I never thought I'd repeat these words during this or any other free-agency period, but now I can't help myself: Let's hear it for the Washington Redskins. They've done the unthinkable, the unimaginable and the damn-near-impossible when it comes to free-agent spending.
They have done nothing ... unless, of course, you count Artis Hicks.
|Haynesworth's first season in D.C. was more about injuries than production. (US Presswire)|
Nope, the Redskins sat this dance out, concentrating more on signing their own players, and congratulations, Mike Shanahan. Somehow, some way, the Redskins' new head coach convinced owner Daniel Snyder that spending big doesn't necessarily mean winning big, and I call Albert Haynesworth as my first witness.
Haynesworth was the most decorated and lucrative player in last year's free-agent market, and Washington made him the wealthiest one, too -- shelling out more than $40 million in guaranteed money to get him away from Tennessee.
In Haynesworth, the Redskins believed they had one of the league's premier defensive players -- and they did, only when he played for Tennessee. In Washington he was difficult to notice, missing a quarter of the games, finishing with four sacks and failing to live up to his reputation as an impact player.
In short, he was a disappointment, and there was a lesson there for Shanahan.
Only he could've pointed to this year's Super Bowl participants, too. Indianapolis didn't make a big free-agent splash last season, but then the Colts never do. And New Orleans? The Saints' biggest offseason pickup was safety Darren Sharper, and, no question, he made a difference -- a big difference. But the Saints didn't spend a zillion dollars on him and didn't sign him to a long-term contract. Instead, it was a one-year deal for $1.7 million, and they didn't do it until nearly three weeks into free agency.
Which means they got a player nobody else wanted.
Sometimes that's how it goes, and maybe, just maybe, the message has sunk in around the Capital Beltway. Instead of jumping into the free-agent market, sometimes it's better to wait out the opening salvoes, identify the players who fit your club, then sort through the second tier to sign the right ones.
Washington tried a hands-off approach in 2008, and it seemed to pay off -- with the club winning six of its first eight under new head coach Jim Zorn. OK, so the Redskins wound up a disappointing 8-8. It still tied for the team's third-best finish of the decade.
Nevertheless, the message was lost on Snyder, who a year later tried to spend his way to the top and wound up at the bottom of the NFC East.
Don't tell me you're surprised. This is the guy who signed Jeff George, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Mark Carrier and got next to nothing from them. This is also the owner who made Adam Archuleta then the highest-paid safety, then watched him move down the depth chart before his release. He paid the big bucks for Antwaan Randle El. He paid more big bucks for Laveranues Coles. And he took out a second mortgage on Haynesworth.
Anyway, I think you get the idea. Spending big never translated to winning big, with Washington 70-90 the past 10 seasons, including a 30-34 run under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Something had to give, and something just did.
First, Shanahan cut 10 veterans, including Randle El. Then he passed on the big free-agent names, preferring to sign offensive linemen like his own Casey Rabach and Mike Williams, as well as Hicks. Smart.
Now he reportedly has a visit scheduled with free-agent Antonio Bryant, which makes sense when you consider that Bryant's best season was 2008 when Bruce Allen, now the Redskins' general manager, was with Tampa Bay. Bryant isn't the biggest name on the wide-receiver market; Terrell Owens is. But the Redskins aren't interested in Owens.
At some point, Washington will understand the surest way to the top is through the draft, not free agency, with the Redskins taking big strides the last couple of years with draft picks like Fred Davis and Brian Orakpo and Chris Horton. But they've taken big strides the last few days, too, resisting the temptation to spend wildly to sit back and wait for the right guy to come along.
When the Redskins hired Shanahan, people wondered how long it would take before he would make a difference. I think we just got our answer.