- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Another Redskins season wasted. And here's how you know it's been wasted: Because in the coming months, Dan Snyder and his minions will do all the things they should have done last offseason.
Like give Steve Spurrier more to work with on offense a lot more to work with.
Like putting the Fun not to mention the Gun back in the Fun 'n' Gun.
The Redskins sabotaged their playoff chances this season before it even began, sabotaged them with their own lack of common sense. The club's problems have much less to do with X's and O's than with prioritizing, budgeting and so forth. To illustrate, let's look at the acquisition of free agent linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead.
Dan the Man was dying to sign these guys, you know he was, because in addition to strengthening his defense, he figured to be weakening two division rivals the Eagles (Trotter's former team) and the Giants (Armstead's). At least, that's what he thought. But the reality turned out quite differently.
The Eagles, without their Pro Bowl middle linebacker, improved from 11-5 to 12-4 and earned the home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
The Giants, without their Pro Bowl outside linebacker, improved from 7-9 to 10-6 and also made the playoffs.
The Redskins, meanwhile, dropped from 8-8 to 7-9 and will sit out the postseason again.
Are Trotter and Armstead nice players? Sure. But how much better did they really make the defense? Statistically, not a whole lot. The Redskins gave up 62 more points this year than they did last (365 vs. 303) and had eight fewer takeaways (26 vs. 34). They did rise from 10th to fifth in total defense (yards allowed), but the difference was negligible (299.2 per game vs. 302.9).
Had the Redskins used the money they spent on Trotter and Armstead ($40million, $8.25million in signing bonuses) for offensive help a veteran quarterback, a guard or two, a deep receiver they might be preparing for a first-round playoff game this morning. Instead, they're agonizing, once more, about what might have been.
The seven most significant words Steve Spurrier uttered yesterday were: "We've got a long way to go." Because the Redskins do have a long way to go and it's time they stopped kidding themselves. To begin with, they didn't beat a single NFC playoff team this season. They were 0-6 against the Eagles, Giants, Packers and 49ers. They were also 1-5 in their division. Their four conference wins were all against clubs that finished with losing records (the Cardinals, Cowboys, Rams and Seahawks). Not much to pound your chest about.
And next year they'll play the AFC East instead of the AFC South (against whom they went 3-1 this season). Anybody think they'll go 3-1 against the Jets, Patriots, Dolphins and Bills?
Anyway, expect Spurrier to lobby long and hard for players who can make his offense go. "Most of our payroll last [offseason] was spent on defense," he said, so it's only natural that the focus this year "will be on offense." I wouldn't be surprised if he loaded up on speed receivers, got one or two in the draft and maybe another in free agency. Rod Gardner, Derrius Thompson and Darnerien McCants are more the possession type; none of them had a gain of longer than 47 yards this year.
As for the guard situation, that could be a bit trickier. Obviously, the Redskins need to upgrade those two spots, but they want to do it as economically as possible. Why? Because Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen are already taking up a sizable portion of their cap. The Redskins really can't throw big bucks or even medium-sized bucks at another offensive lineman. A better plan would be to re-sign Tre Johnson and then use, say, their second-round pick on a guard who can be brought along. The team needs to start developing more players, instead of just relying on free agents and Top 10 selections (Arrington, Samuels, Bailey) to see them through.
Spurrier says he's learned a lot in his first year in the NFL, but the proof will be in the how he handles the offseason. He seems to have a better understanding now of the importance of special teams particularly in a league in which a quarter of the games are decided by three points or less. Yesterday he made the remark, unthinkable a few months ago, that "a punter who could kick it 45 yards would be worth a first-round pick. At least a second [-rounder]. That's an important part of the game."
Yeah, it is, Steve. Thanks for noticing.
The challenge for the Redskins as for all clubs in the free agent era will be to get better in certain areas without getting too much worse in others. The latter could easily happen if they devote more dollars to their offense than to their defense this offseason. It could also happen if defensive boss Marvin Lewis gets a head job with another team.
But as Gardner said Sunday after the long-overdue victory over Dallas, "At least we know our coach [Spurrier] will be back next year." For the Redskins, it's a big breakthrough. They haven't been able to say that since 1999.

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