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Need to Know: Why have the Redskins not been to the Super Bowl in 24 years?

Need to Know: Why have the Redskins not been to the Super Bowl in 24 years?

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.

Timeline

—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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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

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In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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