don't need the biggest, fastest, strongest. I need football players."
* "We'll sign some free agents" here sounds like "I'll get to the gym right after I play a season of Madden 17 in franchise mode."
April 12. Pre-Draft Interview with Bleacher Report. On free agency vs. the draft:
"It’s a tool I like to use because you can address needs prior to the draft, but it’s not a long-term solution. I want to draft well and identify the guys are Redskins, not just as players, but as people. ...It’s all about the Redskins, it’s about passion, it’s about football and that’s when you start hitting on guys."
* If you preach the draft as McCloughan does relentlessly, then you cannot afford to create cap and depth chart roadblocks with numerous big dollar free agents. The idea of culture building also works best when you develop the players.
May 2. Post Draft Press Conference. Question - Was there a point in his career where maybe he didn't adhere to his often mentioned "I want Football Players" philosophy and it burned him which led to sticking with the plan regardless?:
“At a time when your roster is really strong and you’re a really good team, then you can start worrying about things on the back end. Right now, we’re going forward. We’re taking the best player and throwing them in there."
Scot McCloughan knows what he's doing. At least that's what the masses believe. "In Scot We Trust," and such. If that's true, then perhaps the only rational way to explain why he wasn't trying to fix the obvious needs this offseason is simple: He wasn't trying to, not yet.
After weeks talking about summer practices and position battles, about kicking soccer balls in Richmond and losing two straight in Landover, it's easy to forget about the McCloughan doctrine even when you wrote about it back in March:
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 meant some false prophets. By bringing together a group of kids, they can grow together, form 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.
McCloughan always told us he was in this for the long haul and not a quick fix. At some point we stopped listening, or at least that's one theory.
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