- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Once again, the Redskins are threatening to render the NFL Draft irrelevant. If their offer to cornerback Jerametrius Butler, a restricted free agent, isn’t matched by the Rams, they’ll give up their fifth-round pick as compensation — leaving them with exactly one selection on Draft Day, their first-rounder. That’s the fewest in history, in case you were wondering. The only other time a team had one pick was when the Saints traded their entire draft for Ricky Williams.

Let’s recap how the Redskins got themselves in this situation:

They sent their No.2 to Denver as part of the Clinton Portis deal.

They sent their No.3 to Jacksonville for Mark Brunell.

They sent their No.4 to New England for a 2003 No.5, which went to the Jets for kick returner Chad Morton.

They sent their No.6 to Denver for defensive tackle Lional Dalton, who’s no longer on the team.

And they sent their No.7 to New Orleans for defensive tackle Martin Chase, who’s also no longer on the team.

Of course, the Redskins could end up with more than one pick in the draft. All they’d have to do is trade down once or twice, something they’re already discussing. But they’re likely to have the fewest selections in the league for the third time in the last four years. Indeed, in their five drafts under Dan Snyder (including this one), they’ve had far fewer choices than any other team.

Here are the bottom six in that department (2000-2004, pending future developments): Redskins26, Jets32, Eagles34, Bucs35, Dolphins35, Cowboys35.

And here are the top six: Seahawks47, Jaguars47, Patriots46, Bills45, 49ers44, Bears44.

(Note: The Browns have also had 44, but they received additional picks as an expansion club.)

Startling, isn’t it? In just a five-year period, Seattle has had 21 more picks than the Redskins. That’s three years’ worth! And the Pats, the reigning Super Bowl champs, have had 20 more.

Now, there are plenty of ways to build a football team, as we in Washington are well aware. George Allen won big with the Redskins in the 1970s despite treating draft choices like “pieces of paper,” as Charley Casserly once put it. In his seven years here, Allen made only one pick in the first four rounds (a second-rounder in 1971). The others he swapped for established veterans, many of whom had played for him before.

Bobby Beathard was another guy who never met a No.1 pick he couldn’t trade. Still, Beathard’s drafts in the 1980s were usually productive. He was forever finding gems in the later rounds, players like Dexter Manley, Raleigh McKenzie and Mark Rypien.

Perhaps this is why Joe Gibbs is so comfortable sacrificing his draft for Portis, Brunell and (presumably) Butler. He’s been through it before. What tends to be forgotten, though, is that, for all of Beathard’s maneuvering, he only once had fewer than 10 picks in a draft — in 1983, when he had nine (back when there were 12 rounds). The Redskins right now have one pick (a year after having three picks).

Balance is important in the NFL — balance between the run and the pass, balance between offense and defense, balance between older starters and younger ones and certainly balance in the area of player acquisition. In putting together a club, you want to take advantage of all the avenues open to you (the draft, free agency, trades, etc.), but you also want to be careful not to overdo it in any one area. (Unless, that is, you keep rolling sevens in the draft, still the cheapest way to accumulate talent.)

The Redskins in recent years have basically been blowing off the draft. And since they’re 28-36 over the past four seasons, with no playoff appearances, it’s reasonable to ask whether this is a sound strategy. The Patriots, the current Model Franchise, have assembled many of their winning pieces through the draft. The Packers (15 more picks than the Redskins during this stretch) and the Titans (ditto) have done the same. No one, however, has been successful following the Redskins’ formula. (Actually, the Redskins are the only team that has followed the Redskins’ formula, which should give you pause right there.)

The Redskins will tell you they have a plan, and they undoubtedly do. But it’s a plan that revolves around an impatient owner for whom the future is always now. The draft is tomorrow; free agency and trades are today. Also, when you sign a free agent or make a deal for a player, you know what you’re getting (or at least, you think you do). But when you go into a draft, there’s no guarantee the guys you want will be available when your turn comes. Dan Snyder, it’s clear, doesn’t like that uncertainty.

Giving up only a fifth-round pick for a nickel corner like Jerametrious Butler seems like a bargain — if you can overlook that he’ll be paid millions more than any fifth-rounder would. The only reason the Redskins need a nickel corner, though, is that they didn’t find one in the last few drafts. Wonder why that is.

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