Although the Washington Redskins are no longer in contention to qualify for their second consecutive playoff appearance, coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that the team would not finish out the season by evaluating players.
"If you want to see a team turn on you, just go start playing younger players and start playing for the future," Shanahan said.
The 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, which included the squandering of a 14-point second-quarter lead and a woeful collapse after halftime, means the Redskins' attempt to build on the success of last season is over.
They now must confront the realities that their final four games, beginning Sunday at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, will be little more than glorified practices.
That doesn't mean Shanahan is content to turn each game into one. Despite the Redskins' innumerable issues, the coach doesn't believe that merely putting inexperienced players on the field would be best for the team's future.
"If you're going to put a guy in that's close [to being ready to play], you're not playing your best players, then what you've told your football team is you're evaluating these young guys and you really don't care about the game and what you do is care about the future," Shanahan said. "If you want to lose a football team, that's the first thing to do. Now, if that person warrants a chance to play because it's very, very close in competition, that's a different story."
The Redskins have used 50 different players on offense and defense this season, which ranks as the sixth-lowest total in the league. Nine others have appeared exclusively on special teams. In all, the team has only signed seven players to the active roster since the start of the regular season, which is the fewest through Week 13 since Shanahan was hired in 2010.
An $18 million penalty levied against the Redskins' salary cap this season undoubtedly hindered the team's offseason plans, but it has had little effect on in-season moves, when players, regardless of age, can be had for relatively cheap. The team has held steady at approximately $2 million in salary cap room for most of the season, offering it the flexibility to sign younger players, including those off the practice squad, when needed.
There are few players on the Redskins' active roster who figure into the team's long-range plans and have not seen extensive game action this season. Cornerback David Amerson, the Redskins' second-round pick in April, has been involved as the nickel corner all year and played roughly 69 percent of all defensive snaps. Tight end Jordan Reed, their third-round pick, has been a starter since Week 3 and is second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
For others, the jury is still out. Bacarri Rambo, drafted in the sixth round, was originally the starting free safety but was replaced in Week 3 by veteran Reed Doughty. Rambo has played a more consistent role in recent weeks and could benefit from additional playing time the last month of the season. Outside linebacker Brandon Jenkins was projected by draft analysts to be a first-round pick before missing practically all of 2012 at Florida State because of injury, but he's been inactive for eight of the last nine games and is behind Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.
The most obvious situation for little-used players to get a look is on the offensive line, where guards Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis and tackle Tom Compton, all drafted in 2012, have not had an opportunity. Compton is the only one of the three to play a down on offense this season, and all eight of his plays have been technically as a tight end on an unbalanced line. LeRibeus played 21 snaps in the final game of the 2012 regular season against the Dallas Cowboys.
Considering the Redskins' issues in pass protection this season, it would seem plausible that at least one of the three would have an opportunity to play during the final four games. Shanahan declined to share the three players' status when asked specifically on Monday, saying only that each would have to prove himself worthy in practice to be able to play.
Then, of course, there's the quandary with Kirk Cousins. Considering the health and effectiveness of quarterback Robert Griffin III all season, several commentators have called for the Redskins to play Cousins and allow Griffin to rest, but Shanahan has maintained that will not happen.
Griffin, like Cousins a second-year quarterback, also needs to develop, and keeping him out of action will not help his progress. Cousins has played in only five games, and in that limited time — including a road start, and victory, against the Cleveland Browns last December — he has shown glimpses of being a competent replacement.
"When you do get in, you've got to take advantage of that opportunity," Shanahan said. "When Kirk does, or when he has like last year — if it was Cleveland or Baltimore — he took advantage of it, and he proved to people that you can count on him."
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