In this politically divided town, there is one thing all can agree on - positive vibes are flowing throughout Redskins nation. Whether you look left or right, it’s impossible to miss, especially after years observing the forlorn looks that come from being disillusioned one (or a dozen) too many times.
We’re not talking Super Bowl-winning confidence, but several steps-in the-right-direction belief. The potency of the optimism stems from the team’s impressive preseason performance – at least compared to expectations – and key acquisitions, but it started with a decision made five months ago.
That’s when the brain trust apparently decided against selecting a quarterback with the 10th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. Instead they traded down for multiple selections, a maneuver they would repeat several times. Instead of the obvious headline-making move – in this case drafting a hot shot, but not ready for prime time, quarterback - they slid back and horded picks like they were trying out for the A&E reality show.
In the process Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen changed the direction and the attitude of a losing franchise.
No more luring aging mercenaries with fat paychecks and indirectly confusing locker room chemistry and hierarchy. Drafting a dozen players indicated that plan was no more. At least for this year. For now, that’s enough.
With so much focus and scrutiny on the current quarterback battle between Rex Grossman and John Beck, it’s easy to forget most questioned the merits of their candidacy altogether. Beck was the only quarterback on the roster that was sticking around for this season and that was hardly acceptable to the masses.
The fear was that it would also be unacceptable to the decision-makers, those who dealt picks the year before for an aging Donovan McNabb and those that always acted like this team was one move away from playing on the season’s final Sunday.
Six quarterbacks were selected within the first 36 picks, but chalk that up to desperate teams, not can't miss talent. And with only two stopgap quarterbacks to compete against, public pressure would have mounted to get the new kid in the Redskins lineup sooner than would be reasonable.
With an aging roster and fed up fans, this team could not afford to miss, let alone loudly. The inevitable rush to start a rookie at American pro sports' most critical position likely would have pushed the cranky volume toward full blast.
Certainly a signal caller of the future is needed, but at draft time so was the base to put around the future face of the franchise, to help maximize the potential.
With only scant picks of their own, the Redskins adding much help in the draft was unlikely. Or so it seemed.
The NFL lockout wiped out the traditional free agency period, so the draft was the first chance to gauge the Redskins plans after a tabloid-filled 2010 season, to see if they understood the aging roster needed a rebuild.
Apparently they did.
Converted linebacker Ryan Kerrigan was the headliner, but the dozen draft picks were together incredibly symbolic, as was the notion that Beck was truly in the mix for the starting gig. It meant winning would come via the long haul and not a quick fix.
Fast forward to Labor Day weekend. Ultimately a whopping nine picks made the final 53-man roster (plus one undrafted lineman) and the remaining three were added to the practice squad.
The main free agents that were eventually added (Barry Cofield, Chris Chester, Stephen Bowen) are 28-and-under, meaning the Redskins paid for future results and not past performance. After suffering with the tired legs of Clinton Portis last season, they traded for the bullying ways of Tim Hightower.
Does all of this mean the Redskins are in the hunt for a postseason appearance? Let’s just say everyone from face-painters to jersey-wearers should be thrilled for 8-8, prepare for another 6-10. If the latter occurs, based on where we stand today (meaning there are no obvious trouble spots…or talks of conditioning tests), note that not all losing records are the same.
Playing with energy and enthusiasm, often the byproducts of employing youth, has this team, this franchise trending the right way. That may not ultimately lead to playoff appearances, let alone Super Bowl trips, as much has to go right be it health or individual improvement. But the plan is sound, the direction legit.
Shanahan’s arrogance remains legendary, perhaps enough to make Kanye West do a double-take. Yet for the first time since just before Marty Schottenheimer was canned, there is valid reason to be positive about moves being made. On that, there is no debate, at least not this year.
Or until the owner decides he doesn't like the view from the sideline.