NFL: Redskins put draft ahead of free agency
ASHBURN, Va. ó Vinny Cerrato walked into the auditorium at Redskins Park, took a seat and beamed like a kid in a candy store.
“We have nine draft picks,” said the Washington Redskins executive vice president for football operations, flashing a smile nearly as long as his new job title.
No dozing through the NFL’s big spring weekend this year in the nation’s capital. After four Joe Gibbs years in which the draft was a mere postscript to an aggressive period of free agency, the Redskins will have a flock of Saturday and Sunday selections for the first time since 2002 ó barring some last minute wheeling-and-dealing.
The team that couldn’t wait to empty its pockets and traded draft picks like cards has been conducting this offseason the old-fashioned way, emphasizing the talent in the college pool instead of high-risk acquisitions such as ó dare anyone forget? ó Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd.
“I don’t think it’s a change in philosophy,” said Cerrato, whose front office duties were enhanced after Gibbs retired as coach and team president in January. “There’s three ways to acquire players: free agency, trades and the draft. Some years we’ve done more in free agency. Some years we’ve done more in trades, and this year it happens to be the draft.”
Cerrato and owner Dan Snyder insist that this year’s approach is mostly a matter of happenstance, that this turned out to be a thin year on the free agent market and that the Redskins, coming off a playoff season, didn’t need to overspend to fill a gaping hole in the lineup.
And, surely enough, they have been up to their old tactics behind the scenes. The Cincinnati Bengals released a statement late Tuesday saying they had turned down a trade offer from Washington for disgruntled receiver Chad Johnson. After initially denying that an offer had been made, the Bengals reversed themselves and said the Redskins had been willing to give up its first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick next year.
The large complement of picks is the legacy of a change of heart from Gibbs, who began to realize that slighting the draft year after year was costing the Redskins because the team had relatively few young, developing players and were constantly dealing with salary cap issues.
In 2004, the Redskins had two picks in the first four rounds. In 2005, they had three. In 2006 and 2007, only one each year. Add that up, and the team has added only seven players from the most critical 16 rounds of the last four drafts.
Last year the Redskins had only five picks in the entire draft ó and only two were on the roster on opening day. The team had to resort to signing 34-year-olds Pete Kendall and Randall Godfrey during training camp to plug holes because there was no homegrown player to satisfactorily fill either spot. Kendall and Godfrey made solid contributions to a playoff season, but neither is a long-term solution.
Gibbs, therefore, wanted to keep an entire slate of picks intact for 2008. He nearly succeeded ó missing only the fourth-rounder from the ill-fated 2006 trade for T.J. Duckett ó and the team was awarded three extra picks to compensate for the loss of Derrick Dockery and other departed free agents in 2007.
And while Snyder and Cerrato speak with pride about finding gems such as tight end Chris Cooley (third round, 2004) or defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery (sixth round, 2006), here’s a sobering fact that neatly explains the Redskins’ draft record this decade: Of the 22 players who started in the January playoff game at Seattle, only five (Chris Samuels, LaRon Landry, Fred Smoot, Cooley and Montgomery) were drafted by the team ó and Smoot left to play two years in Minnesota before returning as a free agent.
“You sort of have some signature draft picks that you’ve made,” Snyder said, “more so than signature drafts overall.”
This year, Snyder and the brain trust think they can finally have that signature draft.
“The later rounds of the draft are extremely important,” said Zorn, who put off finishing his new play book to sit in on the marathon draft meetings over the last few weeks. “Because then you can find these nuggets that are going to be starters in the future.”
After four years of working in the shadow of Gibbs, Cerrato is fully in charge for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 drafts, when Steve Spurrier was coach. The results from those drafts are mixed. Of the 13 players chosen, five (Patrick Ramsey, Ladell Betts, Robert Royal, Rock Cartwright and Dockery) made what could be considered a significant impact. High-round selections Taylor Jacobs (second), Rashad Bauman (third) and Cliff Russell (third) were among the disappointments.
Cerrato this year will be on the lookout to fill any number of needs. Unless they do trade for Johnson, the Redskins need a big receiver to fit into Zorn’s West Coast offense. They also need a pass-rushing defensive lineman, future replacements for their aging defensive line, a third-string quarterback, and depth at cornerback, safety, linebacker and fullback
That’s a long list. But with nine picks, the Redskins could check off every item.
“It’s exciting having all these draft picks,” Cerrato said with another smile, “and it’s going to be fun.”