Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 7, 17 days before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Why have the Redskins not been to the Super Bowl in 24 years?
The numbers are stark. In a league that is supposed to be defined by parity, the Redskins have gone 24 years without a Super Bowl appearance. There are 16 teams in the NFC and the Redskins have been unable to break through.
The situation been worse than that, actually. The Redskins are not only unable to get to the big game, they are unable even to get to the doorstep. They are one of two NFC teams who have not played for the conference championship since the 1991 season. The other one, perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, is the team they played in the 1991 NFC title game, the Lions.
The era of unrestricted free agency and the salary cap came about in 1993, a change that was supposed to level the playing field and give every team a chance at ultimate success. But the Redskins have been unable to take advantage.
Or, perhaps the better way to put it is that they have taken advantage of unrestricted free agency too much. Stop me if you’re heard this before, but they have been too reliant on free agency to build year in and year out rather than placing an emphasis on the draft.
A myth that many fans buy in to is that the organization suddenly became infatuated with free agency when Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999. Not true—it’s part of the team’s DNA, its culture. Some pre-Snyder free agent pickups during the 1990’s included defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson. The latter actually was acquired in a trade, which was the worst of both worlds. They gave Wilkinson a big contract and gave up their first- and third-round picks in the 1998 draft.
But the Redskins were buying free agents before 1993. CB Pat Fischer, DT Dave Butz, and LB Wilbur Marshall were all signed after their contracts expired with their old teams. The rules at the time required draft pick compensation for such signings. John Riggins was signed in 1976 when a one-year window allowed for unrestricted free agency to take place. A “gentlemen’s agreement” was in place that discouraged signing free agents (it would be called “collusion” today). But George Allen was having no part of that and signed several players, including Riggins.
Butz, Marshall, and Riggins all helped the Redskins win Super Bowls and without a salary cap their salaries didn’t matter all that much. That changed in 1993. The way to go became to use draft picks to build your team with relatively cheap labor and then give the big money to your homegrown talent. An occasional free agent pickup to bolster a weak spot is fine but acquiring veteran plays is a method that needs to be a supplement to the draft, not the other way around.
Free agency became a cycle in Washington. When there was a hole in the lineup it was plugged with a free agent. If a player was drafted at that position he didn’t get an opportunity to develop. So when the original free agent got too old or too expensive there wasn’t a player ready to take his place. Snyder got out the checkbook and another free agent signed on the line.
Scot McCloughan knows the right way to do things. He had a hand in building the Brett Favre teams that went to the Super Bowl twice in the late 1990’s, the 49ers that went there in 2012, and all three of the Seahawks Super Bowl teams, including the one that is played in the last two Super Bowls prior to this one.
McCloughan started to point things in the right direction in his first year on the job. But one season does not make a culture changeCan the new GM change the Redskins’ culture and get a franchise that keeps on trying to build a team using methods that worked for a couple of decades a long time ago but don’t any more to start doing it the right way? That is his biggest challenge.
—The Redskins last played a game 28 days ago. It will be about 217 days until they play another one.
—Days until: NFL Combine 17; NFL free agency starts 31; 2016 NFL draft 81
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