Wednesday, September 3, 2003

As we prepare for the Redskins-Jets extravaganza to open the NFL season, one question looms above all:

Wasn’t Herman Edwards’ club supposed to be the Team in Turmoil going into this game?

Well, yes, it was. The Jets just had an offseason in which the Redskins picked off four of their free agents, including their best receiver, Laveranues Coles. And they just completed a preseason in which Chad Pennington, their young franchise quarterback, wrecked his left wrist, sidelining him until at least November. With all this upheaval, no one could blame the Jets if they were feeling like human bobbleheads about now.

But since training camp began, the Redskins have been doing their darnedest to catch up in the turbulence department.

First they released Dan Wilkinson because of salary cap issues — without having a comparable defensive tackle to take his place. That went over real well with some of the veterans.

Then they conducted a charade of a contract negotiation with free agent-to-be Champ Bailey, much like the one with Jon Jansen last year. That should put the Pro Bowl cornerback in a swell frame of mind to begin the season.

Then Dan Snyder, siding with Vinny Cerrato, told Steve Spurrier he couldn’t keep Danny Wuerffel on the roster, that Rob Johnson would have to be the No.2 QB. The Ball Coach probably took a bite out of his visor when that edict was handed down.

Suddenly, stuff is swirling around the Redskins, too, which puts quite a different spin on tonight’s opener. The relative serenity of the winter and spring is gone, replaced by what Snyder might call creative tension but what most of the rest of us would call needless distractions. And since the Washington locker room isn’t exactly filled with Redskins of long standing — that is, stabilizing influences — every little bump in the road is cause for concern.

A few words about the Wuerffel affair. To begin with, the guy is a backup quarterback, OK? It’s hard to imagine him — or Johnson for that matter — having much of an impact on this season. The Redskins are going to sink or swim with Patrick Ramsey. If he plays well, they can contend for a playoff berth. If he gets hurt, they can start preparing for next year’s draft. Wuerffel, Johnson — what difference does it make, really?

During the glory years of the ‘80s, Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs had the following arrangement: Beathard decided who came to camp, and Gibbs decided who left. And for the better part of a decade, it worked fantastically well. Were there disagreements? Sure. But they never had a situation like the one a few days ago, where the team cut a quarterback the coach preferred to keep.

Memo to Dan Snyder: You’ve got to choose your battles. If you’re going to go against your coach, it should be over something important, not over who’s going to be the second-string QB. Let him win that one. (It would be one thing if Wuerffel or Johnson projected as a starter down the road, but that’s not the case. Both figure to be warming benches for the rest of their NFL days.)

That said, Spurrier certainly could have handled the situation more diplomatically, could have taken one for the team instead of distancing himself from the decision. After all, Snyder and Cerrato are the people who went out and got him Coles, Randy Thomas and Trung Canidate — the first two at considerable expense — to help make his offense go. They’re also the people who drafted him a receiver last spring with the Redskins’ first pick when the club was in much greater need of a defensive tackle or safety. Or had you forgotten, Ball Coach?

Which brings us to Snyder’s interest in Lawyer Milloy, the surprisingly available Pro Bowl strong safety who ended up signing with Buffalo last night. Milloy is a nice player, no doubt about it, but he wasn’t going to solve the Redskins’ problems at defensive tackle. Remember when the Redskins added Stanley Richard and James Washington one year to shore up the D? The moral of that story was, if you’re looking to improve your defense, you should do it from front to back, not back to front. Safeties are just too far off the line of scrimmage to have the effect of, say, a pass rusher or a run-stuffing linebacker. Not that the Redskins couldn’t use a Milloy to cover Jeremy Shockey. …

Tonight begins Year 5 of the Dan Snyder Era. The results of the next 16 games will tell us how much, if anything, he’s learned in that time. The team is greatly changed from last season, with more of an emphasis on offense — to the detriment of the defense. Spurrier should (repeat: should) be more comfortable with pro ball. And Ramsey should feel more secure at quarterback, being the absolute, unquestioned, No.1 guy.

But some dust has been kicked up of late — Wilkinson’s axing, Wuerffel’s waiving, Bailey’s contract “talks” — and that’s not good. The Redskins don’t want to be making life any more difficult for themselves, not with an opener against the thirsty-for-payback Jets and a schedule that’s likely to require plenty of cold compresses.

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