Friday, March 18, 2005

Gibbs Can't Win For Losing

The media's love with Coach Gibbs continues to barrel headlong toward a jagged precipice. What a surprise. The sports media has seen all the evidence they need to judge Coach Gibbs on how he hasn't been able to keep some of his so-called core players. Surely, they suggest in not-so-subtle ways, Ol' Joe has lost a step in the game, perhaps spending too much time inhaling NASCAR gas fumes while the NFL morphed into its current state.

For instance, on Tuesday's 6PM SportsCenter, one of the "5 Burning Questions" in sports was the following: Has Joe Gibbs' legend lost luster in Washington?" Mr. Sal
Paolantonio's talking head fielded the question, and said that in light of Washington spending more than $10 million in free agency last season--more than any other team--yet finishing last in the NFC East, yes, he has lost luster in the eyes of Redskin fans. It should be noted, Sal continued, that Gibbs went to Daniel Snyder with a controlled-spending plan, and that led to the loss of Pierce to the Giants and Smoot to the Vikings.

On Saturday's Full Court Press, hosted by NBC-4 sportscaster George Michael, a roundtable of sports yakkers including the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon and ESPN's Stephen A. Smith considered whether Coach Gibbs has any idea what he's doing with the team. The outspoken Smith, never one to resist the siren's call of a preposterous question, immediately had an answer. But first he feigned disgust, griping "I'm sick of seeing these senior citizens disguised as coaches." He didn't elaborate as to whom he might be alluding, but continued complaining about Gibbs, reasoning that from last season's results and this offseason that the game has passed him by. Mike Wilbon didn't necessarily agree with Stephen Smith, but opined that coaches in charge of player personnel are rarely successful and that the players benefit from having separate general managers.

I know I touched on this topic last week, but seeing these two programs got me worked up again. Gibbs is in an unfortunate no-win situation. If he pays out large sums of money to keep players like Fred Smoot, the Redskins continue their mortgage-the-future habits; if he stands on principle and refuses to finance high-priced free agents, Gibbs is painted as a senile tightwad who has lost his grip on the team.

Now Common Sense 102 says that if something doesn't work, do something else. The Redskins have stunk up the NFC East for far too long, and been a laughingstock of the league because of the searching-for-a-cure spending by the front office. Might it be time to applaud a coach who looks two or three years down the road and plans accordingly? There's a word for that. Leadership.

I believe the Redskins will have a better season than last year, and sometime during November the pundits will sing "...Gibbs has turned this team around...the team really trusts Gibbs..." Sure, sure. Hop on the bandwagon now. There's always room in March.

There was plenty of other news for the Skins this week. Check me out at MVN's Hog Heaven!

One more thing:

Dear Mr. Stephen A. Smith,

I am not surprised by your comments, considering that you cover the NBA more than the NFL. I respect your right to an opinion, but please don't delude yourself into believing that because you speak with passion you speak with precision. After hearing your commentary, I no longer wonder what the "A" in your name stands for.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gibbs' Patriot Game

The news for Washington hasn't improved much in the last couple of days, depending on who you want to listen to. Last week, the Skins lost their most productive tackler to an NFC East rival. As my Hog Heaven partner Chris mentioned earlier this week, Laveranues Coles was traded to the New York J-E-T-S for Santana Moss and Fred Smoot signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

Now Coach Gibbs finds himself having to defend the losses of Laveranues Coles and Fred Smoot, two of his so-called "core" players. Come to think of it, the only other player Gibbs called "core" was recently re-signed Chris "Skins4Life" Samuels. Losing two of your three keeper players doesn't sound like good management, does it?

Ah, but His Joeness makes what I think is a pretty compelling argument for his stance. On Thursday, Gibbs stated that, given the team's budget, he did his best to keep the players he wanted as a foundation for the future. Some were either unhappy or asked for more money than he was willing to give. Coach also noted how successful the Patriots have been while smartly handling money. The Washington Post says he put it pretty simply: "If we go too far on one's going to cost us other players." The rest of that news conference is here. Imagine that: the Redskins following Suze Orman's 9 Steps to Financial Freedom.

Ironic, isn't it, how Washington's front office has been maligned and mocked as Fantasy Football managers for years now (and yes, I may have captained that boat), yet when Gibbs shows some fiscal responsibility by refusing to budge on an offer to Fred Smoot while retaining most of his other free agents, he has to face the proverbial media music? If he decided to go cash-happy, wouldn't the D.C. faithful roll their eyes and raise the SOS (Same Old Skins) flag? Mike Wise over at the Post goes so far as to suggest that trying to emulate the proven Patriot method of free agency is foolish. Huh?

Even in fantasy football the method works. Those who followed the Redskins Review this past season know that I chronicled my Fantasy Football league, Festivus Maximus. My brother Roy joined the league in August, not long before our draft. Because some team owners didn't return, he ended up inheriting one of their teams which contained such standouts as Ricky "High Times" Williams and Morten "Single Bar" Andersen. His squad suffered untimely injuries and uncharacteristic poor production en route to a 2-6 midseason record. And one of those wins was by forfeit.

So he employed his own version of the Patriot Game, stalking the free agent waiver wires for cheap, available players whom he believed could rise and shine. Who-dats and third-stringers like Reuben Droughns, Lee Evans and Michael Clayton found their way onto Roy's Boys. Meanwhile, the rest of the league laughed at his Quixotic desperation. That was, until he went undefeated the rest of the regular season, upsetting nearly every top team and eventually hoisting the Festivus Championship trophy.

That said, I think that plugging Lemar Marshall in for Pierce and Walt Harris in for Smoot isn't as egregious a crime as the critics think because of how effective Gregg Williams' defensive schemes were last year. Again, who-dats filled in for our Matt Bowen and LaVar Arrington. It also appears that Gibbs & Company want to go deep more often with Moss and Patten, an exciting proposition when you consider that Patrick "Pharaoh" Ramsey has a strong arm. If he can keep on eye on his hot reads (likely Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley), this offense could finally, um, score some points.

In other news, hats off to the Baltimore Ravens who look startingly like the Skins and Jets two season ago, picking two players (cornerback Samari Rolle and wideout Derrick Mason) from one team. The Titans' loss is the Ravens' gain, solidifying an already stingy defense and finally giving Kyle "Hail Mary" Boller somebody to throw to not named Heap. I know it's only March, but I'm a little fearful of the Baltimore defense.

By the way, if anyone's interested in tickets to the sold-out Jill Scott concert, word on the street is that Mike Tice can hook you up.

Good news to report for the Redskins Review. We've been picked up by the Most Valuable Network, a freelance journalist sports site, covering sports form baseball to football to hockey. I'll be contributing my Review blogs to MVN, sharing space on the Hog Heaven page with my partner Chris Hiteshew. I'll continue to add my thoughts on NFL action in both arenas. Check it out sometime and leave a comment!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Pierce, Patten...Progress?

As these tenuous days of the NFL free agency continue, the news for Washington both improves and saddens. The bad news (and I say “bad” in a relative sense; it’s not as bad as, say, news of the continued modern exploitation of childhood favorites like Herbie the Love Bug and Bugs Bunny) is that middle linebacker Antonio Pierce has signed with Sábado Gigante. Pierce led Washington with 112 total tackles—85 solo—and also contributed two interceptions and fumble recoveries. He’s going to be missed, though the silver lining for the despondent fan is that defensive coordinator/maestro Gregg Williams was able to compensate for multiple player injuries on the fly all season. And we still finished the season ranked as a top five defense.

Replacing Pierce—whom Coach Gibbs desperately wanted to keep as a “core player”—won’t be easy. Fortunately, the Skins have some good replacements. Mike Barrow is back from injury and likely will stand in Pierce’s stead; the Washington Post
reports that Lemar Marshall, who stood in when LeVar Arrington was injured, may shift from outside linebacker to the middle to help compensate.

What stinks is that an NFC East rival picked Pierce up.

Washington’s good news is the acquisition of former Ravens center Casey Rabach and former Patriot wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner/tax accountant David Patten. This is exciting news, particularly in light of the resigning of Chris “
Skins4Life” Samuels and the impending departure of Rod “Parkay” Gardner. Laveranues Coles may still be swapped for New York Jet Santana Moss, so Patten could by virtue step into a top receiving spot. I dunno about you, but I lack confidence in the likes of Darnerian McCants, so we should look into grabbing another above-average wideout.

Nonetheless, the Skins look like they’re wisely choosing their free agents, based upon blatant deficits. Sure the linebacker loss is great; but the improvement of the offensive line and receiving corps provides more than enough balance. So far (and it’s early!), Gibbs and Company are walking with wisdom.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Welcome, dear friends, to the magical time when Redskins fans slumber peacefully, warmed by vivid visions of post-season play. The sub-par season having begun its fade from memory, we contentedly roll over and smile; our dreams are sprinkled with Super Bowl pixie dust born from the checkbook of Mister Sandman, Daniel Snyder.

Ah, March. The offseason. This is when the Redskins' season truly begins. This is when we make our championship run. Ironically, this is also where our seasons are lost.

For the last couple of years, Washington Redskins fans have knelt at the altar of Free Agent Saviors, each season believing that these acquisitions are the One Thing that this team was missing to take it over the Cowchips, past the Eagles, and into the playoffs. Since 2000, the Redskins have cracked .500 a grand total of once. And that coach, quizzically, was fired. Snyder has consistently bankrolled the highest-salary, least-productive players possible. We're like the Yankees, but, you know, without the wins, prestige and championships.

Lest we make the same mistake this year, let us reflect upon some of the mighty offseason pickups who were supposed to spark the Return To Glory, but essentially got their children Snyder Fund college scholarships. It's painful to recall, like picking a week-old scab, but so very necessary. Grab your Neosporin and remember when D.C. was excited about:

Mark Carrier...Irving Fryar...the Family Schottenheimer...Jeff George...Brad Johnson (okay, he wasn’t that bad)...Ray Rhodes...Bruce Smith...Deion Sanders...Eddie Murray...Shane Matthews...Jeremiah Trotter...Jessie Armstead...Chad Morton...Steve Spurrier...Trung Canidate…Mark Brunell…

Free agency can work wonders, too. One should note that via free agency, the Baltimore Ravens managed to find gems by the names of Tony Siragusa, Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, and some guy named Shannon Sharpe to produce a Super Bowl Champion.

But those positive results are few and far between for this Washington organization. Laveranues Coles had a very good year, catching a career-high 90 passes, assistant coach Gregg Williams crafted a top-ranked defensive scheme that succeeded despite injuries to key players, and though the team finished below 8-8, Joe Gibbs is a dedicated and determined leader for the (near) future.

This team hopefully has learned its lesson, and appears to be showing the kind of calculated restraint that produces a stable franchise. Daniel Snyder isn’t flying veterans across the country and treating them to gourmet crabcakes. Yet. Perhaps now we are seeing the real influence of Coach Gibbs on Daniel Snyder.
This Redskins team already has the makings of a contender, but for some offensive gaps (one of which was shored up with the generous resigning of tackle Chris Samuels). But true to our history, Washington’s name came up when Randy Moss was shopping around; and former Tennessee Titan Samari Rolle is rumored to be a replacement for departing Fred Smoot. Can’t leave well enough alone, can we?

And whaddaya know, Brad Johnson is now available!