When right tackle Jon Jansen was hurt in the preseason last year, the Redskins lured Ray Brown out of retirement. Brown, who turns 43 this season, can play guard and center and is the oldest offensive lineman in modern NFL history as he prepares for his 20th pro season.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s plan to require season ticket holders to purchase their tickets with a Redskins brand credit card was quickly rebuffed. Fans could have bought their tickets with cash or check, but only one credit card — one with the Redskins logo — would have been accepted.
Stop the press
The Redskins’ ongoing squabble with the local media has reached unprecedented heights. During the offseason, the Redskins announced they would no longer sell large blocks of seats to local companies, including The Washington Post. The Redskins claimed many of the tickets the newspaper had bought for decades were being scalped or sold on e-Bay.
The Redskins’ free-spending past gets much of the blame for their recent mediocrity. With nearly 25 percent of their salary cap devoted to players who are no longer with the team or who don’t figure to play much, or at all, this season, the Redskins’ hands are tied in trying to lure top free agents to the nation’s capital.
The Prophecy: “Gregg Williams is expected to make up for any shortcomings on a defensive unit that finished 25th in the 32-team league (in 2003).”
The Lie: “The Redskins have addressed most of the weaknesses that contributed to a 5–11 record last season…”
— Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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When Joe Gibbs was lured out of retirement to coach the Washington Redskins again, the Hall of Fame coach figured the only thing he could lose was his reputation. But after a 6-10 season in 2004, in which the Redskins looked inept offensively and undisciplined overall, Gibbs might be close to losing his sanity, too.
After his team ranked 30th in the NFL in total offense last year, things only got worse for Gibbs during the offseason. Wide receiver Laveranues Coles demanded to be released and was traded to the New York Jets for Santana Moss. Cornerback Fred Smoot left for the Minnesota Vikings after the Redskins didn't make much of an effort to keep him. Coles and Smoot were two of the players Gibbs had identified as 'Core Redskins' -- players who would become the centerpieces of the rebuilt franchise.
With an unsettled quarterback situation and lingering injuries hampering many of their best defensive players, the Redskins face an uncertain future.
"My commitment to the Redskins, I want to do every single thing I can to restore the Redskins to winning football games," Gibbs says. "I want to get the Redskins back to winning, and that's first."
Will Patrick Ramsey ever feel comfortable as the Redskins' starter? After Ramsey was bruised and battered in Steve Spurrier's offense in 2003, Gibbs hand-picked veteran Mark Brunell to replace him. Brunell and Ramsey were largely ineffective last season, so Gibbs traded the team's first-round pick in the 2006 draft for a late first-round choice this year. With the No. 25 pick, the Redskins selected Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, who figures to be the team's future starter.
Gibbs stuck by Brunell during the team's abysmal 3-6 start before finally turning to Ramsey. Although Ramsey performed better than Brunell, completing 62.1 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, he still held the football too long and was sacked 23 times. Brunell, who turns 35 this season, struggled mightily in nine starts last year, completing less than 50 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
Although Clinton Portis ran for 1,315 yards last season, he seemed uncomfortable in Gibbs' offense, which is built around counter runs and traps. The Redskins went seven consecutive games without a rushing touchdown, and Portis ran for only five scores after scoring 29 touchdowns on the ground in 29 games with the Denver Broncos.
Backup Ladell Betts played a larger role in the offense late in the season because of his ability to block and catch passes out of the backfield. The Redskins re-signed restricted free agent Rock Cartwright to a one-year contract and drafted fullbacks Manuel White Jr. of UCLA and Nehemiah Broughton of The Citadel.
By agreeing to Coles' demands for a trade or release, the Redskins lost their toughest receiver and best downfield blocker. Despite playing with a nagging toe injury throughout the 2004 season, Coles still led the team with 90 catches for 950 yards.
Moss, who is smaller and weighs only 185 pounds, caught 45 passes for 838 yards and five touchdowns for the Jets last season. Most NFL executives view Moss as a solid complementary receiver, but the Redskins still don't have a bona fide No. 1 wideout. Former first-round pick Rod Gardner has been a disappointment, and the team gave his agent permission to explore trade possibilities. The Redskins signed free agent David Patten from the New England Patriots. He is another smaller receiver but runs great routes and averaged a career-high 18.2 yards per catch last season.
Tight end/H-Back Chris Cooley was a big surprise last season, catching 37 passes for 314 yards and six touchdowns.
The Redskins' offense took a huge hit when it lost right tackle Jon Jansen to a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury during the first exhibition game. Jansen, the leader of the offensive line, missed all of the 2004 season and the team never was able to replace him. With Jansen back this season, and left tackle Chris Samuels reworking his contract, the Redskins figure to have solid bookends.
Right guard Randy Thomas is a tough player, and left guard Derrick Dockery proved to be very good run blocker in his second pro season. The Redskins signed free agent Casey Rabach, who started 16 games for the Baltimore Ravens last season, to shore up the middle of the offensive line. Rabach is expected to replace starting center Cory Raymer, who has struggled to stay healthy.
The Redskins finished third in the NFL in total defense despite having modest talent and depth on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, signed to a seven-year, $31 million contract before the 2004 season, proved to be worth the investment. He had 70 tackles, six sacks and a team-leading 15 tackles for a loss. Joe Salave'a played well enough at left defensive tackle that the team awarded him with a new three-year contract.
The Redskins are crossing their fingers that veteran defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels can stay healthy this season. Daniels played in only five games last season because of groin and wrist injuries, and Wynn had 37 tackles and three sacks in 2004.
Even without Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington last season, linebackers were the Redskins' strongest unit. Outside linebacker Marcus Washington proved to be as good as advertised with 107 tackles and 4.5 sacks, and Antonio Pierce led the team with 160 tackles. Chris Clemons and Lemar Marshall played well when injuries to Arrington and Mike Barrow forced the younger players into action.
Arrington's status for this season remained in question after the draft. He played only four games last season after having cartilage removed from his right knee. He underwent another surgery in April and continued to have fluid drained from his knee. He also was in a bitter contract dispute with the team, alleging the Redskins owed him a $6.5 million bonus. Barrow, signed from the New York Giants to start at middle linebacker, missed all of the 2004 season with tendinitis in his left knee, and his future with the team remains in doubt. Pierce left for New York after the Redskins failed to match the Giants' contract offer. If Barrow doesn't come back, Marshall will probably move to the middle.
Smoot, the fast-talking cornerback, left for the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent, forcing the Redskins to rebuild their secondary for the second season in a row. The team drafted Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers with the No. 9 pick, and he will be thrown into the fire immediately. Veteran Shawn Springs played well at left cornerback last season, and aging Walt Harris is still a capable backup.
If free safety Sean Taylor cleans up his act, he has the potential to be one of the most feared defensive backs in the NFL. The 2004 first-round draft choice is a fierce hitter and runs very well in the open field, but he is unhappy with his contract and faces possible disciplinary action for off-field activities. Strong safety Matt Bowen is coming back from a knee injury that caused him to miss all but five games last season. He will be pushed for the starting job by Ryan Clark.
The Redskins signed John Hall prior to the 2003 season to shore up their placekicking. But the former New York Jet played in only eight games and ended the season on injured reserve with hamstring and groin problems. Punter Tom Tupa was terrific in his first season with the team, averaging 44.1 yards, and fewer than 50 percent of his punts were returned. Return specialist Chad Morton is coming back from torn knee ligaments and wasn't as effective before he was hurt.
Gibbs seems determined to turn the Redskins' fortunes around, but there was probably too much damage done before he arrived back in the nation's capital.
The offense should be better with Jansen returning to the line, but the team did little to address its lack of playmakers on the perimeter. If Ramsey can't throw the ball down the field, defenses will continue to crowd the line to slow down Portis. If Rogers is capable of replacing Smoot, and Arrington returns from a knee injury, the defense should again be among the league's best under Gregg Williams, one of the NFL's top defensive minds. But there are too many deficiencies on offense to challenge for a playoff spot.