- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Speed dial was invented for what’s going to happen in the NFL in the next few weeks. Picture an offseason on greenies (or at least multiple shots of espresso). We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of free agents to sign — and hundreds more rookies, all in an insanely short period of time.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself wondering about Mike Shanahan’s cardiovascular endurance, about whether the Washington Redskins‘ coach really is up to this. He turns 59 next month, remember. His best shuttle runs are behind him.

We don’t have a deal yet between the owners and locked-out players, but we have whisperings about what’s to come. And from the sound of things, the month ahead is going to be the front-office equivalent of a two-minute drill. With one exception: Nobody will dare to call a timeout, never mind spike the ball, because under these frenzied circumstances, he who hesitates will surely lose out.

It’s a bit scary, you have to admit. Teams will be forced to make snap decisions involving tens of millions of dollars, decisions that could well affect the course of a franchise. And as with any hurry-up offense, there are going to be interceptions, fumbles, crossed signals, all kinds of catastrophes. Everybody makes mistakes in free agency, but the margin for error this year is potentially much higher. General managers, after all, will be out of their comfort zone; there has never been an offseason like this one — or anything close.

And let’s face it, there’s only so much planning you can do. At the end of the day, there figures to be a great deal of unpredictability about the free agent market — about which teams are interested in which players and how much this receiver or that linebacker will cost. A seat-of-his-pants GM like Bobby Beathard would have been in his element in such an environment. As for Shanahan and Bruce Allen, who can tell?

What we do know is that a year ago, when time wasn’t nearly as big a factor, they thought it was a good idea to trade draft picks for Donovan McNabb and Jammal Brown. Neither move could be described as a master stroke. In all probability, McNabb has taken his last snap for the Redskins, and it remains to be seen whether Brown returns.

Redskins Nation can only hope Shanahan and Allen have a better feel for the roster now, because the club clearly intends do some serious spending whenever the bell rings. With the contracts of McNabb and Albert Haynesworth likely off the books, and those of Clinton Portis, Derrick Dockery and Andre Carter already off, the club will be well below the expected $120 million salary cap. If there’s somebody Shanny really wants, he should have the resources to get him.

Indeed, in March, before the security gate was lowered at Redskins Park, the team reeled in free safety O.J. Atogwe with a five-year, $26 million package. That was the first indication that owner Dan Snyder isn’t going to take this latest 6-10 season lying down. Now we’re about to enter the main phase of the Redskins‘ 2011 recovery plan, and what a whirlwind three or four weeks it promises to be.

What the Redskins may find this time around, though, is that the marketplace is even more crowded with bidders. As you’ve no doubt read, the new collective bargaining agreement will reportedly require clubs to spend closer to the maximum. In the past, the Redskins have had an edge over some teams (e.g. the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals) because of their willingness to go “all in” to land big-ticket players. But that might not be the case anymore, not if everybody is obligated to throw their cap dollars around.

Actually, that might not be such a negative development, given Snyder’s track record with Haynesworth, Adam Archuleta, Deion Sanders and the rest. Maybe the new CBA will, to a certain extent, save the Redskins from themselves, make them outsmart and outwork the competition instead of just relying on their checkbook.

Anyway, buckle your seat belt. From all indications, it’s going to be a wild ride. Expanded rosters. New rules (and loopholes). An entire offseason compacted into a month or less. (And somewhere in there, the league plans to hold a supplemental draft featuring, among others, erstwhile Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, an intriguing prospect if nothing else.)

Let’s just hope that, amid all this dizzying activity, somebody doesn’t get NFL free agency mixed up with the baseball trading deadline. The Redskins, for instance, need many things, but a closer and a right-handed-hitting outfielder aren’t among them.