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Washington Redskins: The Beginning of the Beginning with Thanks to John Mara

The Washington Redskins held the first day of voluntary strength and conditioning out at Redskins Park this past Monday, officially launching the beginning of the 2013 off-season programs. The players worked out with the training staff, met with their positions coaches and gathered before head coach Mike Shanahan for a team meeting. It feels like the beginning of the beginning and, according to the players, a good beginning it has been so far. The attendance Monday was said to be 100 percent.

“Since Shanahan took over we have had everyone in attendance for the off season and it’s good to see that,” fullback Darrel Young said via text yesterday. “Everyone is buying into Shanahan’s beliefs. So that’s a good thing.”

The way the players are feeling now combined with the undefeated performance the team turned in at the end of the 2012 season should have Redskins fans feeling optimistic about 2013.

Despite the fact that the team basically has no money to spend, Shanahan has done a masterful job during this free agency period. Unfortunately, he’ll likely have to scrape the bottom of the barrel just to pay the team’s draft picks thanks to the NFL, New York Giants’ owner John Mara and the salary cap penalty they are dealing with.

The “travesty of fairness” that the NFL laid on the Washington Redskins for the 2012 and 2013 off-seasons really put a crimp in their Free Agency spending. Not having $18 million to spend this year has meant that they could not bring in some of the players that they otherwise might have in order to upgrade the team. Guys like former Minnesota Vikings’ defensive back Antoine Winfield (now with the Seattle Seahawks) or New England Patriots’ cornerback Aqib Talib (re-signed in March) were looking for pay days as they entered the period and Washington could not afford them. As a result, previously released cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been re-signed and other Redskins’ free agents were brought back as well. In the past, it would have been no surprise for players like defensive end Adam Carriker, tight end Fred Davis, defensive end Kedric Golston, wide out Santana Moss or offensive tackle Tyler Polumbus not to be re-signed in the hopes of upgrading the team via free agency. Instead, through what had to have been some very creative financing, Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen found a way to restructure a few contracts and keep these core guys on the team. As well, they re-signed Young, cornerback Cedric Griffin, long snapper Nick Sundberg, linebacker Rob Jackson, nose tackle Chris Baker, guard Kory Lichtensteiger, punter Sav Rocca and quarterback Rex Grossman. That is a good list.

Even though he maintains that he did not, there is a general feeling that Mara did, in fact, lead the movement to hit the Redskins (and Dallas Cowboys) with the salary cap penalty. This ultimately has been the driving force in the conservative approach that Washington has adopted this off-season. Mara said at the owners meeting in March that the penalty was a negotiated between the league office and the players’ association but he also openly agreed with the ruling. He told reporters that the Redskins “violated the spirit of the salary cap” during the uncapped 2010 season when they back-loaded high-dollar salaries and even went so far as to suggest the salary cap penalty was not harsh enough.

“Quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks,” Mara eventually said.

Thank you Mr. Mara.  As painful as it has been to watch, losing that cap money was the best thing that could have happened in Washington. Even though there are positions of need on paper, the team has proven they can win with the players they had last season – even with a roster that had multiple injuries at key positions. Linebacker Brian Orakpo, defensive lineman Adam Carriker, tight end Fred Davis and safety Brandon Meriweather are all impact players that the Redskins lost during the season to injury. Yet the burgundy and gold won the NFC East Division and did it with guys like safety  DeJon Gomes, then-rookie cornerback Richard Crawford, tight end Logan Paulsen and safety Reed Doughty… guys previously accompanied by a “ho hum” reaction when discussed. The defense — stagnant much of the earlier portion of the year — found a way to come together during the seven-game winning streak and get the job done. The offense could hardly be stopped with rookie superstar quarterback Robert Griffin, III, running back Alfred Morris, previously mentioned fullback Darrel Young and several talented wide receivers helping the prolific Pierre Garçon lead the charge.

With the off-season strength and conditioning workouts beginning, the players are enthusiastic about the way Shanahan has managed to keep the team together — as they should be. At this point in his tenure, the head coach is heading up a team mostly hand-picked by him. With the draft coming up and with the low-key free agents they have brought in — cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Korey Lindsey, linebackers Ricky Elmore and Darryl Tapp, offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, nose tackles Chigbo Anunoby and Ron Brace, defensive end Phillip Merling, tight end Deangelo Peterson, fullback Eric Kettani, quarterback Pat White and defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton (some of which may not even be in the burgundy and gold come the first regular season game) — there will be new faces on the team. But a majority of the guys re-signed from the 2012 season were starters. Losing linebacker and special teams’ standout Lorenzo Alexander to the Arizona Cardinals was excruciating. But he deserved a raise and that wasn’t going to be possible with the cap penalty that the Redskins are dealing with.

There is every reason to think that Washington will be as successful in 2013 as they were last season although, with some of the difficult opponents they will be facing (division opponents Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants; plus Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders), they will need the previously injured players to come back healthy and be the impact players that they can be. Griffin needs to be on the field full-time by at least the fifth or sixth game of the season, healthy and his typical superstar self.

Thanks to John Mara and the NFL, no big-name players will likely be coming in from other teams and changing the locker room dynamics or causing a media ruckus (can you say ‘Albert Haynesworth’?). With the returning players all having a minimum of one year of the offensive and defensive schemes under their belt and, with younger guys that flashed last season hopefully coming back and really stepping up their games — tight end Niles Paul, cornerback Richard Crawford, defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, defensive tackle Chris Baker, linebacker Perry Riley and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, for instance — the sky really is the limit in 2013.

It would be nice to think that the reason Shanahan did not go out and get any big-name free agents is simply that he wanted the consistency that keeping the team together brings. He has been in the league a long time and knows how important this is. But in reality, some of it is that he just didn’t have the money to pay them.

With a big thank you to John Mara, RedskinsNation should look forward to another winning season. The players are looking forward to it as well.

“Everyone looks good,” Young said about Monday’s work outs. “Everyone seems to be in shape and it feels different in the locker room. There are a lot of new faces but everyone is working hard and it seems like the chemistry will be there because everyone wants to be there. It’s a good thing.”



Diane Chesebrough is Chief Editor, writer and photographer for SportsJourney Broadcast Network. Accredited media with the NFL and NBA, she has been a feature writer for several national magazines/periodicals. Follower her on Twitter: @DiChesebrough

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