NFL Nation: Vinny Cerrato

Some Redskins items from recent days that you might have missed:

More work: Quarterback Robert Griffin III will work with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea next week. Griffin worked with Shea earlier this offseason for a week, but wanted another tune-up before training camp begins July 24. Shea focused hard on Griffin’s fundamentals, including narrowing his base, getting his feet to turn with his body in the pocket and raising where Griffin held the ball -- at times last year he held it too low, leading to a wind-up throw. Griffin clearly has worked hard this offseason. I'm curious to see how that pays off this summer and during the season. He’s also said to have his explosion back, as has been discussed for a while – as multiple people have talked about seeing a difference in that area. But the real key for him is developing in the pocket. Griffin needs to succeed without that extraordinary explosion, though it certainly does help when defenses fear your legs.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesWashington hopes the offseason work Robert Griffin III has put in will pay off in the fall.
Skepticism over RG III ranking: Last week Mike Sando wrote a terrific piece, ranking quarterbacks based on a poll of executives and coaches and evaluators . Griffin did not fare well, being placed as a tier 3 quarterback tied with Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. The rankings prompted Kevin Seifert to question why Griffin had fallen so far after just one bad season; he also asked if they had forgotten a record-setting 2012 season. People fall in and out of love quickly in the NFL and I think Griffin is the latest example. Watch how fast opinions change if he gets off to a good start.

Vinny on Snyder's fight: Former Redskins executive Vinny Cerrato knows Dan Snyder well, which is why he doesn’t think he’ll abandon his fight to keep the nickname. Snyder is not going to suddenly think the other side has a point, not when he views the matter much, much differently. Besides, what has been evident over the years is that he’s ultra-competitive and does not want to lose this one. Cerrato’s point is one that others have mentioned, too: The only way Snyder might relinquish the battle is if (and he stressed if) he somehow gets a new stadium out of it in a decade or so.

Family torn on name: The Wetzel family is a pivotal one in the Redskins’ battle over the nickname as Walter Wetzel is the one who designed the current logo used on the helmet since 1972. Wetzel’s son, Donald, tells The Washington Post – and has told other outlets in the past – that he’s proud of the name and the logo. But his nephew told the Post that he definitely is on the other side with his thoughts. Guessing this is a microcosm of the debate played out among Native Americans.

Redemption: A lot of Redskins have talked about getting the “bad taste out of their mouths” from last season. Niles Paul joined that chorus in an interview with Omaha.com. Paul said, “This is clearly a redemption year for us, and we want to let that be known.” I did a two-week look at players with something to prove, but there’s no doubt the organization as a whole has a lot to prove. But the Redskins have said the right things in the past only to do ... nothing. They can back up these words if Griffin rebounds, the pass rush is terrific, the tackling in the secondary is a lot better and the inside linebackers produce.

Inside the mind of an NFL GM

July, 20, 2011
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Vinnie CerratoAP Photo/Susan WalshVinny Cerrato (right) says teams have to stay flexible during this shortened free-agency period.
The NFL is about to embark on its wildest free-agency period ever. Because of this year's lengthy lockout, hundreds of players will be signed in a matter of days, in addition to rookie draft picks and rookie free agents. A supplemental draft also will be held.

The AFC North blog contacted former Washington Redskins general manager Vinny Cerrato for insight on what 32 front offices will be facing in the next several weeks.

Here is Cerrato's guide to navigating through this unprecedented stretch:

Cerrato's GM rule No. 1: Teams must set priorities

All 32 teams have a lot to accomplish in a short time frame. Cerrato said he would first determine what's most important. Then, he would delegate responsibilities.
"I'm the GM, so I'm working on unrestricted free agents at midnight (when free agency begins), along with my owner and my head coach. The undrafted rookies, I'm giving that to whoever my assistant contract [salary cap] guy is -- all teams have a couple. He goes with a couple coaches and probably my college scouting director and scouts. They're working on the undrafted, because those guys aren't going to hurt you. The unrestricted free agents that teams are talking to are going to make you or break you. But you're doing both at the same time."
Cerrato's GM rule No. 2: Take advantage of 72-hour window

An interesting wrinkle in this year's collective bargaining agreement is the 72-hour window to allow teams to negotiate with their own free agents. This gives clubs a chance to keep coveted players before they hit the open market.

Cerrato compared this period to the NFL combine and said teams are already getting a head start.
"I think this -- teams are already talking to agents. So, for teams and the guys that you want to re-sign, agents should have a feel for who else is interested. What's going to happen is, during that three-day window, the agent is going to know what the market is for that player. So he will let the team know if the player wants to sign early, here is what the market is. Then, it's going to be up to the team whether they want to pay that market value or if they don't believe that's the market. Some teams may say, 'No, let's see what the market is and then we will sign him.' Or some teams who really want the guy back will pay that."
Cerrato's GM rule No. 3: Trust in your research

Because of the lockout, teams have not been allowed to directly contact players for the past four months. It will be difficult to know who's in shape and who's not, not a good situation when you may be spending huge money on a free agent.
"It's the same situation you have with all your players and the homework that you've done on a guy. You're not going to want those kind of players who aren't going to work and don't love football. You don't want to pay that guy a lot of money. You gotta know the guy, because you've had plenty of time to investigate. So you're going to have a feel for what they're going to come in like. But the thing about it is you don't even know how your team is coming in. So the coaches have to gauge everybody when they get there and see where they're at. Otherwise, everyone is going to have [muscle] pulls. But you still have to go by the free agent's talent and abilities and what you see on film."
Cerrato's GM rule No. 4: Mandatory spending changes landscape

Under the proposed rules of the new CBA, teams will be required to spend close to the salary cap. This will force normally reserved teams, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, to become players in free agency.

Therefore, Cerrato believes flexibility is key for GMs, because unexpected things will likely take place.
"What's going to happen is you're going to have some teams come out of left field. For example, Tampa Bay can come in and blow teams away with whoever -- [and sign Ravens guard] Marshal Yanda if they wanted to. So you have to have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C, because you don't know. In prior years, at midnight there were probably eight to 10 teams that were legitimately going after free agents, and everyone else was just waiting. Now you're going to have a lot more teams working and with a ton of money to spend."
Cerrato's GM rule No. 5: Coach-GM balance will be critical

You've seen it many times: GMs and coaches disagreeing on who should make the team.

This presents an interesting conflict of interest. The front office picked a rookie or signed a free agent and has vested interest in that player, but the coach who works with that player every day may not like what he sees.

According to Cerrato, the disagreements between a coach and GM could be multiplied this year without proper time to evaluate players in minicamps and offseason workouts.
"A coach's mind frame previously has been, 'OK, let's evaluate and as we get closer we can pick out teams.' Now, I don't think they're as much into evaluating and developing. I think their mind frame is: 'We gotta prepare to play a game.' So that hurts all these rookies. What happens when a coach comes in and tells you ‘We want to cut the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks, because they can't help us right now’? How are teams going to balance looking at the big picture or looking at how do we win today? That's going to be of interest."

Without a doubt, there are a ton of issues teams will face this summer. The clubs that are most prepared for the unknown will thrive, while others will be left behind.

CBA issues create strange days in Indy

February, 23, 2011
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TannenbaumAP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM Mike Tannenbaum, left, and coach Rex Ryan are ready for any scenario in this odd offseason.
The NFL scouting combine was conceived as an event to prepare for the upcoming draft.

As Februarys came and went, the scene in Indianapolis became a football personnel free-for-all. Free agency, potential trades and contract extensions are discussed as much as Johnny Touchdown's 40-yard dash time.

Agents scamper about to vend their pending free agents and get as much face time with NFL executives as possible. General managers convene over rib eyes at the St. Elmo Steak House or even steal a few words while waiting in line at the hotel coffee shop.

The scene should be decidedly different when personnel evaluators, agents and prospects gather this week. The combine opens Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium and runs through Tuesday.

Rather than a big bazaar for all a team's roster needs, the combine will be a little bizarre.

The collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players will expire at the end of business next Wednesday. If a new CBA can't be brokered by then, most NFL personnel operations will be suspended. No player trades. No free agency.

The only way for teams to make adjustments would be at the draft in April.

"I've never been to Indy so close to the expiration of a labor agreement," New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said of what lies ahead. He spoke while driving, his GPS system fittingly announcing in the background she was "recalculating route."

"But our mindset is to carry on and be prepared and go from there," Tannenbaum continued. "There's uncertainty, but the only thing we can control is preparation, and we feel good that we'll be ready."

For all intents and purposes, the NFL offseason begins the second the confetti falls at the Super Bowl. But the way-offseason likely will begin in a week.

"This is going to be a combine that's focused on the draft and the new CBA," former Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers executive Vinny Cerrato said. "You don't have to focus on free agency. You can concentrate on the draft because that's all you got."

Heightened importance on the draft plus the anticipation of a rookie wage scale in the next CBA might create added interest for moving up in this year's draft. With the inability to sign or trade players, draft picks are the only available currency, and teams could be compelled to convert multiple selections into a premium pick.

In recent years, teams at the front of the draft have tried to trade out of seemingly plum positions because they didn't want to pay the exorbitant contracts that go along with the honor.

Oakland Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell is the poster child for such wasteful draft spending. Even the No. 1 picks who work out, for instance Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, immediately become the highest-paid players at their positions before playing a single NFL snap.

But with a rookie wage scale, teams would be able to limit financial risk. The New England Patriots are in terrific position to try this philosophy if willing. The Patriots own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds.

The Buffalo Bills own the AFC East's most valuable pick at No. 3. It should be easier to trade it this year if they were of a mind to do so.

"I would expect to see more trading in this draft and people wanting to trade up higher because there's definitely going to be a salary structure for rookies," Cerrato said. "You can trade up and it won't kill you."

[+] EnlargeBraylon Edwards
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireMost teams are waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement before making decisions about their potential free agents, like the Jets' Braylon Edwards.
The Jets are in a personnel holding pattern. They have 17 free agents, by far the most in the AFC East. The big names include receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Teams can re-sign players up until the CBA expires, but the Jets are almost certain to decline because they don't know what the new rules will be.

How many years of experience will a player need to be an unrestricted free agent? A restricted free agent? How high will the salary cap ceiling be?

The only move the Jets expected to make was placing the franchise tag on inside linebacker David Harris, and even that maneuver will be in dispute. The NFL believes franchise tags are permissible. The NFL Players Association disagrees. It's possible a court will agree with the union and render Harris a free agent despite the franchise tag.

The longer there's no CBA -- Cerrato predicted there won't be a new one until August at the earliest -- the more handcuffed teams will be when it comes to addressing roster needs.

By the time the draft transpires, teams are supposed to have sifted through the free agency pool for nearly two months. Valuable veterans get their contracts extended. Trades go down.

In the AFC East last year, the Dolphins traded for receiver Brandon Marshall, the Jets traded for Holmes and Cromartie, the Jets signed running back LaDainian Tomlinson and pass-rusher Jason Taylor, the Patriots re-signed five important veterans, including nose tackle Vince Wilfork, and the Bills signed tackle Cornell Green, defensive end Dwan Edwards and Andra Davis -- all in the two months before the draft.

Such moves are unlikely to occur this year until after the draft, adding emphasis to a "best available player" approach when it's time for any team to pick.

For a wheeler-dealer such as Tannenbaum, this offseason might feel like walking up to the first tee box with only three clubs in his bag.

"If you've ever seen me play golf," Tannenbaum said, "I don't really need a lot of clubs to embarrass myself."

No free agency also means the Jets will have to wait to see how attractive they are as a destination for incoming free agents. Polls popped up during the season that showed Rex Ryan was the head coach players around the league most wanted to play for if given the opportunity.

Even so, the Jets can't afford to go into the draft assuming they'll be able to address their wants and needs in a free-agency scramble. Free agency probably will be the latest option to mold a roster this year.

Tannenbaum sounded like someone intent on avoiding stress over circumstances outside his control. After all, the Jets successfully coped with a handicap last offseason as a team constrained by the "final eight" plan, which prevented them from making particular free-agent acquisitions in the uncapped year.

"However the draft falls in line with anything else, we'll be prepared," Tannenbaum said. "We always look at the offseason as a big continuum to improve the team, from the first day of the league year through the last game -- trades, practice-squad signings, whatever it may be."

Cerrato stressed teams must be ready for a variety of developments, including the unexpected: a new CBA before next Wednesday's expiration.

"You have to assume March 3 is still the day because you can't get caught not having done your work and they get a CBA deal done," Cerrato said. "I would think most teams have their free-agency stuff done. If there is no deal, then they're at least ready for when a deal gets done. If that's after the draft, you go back and reevaluate your priorities because your needs are going to change."

Cerrato surmised every NFL team will need to compose provisional draft and free-agency boards for various possible scenarios.

Clubs would rank free agents based on interest level, and when they determine which positions are particularly deep for them (albeit with no guarantees), their scouts could skew their draft needs elsewhere.

It's a strange time, but personnel executives have no choice but to deal with it.

"We're excited," Tannenbaum said. "It's the first opportunity to put the Pittsburgh loss in the rearview mirror and say 'It's 2011. It's a fresh start. Let's go put the best Jets team together we can.' We fell short, but we have a lot of tangible reasons to be excited. We have more wood to chop, and when they say 'Go,' we'll be ready."

"We always look at the draft as an opportunity to improve the team. It's a fun time of year and an important piece to lay the foundation."

Even if the foundation has shifted.

Shanahan has to win this standoff

June, 24, 2010
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Mike Shanahan and Albert HaynesworthUS Presswire/Getty ImagesMike Shanahan and Albert Haynesworth appear to be unable to co-exist in Washington.
With all due respect to the good folks at Forbes.com, I think they missed the boat in their annual "Most Disliked People in Sports" poll. The Eagles' Michael Vick recently defended his crown, but given recent developments, I think Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is starting to separate himself from the pack.

For years, Terrell Owens proudly served as the league's most polarizing (hated) player. But now T.O. and his personal trainer/roommate Buddy Primm can't find an NFL home. Donovan McNabb reportedly offered T.O. a lifeline earlier this offseason, but perhaps Mike Shanahan, normally a fan of fading NFL stars, thought teaming the controversial wide receiver with the Nashville-based Haynesworth would be too much to bear.

But the truth of the matter is that Shanahan made his decision to cut ties with Haynesworth back in March. That's about the time Haynesworth explained to the Redskins coach that he preferred to work out with his own trainer in Nashville, a community that has more Hardee's locations than Ashburn, Va. As I joined Shanahan for breakfast at the spring owners meeting in Orlando (we were rudely interrupted by other reporters), you could tell that he'd already had enough of Haynesworth. He said he "strongly disagreed" with the player's decision to bypass the club's offseason conditioning program.

Let's do away with all the pretense, though. Clearly there's no love lost between Shanahan and Haynesworth, and there's no scenario in which the two men will be able to coexist for a season. Haynesworth released a statement Wednesday saying that he planned to attend the Redskins' training camp, which opens July 29 in Ashburn. What Haynesworth actually meant to say was, "I'm not going to take any chance of the Skins going after all those checks I've cashed."

You have to hand it to the guy. He's become so vilified for his unhappiness over a scheme change that he's made most folks forget that he was once known for purposefully spiking an opposing player in the face with his cleat. Haynesworth has been able to change the dialogue on his career a couple of times since that incident. Now, he's become the poster child for spoiled athletes.

In this economic climate, it's becoming tougher to sympathize with Americans who turn their nose up at $41 million in guaranteed money because they were promised a 4-3 scheme. I've racked my brain for how to defend Haynesworth, but fortunately another ESPN.com contributor was up to the task.

I love all the handwringing over in Washington over this fiasco. Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent more than a decade chasing after free-agent glory, so why are we surprised that this particular move blew up in their faces? You'll be happy to know that Cerrato joined the chorus of jeers at Haynesworth recently.
"When he signed, he said he wanted to prove everybody wrong," Cerrato said at a Redskins alumni function last week. "He said he wanted to show everybody that it's not about the money. He said he wanted to be the best that ever played. He said he wanted to be like Reggie White. He said Reggie White was his hero, so live up to what you said. Don't have it change just because a coach changed."

How in the world could a player widely regarded as selfish not change his ways after becoming the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the league? I mean, how ungrateful can one man be?

Actually, I'm thinking Cerrato's words ring pretty hollow to Redskins fans. Haynesworth is a painful reminder of how the Snyder regime did business for many years. It was wrong to think that the arrival of respected men such as Bruce Allen and Shanahan would automatically fix the problems at Redskins Park. They certainly appear to be on the right track, but Haynesworth is the enormous cloud that hangs over the organization.

So far, Snyder has made good on his promise to remain in the background and let Shanahan and Allen run the show. But Haynesworth happened on his watch and he needs to do whatever it takes to make him go away. Other teams are wisely waiting to see how far Haynesworth's stock will fall before making a deal. Could the Redskins simply have to release Haynesworth and eat all that bonus money? It could definitely come to that.

There's no room for compromise between Shanahan and Haynesworth. He has alienated himself to a fan base, his teammates and the new coaching staff. He would already be gone if the Eagles had shown any interest in him. There's only a handful of coaches around the league who believe they can handle such a divisive (and immensely talented) player. Jim Schwartz in Detroit is one of those guys, but it's not like he wants to set the market for Haynesworth.

The bottom line is that Haynesworth and Shanahan won't be able to function together in Washington. The coach can't afford for any of his new players to have the perception that Haynesworth won this standoff. And that's why Haynesworth's announcement that he intended to show up for training camp meant nothing.

If the Redskins haven't traded or released Haynesworth by that time, I think they'll ask him to stay home. The time for healing or compromise has passed. In reality, Haynesworth hasn't been on this team since March.

Soon, it will become official.

Remember these names in the Beast

April, 22, 2010
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OK, we're about 45 minutes away from the first pick of the NFL Draft. I'll make a few observations and predictions involving the Beast:

  • I think all the talk about the Washington Redskins being on the phone with the St. Louis Rams about the No. 1 pick was a smokescreen. But there may be something to this Eric Berry talk. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett covets Berry's playmaking ability and his biggest emphasis is to increase the Skins' takeaways in 2010. But as of right now, I still think Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams is the pick. If you talk to any scouts they'll tell you the draft begins with the No. 4 pick. We'll be writing about it in an hour or so.
  • Some folks think the New York Giants will trade up to No. 11 to select Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain. That doesn't sound like Giants general manager Jerry Reese to me at all. If Rich Seubert.
  • I'm about to listen to Vinny Cerrato analyze the Redskins' first pick on ESPN Radio. This should be priceless. He's on with John Clayton and Freddie Coleman as we speak. Clayton just said that Cleveland made one last run at the Rams' No. 1 pick this afternoon. Interesting.
  • OK, I'm hearing a ton of things on the Dallas Cowboys. A lot of folks have them doing whatever it takes to trade up for Dez Bryant. Well, they're not willing to do whatever it takes from what I'm hearing. If Bryant falls all the way to No. 27, Jerry Jones will be there to take him. Anything short of that, I don't think the Cowboys make a move. If Bryant makes it to No. 25, the Ravens will take him. I feel pretty strongly about that. If the Cowboys stay at No. 27, look for them to take Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick. He can play nose tackle and defensive end in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. But it's more likely the Cowboys bail out on the pick and try to take South Florida safety Nate Allen early in the second. Also keep your eye on defensive end Tyson Alualu. The Cowboys love him, but they won't take him at No. 27. I think Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty is also a good name at No. 27.
  • Our guy John Clayton just said on ESPN Radio that the Redskins could trade Albert Haynesworth "in the next 10 minutes." I think he just meant that it could happen in a hurry. Cerrato thinks the first trade could occur when Jacksonville tries to trade out of the No. 10 spot.
  • ESPN's Sal Paolantonio has told us that Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has been wanting to move into the top 15. And while I'm sure Roseman's made a lot of calls, I don't see Andy Reid wanting to move that far to take someone like Earl Thomas out of Texas. I've seen Thomas play a lot in person. Great player, but he's not special enough to move up 10 or 11 spots. If Florida guard/center Maurkice Pouncey slips to No. 24, the Eagles would have to think about taking him. I also think Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson's a name to keep in mind. If Haden goes early, though, Wilson will be long gone before the Eagles pick.

Berry to Skins talk heats up

April, 22, 2010
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As we mentioned earlier, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen have done a superb job of keeping everyone in the dark about the No. 4 pick. For weeks, everyone assumed Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung would be the Skins' choice. But in recent days, Oklahoma left tackle Trent Williams has become the favorite of mock draft specialists.

Now, former Tennessee safety Eric Berry, believed to be headed to the Chiefs at No. 5, is starting to get some burn in Washington. Jason Reid of The Washington Post said he thinks there's a "60 percent" chance the Skins will take Berry. But he sort of hedges his bet by saying the Redskins have too many other holes to fill. I think Shanahan and Allen have thoroughly confused everyone, which was probably their intention.

And I love the irony of Vinny Cerrato suggesting the Redskins should select an offensive lineman with the No. 4 pick. I can hear Skins fans yelling a collective, "Then why didn't you do it, Vinny?"

Check out our man Cerrato's podcast about what goes into preparing for a draft.

How I See It: NFC East Stock Watch

April, 15, 2010
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» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Marcus Spears, Cowboys DE: After the '09 season, owner Jerry Jones indicated that Spears had a long-term future with the club. But he has a funny way of showing his devotion to the restricted free agent who recently signed his first-round tender. Spears, who would've been an appealing player on the open market, is scheduled to make less money than backup defensive ends Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher. All three players could be unrestricted free agents after next season.

I think a team such as the Redskins would be wise to make a move for Spears during the draft. The Cowboys would probably move him for a mid-round pick. For whatever reason, the team has soured on Spears, who's actually one of the better leaders on the team. It's not like the defensive end in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme is going to have a lot of sacks. I'm not quite sure why Spears' stock has fallen so much, but it's at an all-time low at this point.

Rising

Oklahoma State LT Russell Okung going to the Redskins at No. 4 overall: Mock drafters across the country will at least get this one right. When the Skins traded for Donovan McNabb, it all but guranteed that they'd select Okung in the first round. I've watched the guy in person several times over the last few years and he's a refined athlete who doesn't have many holes in his game. Barring injury, he'll start at left tackle for the next 10 years. In the past, Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder neglected the offensive line in the draft. But Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen won't make that mistake.

I had a long conversation with Okung at the combine. He's a no-nonsense guy who seems to have a bit of a mean streak. That will go over well in Washington. If not for those two great defensive tackles, Okung would have gone even higher in this draft. He's a more refined player than last year's No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith, although he's not quite that athletic.

Who's holding Dan Snyder hostage?

March, 11, 2010
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Dan Snyder & Mike ShanahanWin McNamee/Getty ImagesWith Mike Shanahan, center, on the sideline, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, left, hasn't gone on one of his usual offseason spending sprees.
All signs pointed to another Redskins spending spree. For years, we'd become accustomed to Washington winning the month of March by signing big-name, if aging, free agents to lucrative contracts. To owner Dan Snyder and his top lieutenant Vinny Cerrato, the NFL draft was for weaklings.

While teams such as the Baltimore Ravens loaded up on offensive and defensive linemen, the Redskins turned to established stars in the league. Unfortunately, though, the Skins' version of March Madness couldn't overshadow what happened each fall.

Snyder built a foundation on smoke and mirrors, and the results had become downright depressing. At least the '09 season provided comic relief when Cerrato interrupted Sherm Lewis' bing0 calling to name him the team's playcaller. In retrospect, coach Jim Zorn was in over his head from the start. He was a panic hire by Snyder after his candidate pool evaporated in '08.

He has fired plenty of coaches in more than a decade as owner, but following last season's 4-12 campaign, Snyder knew his organization was at a crisis point. The losing was bad enough, but the Redskins had managed to alienate their fan base through a stunning series of blunders, the most humorous being a ban against homemade signs at games. In addition to being treated to a poor on-field product, fans were asked to express their dissatisfaction in healthier ways, such as politely clapping for first downs and pretending to recognize Marcus Mason's name.

If Snyder didn't get the next hire right, he might have encountered fan revolt. Fortunately for him, a Super Bowl-winning coach happened to have the '09 season off. Mike Shanahan might as well have had an office at Redskins Park because you knew he would replace Zorn from about Week 4 on. Snyder's only serious competition for Shanahan would've been the Cowboys, but most folks don't have an appreciation for Jerry Jones' devotion to Wade Phillips, a man who's happy to let the owner wear the whistle, and at times, the Russell coaching shorts.

The Redskins hired general manager Bruce Allen, son of George, late in the '09 season to start assessing the damage. Once he sacked Zorn, the stage was finally set for Team Shanahan to take over the building. The former Broncos coach hasn't done anything that dramatic (Artis Hicks, anyone?), but his presence alone has changed the club's perception around the league. As I walked the streets of Indianapolis during the combine in search of scouts and refreshments, people told me stories about Shanahan's iron-fisted ways. Members of the Cowboys' delegation weren't shy about admitting that the landscape of the NFC East would quickly change with Shanahan on the scene.

In fact, I'm not sure there's a coach in the league that Jones admires more than Shanahan. In the past, Shanahan had been a ghost at the combine, slipping into town to look at a certain player and then leaving before anyone saw him. But this year, Shanahan was popping up all over the place. He spent more than an hour with reporters and then I later saw him sharing trail mix with Wade Phillips at a Marriott property. For now, Shanahan's the face of the franchise and I think he realizes how important it is for fans to see him at work.

On the eve of free agency last Thursday, Redskins fans gathered at their laptops (hopefully) and read about Shanahan and Allen releasing 10 players. It sort of felt like the final cuts in the preseason. Allen was rather diplomatic in his description of Black Thursday at Redskins Park. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was a little more blunt, telling ESPN that the Skins were able to shed some "dead weight." Nice touch, DeAngelo.

Some of us interpreted these moves as a prelude to a big-ticket item in free agency, but unless Hicks and Maake Kemoeatu were at the top of your wish list, the Skins basically sat on their hands. You keep waiting for that other shoe to drop, but it looks like this is all we're going to get. It makes you wonder if someone's kidnapped the free-spending Snyder, an owner who has been known to covet another man's roster. Surely he'll put a stop to all this inactivity at some point. But Allen recently told SI.com's Peter King that Snyder seems to be taking the (non) news in stride.
"He didn't throw anything at me," said Allen of Snyder. "And he didn't throw a tantrum. He's fine with it."

So we've apparently entered a new era of Washington Redskins football. To be clear, though, Shanahan won't be given license to have a couple more 4-12 seasons. He isn't expected to win the NFC East title in 2010, but the Redskins will need to show marked improvement.

Fortunately for Shanahan, the bar's been set pretty low over the past decade. His critics will point toward his playoff record in the post-John Elway era in Denver. But his total body of work is impressive.

The best news for Redskins fans is that Shanahan and Allen don't appear to be looking for shortcuts. As we've seen in the past, shortcuts look a lot better in March than they do in December. Artie Hicks and Kemo might not get your heart pumping, but regaining the respect of your division foes should.

And that has already happened.

Skins' Campbell won't go quietly

February, 18, 2010
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US PRESSWIREWill Jason Campbell (middle) be the Redskins starting quarterback in 2010? Or might the Redskins look to draft Oklahoma's Sam Bradford (left) or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen?
Try as he might, there's no way Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell can tune out the talk radio or even the random folks who recognize him at the movies. He's once again involved in a familiar storyline in which his team's fanbase (and perhaps the front office) yearn for the next franchise quarterback.

Never mind the fact that Campbell somehow put up respectable numbers during a season in which he lined up behind arguably the worst offensive line in the league. Campbell was set up to fail by an administration that neglected the offensive line for the better part of a decade.

No quarterback in the league took more of a beating than Campbell, but even when given the opportunity to tap out, he kept showing up in the huddle. And given the way owner Dan Snyder and his former henchman Vinny Cerrato treated him, I'm sure Campbell thought taking a play or two off might lead to a full-time demotion. For the record, Campbell actually enjoyed his time with interim play-caller Sherman Lewis, who was plucked from a bingo-calling assignment by Cerrato.

The Redskins played themselves into the No. 4 overall pick in this April's draft, so all the speculation is that new head coach Mike Shanahan will select either Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. But until further notice, Campbell remains the starting quarterback of this team. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, which means he'll likely receive the highest contract tender of roughly $3.1 million. And if the Redskins are shopping Campbell, they're doing a pretty nice job of keeping it a secret this offseason.

I caught up with Campbell via phone Thursday and asked him about his initial impressions of Shanahan. The two sat down in Shanahan's office and talked about the organization's future. But what about Campbell's future?

"The plan is that I'm going to be here," said Campbell. "[Shanahan] told me that he liked how I'd handled everything over the past couple of years and the whole conversation was real positive. But we really didn't talk much about the past. When a team goes 4-12, most of the bad publicity goes to the quarterback. But I was still able to put up one of my best seasons despite all the turmoil."

Campbell showed a lot of loyalty to former coach Jim Zorn, but he knew early on that the organization was asking Zorn to wear too many hats. Campbell, who has lost count of how many offensive coordinators he's played for dating back to his Auburn days, said that Shanahan has brought instant credibility to the Redskins.

"With Coach Shanahan and Bruce Allen, there's already a new feeling to the team," said Campbell. "Guys are going to follow [Shanahan] because he has a proven résumé. The main thing we need is discipline, and you can already see that guys are carrying themselves in a different manner."

Campbell spent part of Super Bowl week in South Florida doing some research on the Redskins' new regime. Skins wide receiver Santana Moss is close friends with Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who had great things to say about new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. And Campbell had a long conversation with Texans running back Ryan Moats about what it was like playing for Shanahan in Houston.

"The main thing Ryan told me is that I'll have a lot of fun playing for Kyle," said Campbell. "And he told me that Kyle was incredibly knowledgeable for such a young guy."

Campbell has handled the situation in Washington with a lot of grace, but he bristles when he hears critics talk about how he didn't throw the ball downfield enough in '09. In fact, I happened to catch him on the phone last month after he'd heard SI.com's Peter King criticizing him on a local radio station in Washington.

"I don't know how anyone can say something like that," said Campbell on Thursday. "Don't you think I wanted to throw the ball downfield? By the time I looked up, I was getting hit. I'm certainly hoping we have an opportunity to make some big plays next season."

For now, Campbell is attempting to avoid the mock draft industry. I helpfully informed him that ESPN's Mel Kiper now has the Skins selecting Clausen at No. 4 overall. In fact, here's how Kiper explained that pick on a conference call Wednesday:

"In the case of a player like Clausen or Bradford, I would take the quarterback first. I have Clausen and Bradford rated higher than [Anthony] Davis and [Russell] Okung. So I would go the quarterback first, then try to get the offensive tackle in the second round and hope that a Bruce Campbell or a [Bryan] Bulaga or somebody like that fell down to me."

Campbell didn't feel like it was his place to inquire about Shanahan's approach to the draft. He said he trusts the coach's experience in that department and will be prepared for whatever happens.

"I have to do whatever it takes to help us win," said Campbell. "All that other stuff will take care of itself. I'm certainly not going to be out campaigning for them to take other positions. They know how to do this stuff."

The Shanahan era officially begins in D.C.

January, 6, 2010
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For about 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Redskins fans were able to forget about the miserable '09 season and look toward a better future. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen took the podium a little after 2 p.m. ET and introduced "one of the most consistent winners in the NFL."

Allen, a former agent, even cited an old New York Times article that said Mike Shanahan "dares to be great." But who can blame the son of George Allen for using a little hyperbole to introduce the Skins' new head coach?


AP Photo/Evan VucciMike Shanahan was officially announced as the head coach of the Washington Redskins in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The former Broncos coach talked about owner Dan Snyder's passion for the organization several times and said that both Joe Gibbs and -- wait for it -- Marty Schottenheimer gave the owner ringing endorsements. Of course, it feels somewhat natural to praise a man who just agreed to pay you $7 million per year. Shanahan mentioned he's known Snyder for the past 10 years and they've become friends while visiting during the owner's meeting each year. He told the story of Snyder jokingly asking Broncos owner Pat Bowlen one time if he'd be willing to trade head coaches. Fortunately, Shanahan didn't provide the name of the Skins coach at the time.

Unless I missed something today, I'm pretty sure Snyder was not sitting at the head table during the news conference. And believe me when I say that was a well-designed play. Snyder knows about the perception that he's a meddlesome owner who can't keep his hands off the football decisions. And by the way, I think that perception has been a reality in the past. But perhaps Snyder has finally learned his lesson. I've never doubted for a minute that he has a passion for the organization, but his management style has riled both employees and the Skins' fan base. He used to have Vinny Cerrato around to deflect some of the criticism, but that's no longer an option.

If he's truly willing to step away from the football side and let Shanahan and Allen run things, this thing might have a chance of working. Shanahan was quickly asked about whether he'd truly have final authority on all football decisions.

"Maybe you can say that [I will have final say] but we will never use that, because we will work together as a team," said Shanahan.

We've heard speculation that Shanahan may have influenced Snyder to hire Allen as general manager -- and Shanahan pretty much backed that up during Wednesday's news conference, recalling a conversation in which he said, "Dan, a guy like Bruce doesn't come along very often." Shanahan said he wanted to work with Allen because he believes the general manager will disagree with and challenge him.

"I wanted someone who I know would give me his opinions on everything," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said he would interview all the current members of the coaching staff who had a desire to remain with the franchise but he made it clear that he would look outside to assemble the best possible group. He confirmed that his son, Kyle, would be offensive coordinator and it's obvious that he's particularly pleased with that scenario. Shanahan said he wanted each of his assistants to "know more about that position than me."

Shanahan was also asked about his plans for quarterback Jason Campbell. He said he would sit down with the quarterback and go over every play during his career.

"I look forward to working with [Campbell]," said Shanahan. "I've been loving the way Jason handles himself... Hopefully the best years are ahead."

Regarding running back Clinton Portis, Shanahan said he needed to sit down and watch film before he was ready to pass judgment on the player. He did talk about how older running backs can "fall off a cliff" if they don't take care of their bodies during the offseason. Shanahan was speaking more in general terms at that point, but he could've been talking about Portis, who has been criticized for skipping offseason workouts and not practicing in the past.

"I love his toughness," Shanahan said of Portis. "He was obviously very, very productive when he was at Denver."

Shanahan didn't want to use the word "rebuild," but he also didn't want to make any promises other than to say he would make sure the team improved on a daily basis. Interestingly, he said he favored holding training camp away from the team's practice facility. He did it both ways in Denver. It looks like the Redskins will be leaving Ashburn, Va., for training camp if Shanahan can find some suitable practice facilities and meeting rooms.

Shanahan said he spent this past season watching football on Sundays and reviewing film during the week. He said it was good to get away from the game, but that he was always anxious to get back in it. Overall, it was a pretty impressive first day on the job. Now the hard part begins.

Five things Shanahan must address

January, 5, 2010
1/05/10
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Mike ShanahanJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesOne of Mike Shanahan's challenges will be to make sure Dan Snyder feels involved in decisions.
Now that we know Mike Shanahan is going to be the coach of the Washington Redskins, it's time to look at five of his top priorities. Bruce Allen might have the title of general manager, but it looks as if Shanahan will have final authority on football decisions. If that's really the case, here are five things he needs to address -- in no particular order:

Figure out what he's going to do at quarterback: Dan Snyder and his old pal Vinny Cerrato made a mess of this situation last offseason by pursuing every quarterback not named Jason Campbell. Allen has been complimentary of Campbell's work, but this is something Shanahan needs to figure out. I talked to Campbell about Shanahan last week, and he expressed excitement about the coach's credentials. Shanahan obviously won the two Super Bowls with John Elway, had some success with Jake Plummer and appeared to have Jay Cutler headed in the right direction. I think Shanahan will look to draft a quarterback and groom him for the future, but you don't want to throw a kid to the wolves behind this offensive line. If Shanahan believes Campbell could elevate his game, I think it behooves him to invest some time in him. Campbell had the best statistical season of his career while playing behind perhaps the worst collection of offensive linemen in the league. I'd like to see what a quarterback guru such as Shanahan could accomplish with Campbell, who has handled this entire situation with a lot of grace.

Assemble a talented coaching staff: I think Shanahan brings a great deal of energy to the job after having a season off. But it's not like he played golf the whole time. He spent a lot of time visiting other coaches and watching film at an office in Denver. I have to believe he has basically had a coaching in staff in mind for the past six or seven months. His son, Kyle, will serve as offensive coordinator and there's a lot of speculation that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will fill the same role for the Redskins. Keep your eye on whether Shanahan retains any members of the previous Washington regime. It will be an indicator of how much say Snyder has retained. Snyder loved special-teams coordinator Danny Smith and he's also fond of secondary coach Jerry Gray. My guess is Shanahan will pretty much clean house.

It's time to rebuild the offensive line: This goes hand in hand with the quarterback situation. You can't ask Campbell to endure another season behind this collection of former undrafted rookies and aging players. It as if your best offensive lineman Chris Samuels will probably retire because of a neck injury, and it's not like you received outstanding play from your other veterans. Randy Thomas is too old to count on, and Casey Rabach is just a serviceable center at this point. I supposed Derrick Dockery was your best lineman this season after Samuels was injured, but that's not saying much. Free agency is going to be limited because of the potential for an uncapped season. With the No. 4 pick overall, you need to take a long look at the left tackles in the draft. I know everyone will talk about Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, but you don't have to pick a quarterback at that spot. Hopefully Shanahan and Allen will have a logical plan in place. Picking two wide receivers and a tight end in the same round isn't the way to go -- even if you argue that they were the "best players on the board."

It would be nice to figure out the running back situation: Starting running back Clinton Portis has talked about his uncertain future. He's set to make more than $7 million next season (Shanahan money), and at least $6 million of it is guaranteed. I know Shanahan once traded Portis from the Broncos, but I don't think he would have any trouble coaching him. The issue is that Portis talks a better game than he plays these days. He missed pretty much the entire second half of the season with a concussion -- yet he found time to criticize Campbell in recent days. He's a mouthy guy who loves to go behind the coach's back directly to Snyder. If Snyder allows Shanahan to dump Portis, I think that would be a good sign for the organization.

And that brings us to our fifth item, which deals with Snyder: All this talk of "ultimate say in football decisions" sounds good in theory, but we know how much Snyder likes to be involved. Shanahan needs to do a good job of making Snyder feel like he's involved in decisions. Snyder gave Joe Gibbs a lot of authority, but that was a different situation. He had idolized Gibbs as a kid and was sort of in awe of him. That won't be the case with Shanahan. The last time Snyder hired a coach with a similar demeanor to Shanahan's (Marty Schottenheimer), things ended pretty quickly. If Snyder doesn't give Shanahan and Allen enough breathing room, this could be another failed hire.

Zorn kept his dignity intact

January, 4, 2010
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Jim ZornStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJim Zorn was 12-20 during his two seasons as head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Jim Zorn could've been fired at any point from December 2009 through Monday morning and no one would have been all that surprised. In truth, he was the accidental head coach. Dan Snyder and his henchman, Vinny Cerrato, bumbled around so long after the retirement of Joe Gibbs that they ran out of viable candidates.

They hired Zorn to be the team's offensive coordinator, and I wish we could have seen how he operated in that capacity. Instead, Snyder made the knee-jerk decision to elevate Zorn to head coach. He was also put in charge of the quarterbacks, which was honestly the only position he was truly qualified for.

Zorn seemed a little overwhelmed from the start, but his quirkiness endeared him to his players, and to some extent, the Skins' fan base. And when the Redskins started the '08 campaign 6-2, it briefly looked like Snyder had stumbled into the right decision. Of course, we all know what happened after that. The Redskins collapsed in the second half of the season and they didn't recover in '09 despite the arrival of All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

Zorn was one of the most likable head coaches I've been around. He frustrated his public relations staff at times by spending inordinate amounts of time with bloggers and anyone else who requested an interview. He wasn't capable of providing canned answers because it wasn't in his make-up. He was a cerebral guy who had other interests outside football, such as wood carving and mountain biking. Zorn and his teenage son went mountain biking with President George W. Bush at one point, and I remember the coach beaming as he recalled the outing.

But Snyder and Cerrato quickly soured on Zorn. By the end of September, there wasn't much communication between Zorn and management. He had to know his days were numbered -- especially when Snyder stripped him of his play-calling duties in October. That's when everyone would've understood if Zorn had quit and walked away from this mess. That's exactly what I think Snyder and Cerrato had hoped he would do. But he stuck around and suffered a string of indignities in the name of loyalty to his players and his pocketbook.

Snyder will have to write Zorn a check for $2.4 million in 2010. It turned out that he and Cerrato couldn't shame Zorn into walking away from the money. From a coaching standpoint, you have to hand it to Zorn that his players continued to fight each week. The only time down the stretch the Redskins didn't show up was the 45-12 loss to the Giants. And that came after a tumultuous week during which Cerrato abruptly resigned and was replaced by new general manager Bruce Allen.

To the end, Zorn was hopeful that he'd be given another season. He came across as incredibly naive in those moments because we all knew where this was heading. But the former Seahawks quarterback somehow kept his dignity throughout this entire ordeal. And that doesn't seem like such a small thing.

It would be easy to blame the past two seasons on Zorn. That's what Redskins management would prefer you do. But in reality, this man never really had a chance to succeed.

Is this rock bottom?

December, 21, 2009
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LANDOVER, Md. -- I think Dan Snyder's decision to replace Vinny Cerrato with Bruce Allen inspired the local fanbase -- until just after kickoff this evening. In what has to be one of the most forgettable performances in franchise history, the Skins trail, 38-12, late in the third quarter.

The NFL's lack of a mercy rule is really showing up in this game. The look on Jim Zorn's face after Jason Campbell tossed that interception to Terrell Thomas was priceless. I think you'll see a much different Redskins roster next season, and that's about the only hopeful thing you can say about this organization right now.

Redskins-Giants game has whole new feel

December, 19, 2009
12/19/09
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Jim Zorn/Daniel SnyderAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRedskins coach Jim Zorn, left, has remained gracious despite the changes Daniel Snyder has made.

Surely Redskins owner Dan Snyder wouldn't make a stunning move on the Thursday before the Giants come to FedEx to provide "Monday Night Football" with a compelling storyline. Oh wait, you think he would?

It's pretty obvious that Snyder didn't simply wake up Thursday morning and decide to can his longtime pal Vinny Cerrato. But the timing of Cerrato's "resignation" followed closely by the hiring of Bruce Allen as general manager certainly gives Monday's game a little more pop.

Hard as it is to believe, the Giants (7-6) still have a decent shot at a wild-card playoff spot and several Redskins players now have a three-week audition to try to grab Allen's attention before he overhauls this roster. Make no mistake, that's what it will take to make the Redskins competitive again. Cerrato made the humorous statement a few weeks ago that he handed coach Jim Zorn the keys to a playoff team this season, but we all know that's not true.

Even before season-ending injuries to starting offensive linemen Randy Thomas and Chris Samuels, this wasn't a roster that was built to compete for an NFC East title. It was dotted with big names, some of whom (Santana Moss, Clinton Portis) appear to be on the downside of their careers. Some Redskins fans had given up on the Snyder-Cerrato partnership ever ending. But behind closed doors, the seemingly happy relationship had cooled. Yes, they still made the rounds on the field before games, but Cerrato finally started to lose Snyder's ear.

Now, a new era begins in Washington with a general manager tied to the Redskins' past. Allen's father, George, coached the Redskins from 1971-77 and was one of the most beloved figures in the history of the franchise. But Bruce has forged his own reputation during stops in Oakland and Tampa Bay. His love of the franchise is a quaint sidebar but it doesn't shed any light on whether or not he'll succeed with the Redskins. The only way this works is if Snyder actually sticks to the business side and allows Allen and whichever head coach (possibly Mike Shanahan) to take care of the football operation. Like his mentor and friend, Jerry Jones, Snyder is enamored with the splashy move. He doesn't sweat the small stuff, such as drafting and developing players along the offensive and defensive lines.

Why make a commitment via the draft when you can set the market in free agency? If this latest plan is to work, the organization needs to move past the embarrassing pre-draft trips during which Snyder lands in a college town for one last look at the hottest prospect. For all his business acumen, you still get the feeling that Snyder is playing dress-up when it comes to football decisions. Maybe Snyder is doing what Jones did in 2003 when he hired Bill Parcells to coach his team and make most of the personnel decisions. That move didn't pay off with a playoff win but Parcells rebuilt the team and put it in position to win 13 games in 2007.

I don't know how closely Allen has watched the Redskins this season but my guess is that he has had an eye on them for the past few weeks. He's publicly said that he plans to evaluate Zorn over the final three games, but we all know the score. Zorn was effectively fired the day his play-calling duties were stripped by Cerrato, but the Skins weren't able to coax him into quitting, which would have saved them some cash. In what has been an embarrassing situation all the way around, Zorn has somehow managed to remain gracious -- and his team keeps showing up and competing against superior opponents. He was asked Friday about reports that the Redskins are already in talks with Shanahan to replace him as head coach.

"I'm not aware of that, and I wouldn't even try to go there," said Zorn. "Because I'm not looking towards what is going to happen this offseason or next season yet. We're right in the middle of it. For us, I'm kind of excited about where we're heading."

The Redskins are likely headed for an offseason of upheaval, but first, they get a crack at the Giants, a team that has owned them lately. I think this will be the most competitive game between the two teams since the 2007 season, in part, because the Redskins excel in an area where the Giants have been awful. The Giants actually have a decent overall defense but they're one of the worst units in the league in the red zone.

And with the rise of second-year tight end Fred Davis, the Redskins are actually solid in that area. Since Chris Cooley suffered a season-ending injury against the Eagles on Oct. 26, Davis has five touchdowns in seven games. He's a big target for Campbell and he's elusive enough to catch the ball inside the 10 and then find the end zone.

The Giants will try to cover Davis with middle linebacker Jonathan Goff at times and safeties Aaron Rouse and Michael Johnson will also get their turns. Those are matchups the Redskins invite.

On offense, the Giants have immense respect for Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Left guard Rich Seubert actually had a nice game against Haynesworth in the season-opener but Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is not taking any chances.

"The guy is a freak of nature," Gilbride told reporters Thursday. "He is a huge man who has some explosiveness to him. We tried to slide and help. We tried to keep a guy inside or a guy outside and help. More often than not, he was on his own and Richie just hung in there. The guy is incredible. He plays with such heart and determination. It really is inspiring to watch him. I don’t know how he does it with some of the injuries he is battling through, but he does."

The Giants obviously have something on the line in this game. And with recent developments in Washington, there's also a renewed sense of urgency from the Redskins. On Thursday, this became a much more attractive matchup.

Allen hiring could save Bucs big money

December, 17, 2009
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As you would expect, today’s news that Bruce Allen is in and Vinny Cerrato is out as the main football man in Washington has set off a whole bunch of speculation about the possibility of Jon Gruden coaching the Redskins.

Both Ira Kaufman and Rick Stroud, who covered the Bucs on a daily basis during the Allen-Gruden days, write about all the logical reasons Gruden to the Redskins makes a lot of sense. He and Allen are very close and have worked together and had success in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

We’ll see how this plays out. But the most interesting NFC South angle to all this might be that the Glazer family that owns the Buccaneers could be off the hook for some or all of what Allen was owed after his firing. If Gruden ends up coaching again, the Glazers probably won’t be writing him any more checks. Details of the parting agreements of Allen and Gruden from the Bucs are not available. But, at the time of their firings, Gruden and Allen had a combined $15 million left on their contracts.

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