- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

One week Mark Brunell passes twice in the second half, another week Clinton Portis carries twice in the second half. And those two guys, I’ll just remind you, were the marquee additions to the Redskins offense this season, the two players Joe Gibbs just had to have.

Brunell is now standing on the sideline, watching Patrick Ramsey duck blitzing linebackers. As for Portis, well, he was wrapped in fur as he departed Heinz Field on Sunday — as if he were expecting a long, cold winter.

We can only hope the lessons of Brunell and Portis haven’t been lost on Coach Joe. The primary ones being:

1. Quick fixes are difficult in the NFL, especially when you’re starting with a 5-11 club.

2. Don’t fall in love with players too easily. In the free agent era, there are always options — many of which are less expensive than your Preferred Choice.

Gibbs has already succeeded in changing one part of the Redskins’ losing culture; he has gotten the team to play with passion week in and week out — even though the wins have been few and far between. Now he has to change the other part of the losing culture, the organizational part, the mind-set that the future is always now, that gratification is never to be delayed. Until he does that, he’ll never build anything lasting.

In one way, as we’ve seen, the union of Coach Joe and Dan Snyder is the worst possible marriage. On one side, you’ve got an owner with little patience, and on the other, you’ve got a coach with little time. Gibbs turned 64 last week, and he as much anyone wanted to hit the ground winning. So his boss obliged him in the offseason and, typically, spent up a storm — set records, in fact.

What do they have to show for it? A 3-8 record, the lowest-scoring offense in the league and cap trouble not too far down the road.

If Gibbs learns nothing else from Year1 of his second term, he should learn that he needs to start shopping more at Wal-Mart and less at Neiman Marcus. I ask you: Would the team be any worse off right now if he had traded a second-round pick for Corey Dillon — instead of a second-round pick and Champ Bailey for Portis? The Redskins, let’s not forget, also had to give Clinton a super-sized contract (eight years, $50.5million, $17million in bonuses). Dillon’s base salary with the Patriots is $1.75million (though he could more than double that with incentives, being on pace to rush for 1,682 yards).

Duce Staley is another route the Redskins could have gone. Granted, he’s been hurt, but in the Steelers’ first seven games he averaged 101 yards rushing. And he was a relative bargain, too — five years, $14million, $4million to sign.

Portis, who’s just 23, has better long-term prospects than Dillon and Staley, but at what cost? It’s important to weigh these matters when making such crucial decisions. Had the Redskins gone with a less expensive alternative, they would have had more money to spend in other places — such as the offensive line, where they had no suitable replacement for Jon Jansen (and have none for Chris Samuels). These are the tradeoffs you make when you’re determined to have the Best Player Available, when you’re “committed to do[ing] every single thing to try to win games here,” as Gibbs put it yesterday. Lots of times, you’re better served by settling for the second-best thing or the third-best thing (or even the fifth-best thing).

It’s the same story at the quarterback spot. The Redskins jacked up the price on Brunell (seven years, $43million, $8.6million to sign) because they were unwilling to wait for the Jaguars to release him — and wound up giving Jacksonville a third-round choice to boot. Then they traded away their No.2 next year, currently one of the top 40 picks, so they could draft Chris Cooley in the third round this year. Again, because they Just Couldn’t Wait.

Other clubs, of course, can wait. The Cowboys will have two first-rounders next year, both of which will probably be in the top 15, because they waited. They dealt this year’s No.1 to the Bills for a No.2 (fine-looking running back Julius Jones), a No.5 and Buffalo’s No.1 in 2005. The Eagles, meanwhile, have extra selections next year in the second, fourth and fifth rounds (the latter from the Redskins for James Thrash). Translation: The Redskins can forget about closing the gap between themselves and Philly any time soon.

Gibbs has to break this cycle, this cycle of needless extravagance. He has to resist the easy temptation of the free agent market, the fool’s gold of the Mark Brunells of the world, and pursue a more responsible course, one that maximizes the value of every dollar and draft pick. That is, if he really is, as he says, “in it for the long haul.”

Otherwise, there will be more seasons like this. We’ve seen it before.

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