NFC East: Washington Redskins

John RigginsManny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
Score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Date: Jan. 30, 1983. Site: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

From the moment this project was announced, and before I tweeted a word on it, there was only one play in my mind that deserved top billing. When a team hasn't won an NFL title in more than 40 years ... and it trails by four points in the ultimate game ... and it's fourth-and-1 ... and the running back goes the distance? How exactly do you top that?

Fortunately and wisely, the fans agreed with my take. Which is why John Riggins' touchdown run against Miami in Super Bowl XVII was the runaway choice for the top spot. Riggins' run received 76 percent of the more than 30,000 votes and was solidly ahead shortly after the choices appeared on the blog.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 30,346)

Thing is, there were a few choices that didn't even make the list: Mark Moseley's 42-yard field goal in the snow to clinch a playoff spot in 1982; Clint Longley's bomb on Thanksgiving Day (not all memories are good ones); Sean Taylor's return of a blocked field goal attempt in the final seconds that led to a winning Redskins field goal over Dallas; Ken Houston's stop of Dallas running back Walt Garrison at the goal line; Joe Theismann's broken leg; and either of the two Santana Moss touchdown catches in the Monday night comeback win over Dallas. There are others as well.

But the right three were on the board. A Hall of Famer in Darrell Green making one of the biggest plays of a 20-year career. That garnered 16 percent of the vote. A clinching touchdown on an unlikely play -- an interception return by defensive tackle Darryl Grant -- to win the NFC Championship Game at home, providing a moment that likely still brings chills to those in attendance. But it wasn't big enough, receiving just 8 percent of the votes.

Riggins' run happened in the ultimate game. It happened on a fourth down. It gave Washington the lead. Shall I keep going? Based on the votes, the answer is no. You got it. And you got it right.
Some Washington Redskins news and notes for Friday morning:

Briles on RG III: Baylor coach Art Briles watched his former quarterback, Robert Griffin III, work out earlier this week. He saw a guy he used to see with regularity. "I think it's as fresh and uplifting as I've seen him in a long time quite honestly," Briles said on the SiriusXM Blitz Wednesday via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "The thing about ACLs: I've always thought they take a complete year to get over. And I think he rushed himself a little bit, just because that's the way Robert is. He's always going to be determined to do more than is humanly possible."

Briles' prediction? "So I think this year, I do think we'll see a very healthy RG III. I think we're gonna see a guy that's happy playing the game, that has a fire and attitude that you need to have a chance to be successful, because that's who he is."

Revisiting Week 1 2013: Steinberg also wrote about former Redskin Chris Cooley saying that Griffin should not have started the 2013 opener. It wasn't because of Griffin's health, but rather his readiness. Griffin was cleared by doctors and was ready physically. But it's clear in hindsight he was not prepared to play in an NFL game. Mike Shanahan did a bad job of managing Griffin, from not pulling him in the Seattle game despite his gut feeling to do so and to being afraid of how his moves were perceived by the young quarterback. If you have a conviction on something, do it. Instead, Shanahan did not and instead we got the mess of last December.

More on Jackson: ESPN980's Chris Russell exchanged texts with safety Tanard Jackson, who told him his fourth suspension was not like the others, that it had nothing to do with marijuana. It's hard to buy any story from a guy in his position, regardless if you want to or not. Maybe it's true; maybe it's not. Bottom line: Whatever Jackson thinks, the NFL's ruling is the one that matters. They ruled he tested positive for violating the NFL's substance of abuse policy. It's over.

Power rankings: The Redskins ended the 2013 season ranked No. 31 in ESPN's power rankings. The rankings suggest they'll be better over the next three years -- but not by a whole lot. The panel of experts ranked Washington No. 24 Insider for what it could do over the next three years. That's a dropoff from last season and it stems from a fall at quarterback and coaching. They dropped 12 spots at quarterback and 19 at coaching from this time last year. The knock on Griffin traces back to his knee injury and a subpar season. And going from Mike Shanahan to first-time head coach Jay Gruden caused a tumble (of course, had Shanahan returned after such a bad season they might have fallen far regardless). It's not as if Gruden's hire was considered a great one at the time, so until he proves himself there will be split opinions on him. They also were knocked for the front office. The Redskins need Griffin to rebound and they'll climb in the rankings, but they also have to do a much better job building the defense. If Griffin plays well, the offense is in excellent shape. But the defense needs more help and will need several new parts after this season.

Redskins' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
Midway through the 2012 season, the narrative surrounding the Redskins’ future had changed. They went from a team headed nowhere to one guided by an exciting young quarterback, capable of big-time wins.

A year later that narrative changed, with Robert Griffin III's future -- and that of the Redskins -- more in question. One knee injury altered that storyline.

As the Redskins look to the future, it’s clear that one person holds the key to their success over the next three years: Griffin. They could still succeed if Griffin fails, but that would require them to solve a position they haven’t been able to for a long, long time. (They’ve had two Pro Bowl quarterbacks since 1998: Brad Johnson in ’99 and Griffin in ’12.) Maybe backup quarterback Kirk Cousins could be that guy, but that’s far from certain.

Of course, the defense must play better. And the defense is hardly built for long-term success at this point, unlike an offense that features a young nucleus. The defense is aging and needs more good young players.

The head coach, Jay Gruden, needs to prove he can handle his new gig. The general manager, Bruce Allen, must show he can build a winner -- he’s fully in charge now for the first time in his career. The pressure is on both men, but Griffin’s play on the field trumps all because of the importance of the position. If he plays well, it’s easier for Gruden to coach and for Allen to build. If Griffin stumbles or gets hurt, everyone in charge has a much tougher task. Griffin's play can get guys paid -- or fired. That's power.

The Redskins also tied their future to Griffin the minute they sent a large haul to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick: three first-round picks and a second. That preceded news about the two-year salary-cap penalty that restricted their ability to fortify the roster. Add it up and Griffin’s success became even more important. They need him to deliver.

If Griffin improves and stays healthy, the Redskins have a dynamic young quarterback capable of delivering big plays and, perhaps, titles for years to come. Doing the latter takes more than one player, but Griffin’s performance in 2012 gave Washington something it had not had in a long time: hope. That hope still exists, though it now comes with fingers crossed. But nobody else can deliver what Washington needs more than Griffin.
The sad part of the tale for Washington Redskins safety Tanard Jackson is that he got another chance. And another one. And another one.

And now he deserves no more, after news Wednesday that the NFL has suspended Jackson again for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. It's sad because he keeps doing this to himself. It's sad because whatever he's doing with his personal life now has such a hold on him that he's tossed away a precious career, one that could have set himself and his family up for life.

Now, it's no longer about football for him -- and, in truth, it hasn't been for a while. Rather, it's about beating a far tougher opponent than what he faced on the field, one that could destroy him. Yes, Jackson has made bad choices. Yes, he put himself on this path. But do you really think this is the path he wants? Being suspended four times by the NFL, causing anguish for his family and personal embarrassment? Taking drugs puts your life on a slippery slope; you can choose to do them for a while and then, after a while, they choose for you.

My colleague Mike Jones pointed this out on Twitter earlier Wednesday, but it's true: When asked in May about changes he had made to his lifestyle, Jackson really didn't have a lot to say. It would have been easy to say he stopped going to certain areas, or that he'd been in rehab, or he stopped hanging around certain people. He did talk about having to change his lifestyle. The problem is, issues with drugs become a shadow, something that's impossible to outrun without a lot of work or help.

When he returned, the Redskins were not expecting a lot from him unlike when they signed him in 2012 and anticipated him being a starter. They were left with an ineffective Madieu Williams when Jackson was suspended that August.

Now they have Ryan Clark, who was firmly ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. He's reliable, available and a leader. The only way Jackson would have bumped him from the lineup is if Clark's play had slipped. Or if Jackson had somehow regained some past glory.

I also thought it was a little odd that Jackson was not in great shape when he returned. I would have thought he'd have been working hard to get ready and take this last chance seriously. It wasn't as if he was grossly out of shape, but he admitted that staying in shape wasn't at the top of his priority list. No, it most certainly shouldn't have been. But it should have been part of an overall package of turning his life around.

Again, it's a shame. Jackson did this to himself, and he knows it. He didn't let fans down, he let himself down. And, yes, while I know some do not have any sympathy for him, he still warrants it. You know him as a player; he's more than that. His career is over. But his fight continues.
John RigginsManny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We've already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown in the 1983 NFC Championship Game and Darrell Green's punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Date: Jan. 30, 1983 Site: Los Angeles Coliseum

To understand the moment, why it carried the weight that it did, it’s important to first look back. Like to the 1950s, when the Redskins posted two winning seasons. Or the 1960s, when they could score but not win. They managed a winning record once, in the final year of the decade. This despite several Hall of Famers on offense.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


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The Redskins had not won a title of any kind since 1942. They had only reached the postseason seven times since that year (and five since 1945). Yet the fans showed up time and again, knowing what always awaited them in the end. Even when Washington had reached Super Bowl VII, it lost to undefeated Miami.

There was hope, though, with new coach Joe Gibbs, who led the team to an 8-1 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 regular season (his second in charge). Then three double-digit playoff victories put Washington into Super Bowl XVII.

But no titles ever come easy, and the Redskins trailed Miami 17-13 when they took over the ball at their own 18 early in the fourth quarter. They drove to the Dolphins’ 43, where they faced fourth-and-1 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.

John Riggins and the Redskins’ run game already had posted good numbers. So everyone had to know what would happen next: a handoff to Riggins. The Dolphins used a six-man front, which meant the play would either be stuffed or a huge one. The Redskins got the latter as tackle Joe Jacoby buried linebacker Kim Bokamper and fullback Otis Wonsley helped seal the end.

That left Riggins one-on-one with corner Don McNeal. Mismatch. Riggins swatted him away and the man nicknamed The Diesel chugged toward the end zone, running for the lead and a place in history. Diesel horns blared in the stands, a signature sound that season. And it became a run that is mentioned seemingly every Super Bowl week. It was the first of three Super Bowl victories under Gibbs, giving Redskins fans a taste of success that had eluded them forever.

For Riggins, it enabled him to post a Super Bowl record 166 yards rushing and then to make this statement after a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan: “At least for tonight, Ron’s the president, but I’m the king.” Decades of frustration had ended for Redskins fans. They, too, finally felt like football royalty.
The guy coming off the record-setting season opted for the same trainer as the one just trying to hang on. Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon wants to build on 2013; Chris Neild wants to make the roster. And Mike Barwis worked with both toward that goal -- as the series, "American Muscle," will highlight.

Barwis, a senior advisor to the New York Mets and a consultant for the Miami Dolphins, has long worked with Neild and became a strong admirer years ago. This past offseason was the first time he worked with Garcon, who wanted to improve his explosiveness with route-running.

Barwis worked with a number of other pros, including Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, both of whom also will be part of the series that begins at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on the Discovery Channel. Garcon will be part of a later episode, though Neild will be on Wednesday night.

Neild spent nearly two months working out with Barwis, who said Garcon's stay was considerably shorter because what he wanted to achieve was more specific. But Neild also has worked with Barwis since his freshman season at West Virginia.

"Chris is blood to me," Barwis said. "He's an absolute warrior. His mentality is incredible. He's one of the major aspects of the premier of our show. ...You won't find a lot who are tougher and work harder than Chris."

For Neild, spending so much time with Barwis could make the difference in making the roster. He's already lasted three seasons, but if the Redskins keep six defensive linemen as they've done in the past, then Neild has work to do. He's not as versatile as some of the other defensive linemen because he's just a nose tackle.

But Barwis, who said he has trained more than 500 Olympic and professional athletes in his career, said Neild stands out.

"He always makes the chemistry better," he said. "He's the soldier. He's the one who will fight. He gives everything he has to be good. ...That type of attitude and charisma is what builds championship teams."

They focused on helping Neild with the demands of the position, with the need to take on two blockers with regularity. Neild benches more than 450 pounds and squats better than 600. They worked on nutrition, supplements as well as balance and functional training to better control your body; increasing the ability to play with leverage, working on increasing explosiveness through plyometrics, among other means.

"It's a lifestyle," Barwis said.

Garcon's stint wasn't as involved. Barwis said he wanted to refine his speed and running mechanics. He did not want to get specific with what Garcon did, but, in general it could involve minute details. For example, Barwis works on his clients on where their toes should be pointed when their foot is off the ground (up; leads to better explosion when you hit the ground). Or on where his body should be when you cut.

"Pierre was a very disciplined guy and a very hard worker," Barwis said. "Very coachable. He's a guy that stays focused. He's soft spoken and he gets after it. He's a great leader by example, does what he has to do and works hard.

"He's a tremendous athlete. The thing that's neat to me is when you get top athletes like that and they still want to be better and are still focused on how to make themselves two steps quicker. The kid is saying, ‘I'm not satisfied with having a record year.'"
Darrell GreenAP Photo/Fred Jewell
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown, and on Wednesday we'll feature John Riggins' game-winning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins' most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 21, Bears 17
Date: Jan. 10, 1988 Site: Soldier Field

Redskins cornerback Darrell Green had burst onto the scene in a much different situation. Dallas running back Tony Dorsett sped down the field, and as anyone knew at the time, no one caught him from behind. Then Green did just that, a rookie coming out of nowhere -- shot like a bullet -- to tackle Dorsett. Green denied Dorsett an 83-yard touchdown run, tackling him at the 6-yard line and forcing a Cowboys field goal.

It didn’t matter that Dallas ended up winning the game. Green announced himself to the NFL, flashing his speed and creating a memory. But it wasn’t as big as the one he created in 1988 in a much tougher spot: a first-round playoff game at Chicago.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


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By then, Green was an established corner, having earned a third Pro Bowl berth that season. The Redskins were an established power.

But they had a rough assignment: win at Chicago for a second straight year in the playoffs. This time they faced bitterly cold conditions. Former defensive end Charles Mann once said the Vaseline he had applied froze to his body that day.

Chicago, just two seasons removed from Super Bowl glory, led 14-0. But the Redskins rallied to tie the game, and, with 11:40 left in the fourth quarter, Green started a punt return for the ages. He retreated to the Redskins' 48-yard line to field Tommy Barnhardt’s punt and started up the right sideline.

Out of the corner of his eye, Green spotted Cap Boso diving at his legs around the 34. Green then created the memory: He hurdled Boso, then cut back inside and, within a few yards, grabbed his left side. He clutched his side for the final 30 yards en route to a 52-yard game-winning punt return.

Green had torn his rib cage on the return and could play only one more snap. But his efforts on this play led to not only a 21-17 win but also a moment that was hard to top in Redskins history. A week later, he defended the final pass at the goal line in the NFC Championship Game victory over Minnesota. But his play against the Bears was more impressive. It required vision, athleticism and toughness. In a Hall of Fame career, it’s hard to believe one moment can stand out. The return against Chicago did.
Darryl GrantAP Photo
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the next two days, we’ll feature Darrell Green’s punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game and John Riggins’ fourth-down, game-winning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII against Miami. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 31, Cowboys 17
Date: Jan. 22, 1983 Site: RFK Stadium

The day, and the game, were big enough already. Fans inside RFK Stadium started the chant long before kickoff, energizing the players and creating a lifelong memory. The chant, which started earlier that postseason in wins over Detroit and Minnesota, is brought out on occasion -- “We want Dallas!” -- but never was it said with more gusto than on Jan. 22, 1983, in the NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys.

There was a sense of excitement, a sense that perhaps the franchise was in the early stages of a good run under second-year coach Joe Gibbs.


Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 30,346)

What did it mean to the players, hearing the chant in the locker room?

“It sent a chill down your spine,” Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm said in "America’s Rivalry" (a book I helped write).

Redskins fans who lived through the 1950s and '60s were used to disappointment. More accurately: They were used to bad football. From 1950 to '70, the Redskins managed three winning seasons. But a strong run in the 1970s under coach George Allen elevated expectations.

However, although they got close -- a Super Bowl loss that capped Miami’s perfect 1972 season -- they never pushed through. And they had not been to the postseason since 1976.

So, with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left against Dallas, the Redskins clung to a 24-17 lead, but the Cowboys had hope. With backup quarterback Gary Hogeboom having earlier entered for a concussed Danny White, they had moved the ball and, after all, they had won six straight over their hated rivals. Fans were understandably nervous, still stung by the memory of another Cowboys backup passer: Clint Longley and his 50-yard bomb to beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day 1974.

But in this game, from their own 20, the Cowboys called for a screen that Washington had correctly anticipated. That led defensive tackle Darryl Grant to run to the area he knew the ball would be thrown. And when rushing defensive end Dexter Manley tipped the ball, Grant plucked it out of the air and high-stepped 10 yards into Redskins history. It's easily one of the most memorable plays in franchise history for what it represented and when it occurred. It clinched a victory and sent Washington to its second Super Bowl. Grant’s spike landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And the city, and franchise, started a party that lasted a decade.
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 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.
The Redskins need to improve their pass rush, something that was evident the past two seasons. And it became a priority in the offseason, one that I felt should be the case, in the way of new coaches, free agents and a draft pick. It should be improved, but there are other places where they must do better.

I started thinking about this after my guy Chris Russell from ESPN980 fell, hit his head on something and predicted the Redskins would record 50 sacks. OK, he didn’t fall and, last I know, nothing fell on his head. Know this about Russell: he works hard and doesn't just fling numbers haphazardly. And his story prompted me to do some digging to see the impact of sacks on reaching the postseason.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Nick WassBrian Orakpo can help Washington's pass defense improve by generating a consistent pass rush.
Fifty sacks is an optimistic, best-case scenario situation. If everything falls into place could it happen? Well, only nine teams combined in the past five years have reached this number. Are the Redskins really at that point?

So much enters into play with this number and a few players, especially outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, must have their best seasons. Jason Hatcher needs to stay healthy; Trent Murphy has to prove he can rush in the NFL as a rookie. Etc. But game situations and the quarterbacks they’re facing also matter. They’re not facing the same caliber of passers that they did a year ago overall, so it’s realistic to expect solid improvement. They did not make quarterbacks uncomfortable last season, hence the overhaul. But they should be better (a phrase uttered many times about this team in a variety of areas).

But what his story did was force me to do some research on ESPN Stats & Information. And I found a number that absolutely must improve regardless of their sack total – and it’s not always connected to sacks, either.

Yards per pass attempt.

The Redskins have been dreadful in this area the past four years; it’s evident in the number of big plays allowed and it’s why they’re considered a boom-or-bust defense.

First, a little stat on sacks over the past five years: There were three seasons in which teams recorded 50 or more sacks and two seasons in which no teams did. Of the teams that finished top 10 in sack totals, 47.1 percent made the postseason. And only one of the nine teams with 50-plus sacks in this span has won a playoff game. By the way, the Redskins' high total under coordinator Jim Haslett was 41 in 2011.

Now, yards per pass attempt from 2009-13: During this period, 60 percent of the teams that finished top 10 in this category made the postseason. Only once has more top-10 teams in sacks made the postseason over a top-10 team in YPA. Seattle ranked eighth in sacks (44), but first in yards per pass attempt (5.82). The Seahawks’ season ended well. Quarterbacks knew they had to unload fast and Seattle responded by making tackles.

Washington has been terrible in allowing yards per pass attempt during this time. Since 2009, the Redskins’ best finish in this area came in ’09 when they were 18th at 6.96. Since then, under the current defensive staff, their best finish was 21st in 2011 at 7.47 yards. They were 31st last year, allowing 8.04 yards. You can’t assume that number will improve dramatically just because of more sacks. Rather, they need to tackle a whole lot better in the back seven for that to happen.

The Redskins don’t have to finish with 50 sacks to be a better defense; 45 sacks but more strip/fumbles would be plenty. But they do have to pressure more and when the ball is caught, they have to tackle. It's basic, but basic has been problematic in recent years. If they do that, wins will follow.

Something to prove: RG III

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: quarterback Robert Griffin III.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiRobert Griffin III needs to work on being a better leader -- and repairing his reputation.
Why he has something to prove: All you have to do is read Mike Sando's excellent, and in-depth piece on where quarterbacks rank in the eyes of executives and coaches to understand. Griffin was considered a Tier 3 quarterback, tied with Andy Dalton at 19th overall. Some of it was based on Griffin’s subpar season due to his knee and other issues. Had he not been hurt, Griffin likely would have been a Tier 2 quarterback -- not bad for his age. But it did happen so now he's not. And some of it is based on his personality. Other NFL quarterbacks and players, Sando wrote, crushed Griffin because of his personality. They feel he's made things too much about himself and does not take blame. That opinion is shared by some in the locker room; one player said at the end of last season that, while he liked Griffin, he did think he needed to take more blame. But, remember, two years ago he was hailed as a savior and praised for his maturity. Coaches and executives fall in and out of love rather fast in this game. Certainly, some of the stories that were, uh, leaked at the end of last season did not help Griffin’s reputation. Success and wins can alter that perception.

For Griffin, this season is as much about getting his reputation back as well as his game. They’re obviously tied together. If he plays well, things that rubbed people the wrong way will be viewed differently. Some will still dislike him, but results are what matter most. We all know some of the reasons why he struggled in 2013, especially the knee and the lack of an offseason. But he also has to show he can become a consistent quality pocket passer. Even if he had never been hurt, Griffin needed to evolve in this area: It’s how you survive long-term in the NFL and he knows that well. Extending plays will always be part of his game and that’s what should still scare teams. Also, if he can’t succeed by running anything worse than a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, then he never should have been drafted second overall. It was his all-around skills that impressed people, not just his speed.

What he must do: Make big plays again and grow as a leader. Griffin understands leadership, which is why he was actively a part of free-agent recruiting and helped woo DeSean Jackson, among others. Griffin knew that he needed to understand Jackson and his motivation. Not sure anyone will outwork Griffin, either. But Griffin is only 24 and will learn more about leadership as he continues in the NFL. He’ll learn that it's OK to say something was his fault without going into great detail; my guess is you’ll see that more this season. And he'll also learn it's OK if everyone doesn't love you, as coach Jay Gruden pointed out, though I think Griffin is getting this as well.

Griffin is a hard-working player determined to have success. Yes, he has limitations as a quarterback -- all of them do. He, and the coaches, must find ways to work around those issues. But this offense, and Gruden's style, could be good for him as a developing passer. They have more receivers who can win one-on-one battles, which will enable him to work through progressions faster and check to better plays. Audibles alone won't help him succeed; the previous offense had automatic checks that many on offense said could get them out of bad situations (sort of like a pre-determined audible). Growing as a pocket passer -- which means not just throwing from here but also his presence -- will matter much more. The Redskins would be wise not to overload Griffin. He’s still a young quarterback now learning his second passing offense. They have the ability to keep it (relatively) simple this season and then build/add to any success. If the Redskins use more drop-back passes and no play-action, then the line must do its part and Griffin must help them with more decisive throws. The talent and style of the offense could make that possible.

Projection: Griffin obviously is the starter and, I believe, will play better than in 2013. But, the question is, how much better? The Redskins need more help from the defense; we've all seen the boost young quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have received from their defenses. Otherwise, Griffin's mistakes always will be magnified. Griffin looked and sounded like a more confident player this spring, which is a start. He’s had a strong offseason and has a coach with whom he’s not butting heads. Griffin will work once more with quarterback guru Terry Shea this summer (starting July 14). Gruden is inheriting a different quarterback than the one Washington had the past two seasons, one better positioned for success. Griffin now just needs to make it happen. And the franchise needs him to make it happen as well.
The Washington Redskins' 12-member draft class in 2011 was supposed to yield a number of key players. With those players entering the final year of their original contracts, it has not lived up to expectations -- or hopes. As of now, only one player will enter the season as a guaranteed starter and by this time next year it could well be that only a couple players remain from this group. Injuries didn't help as five of these players have missed an entire season or a substantial part of a year. Here's a look at how they stand:

LB Ryan Kerrigan (first round): Established as the starting left outside linebacker. He’s become a solid player for Washington and was off to a terrific start last season with 6.5 sacks in the first seven games. Kerrigan injured his knee and, though he said it did not cause any dropoff in his play, he also admitted he lost a little explosiveness because of how it felt (he had just two sacks in the final nine games). Like Brian Orakpo, he should benefit from the arrival of outside linebackers coach Brian Baker, defensive end Jason Hatcher and rookie linebacker Trent Murphy. Kerrigan does well moving around and rushing from the inside. He’ll need to get out of the habit of trying to mostly rush with contain. But if others are being effective, Kerrigan will have a solid year with his relentless style. The Redskins gave him the fifth-year extension, so he will return next season -- as he should.

DE Jarvis Jenkins (second round): Not even guaranteed to start this year, though he’ll definitely be in the rotation. And if he does start, he likely won’t play as much in the nickel until he proves he can help as a pass-rusher -- something he has yet to do. Jenkins can be valuable at helping against the run. He needs a strong year to garner another contract from the Redskins.

WR Leonard Hankerson (third round): There’s no guarantee he’ll even be ready to start the season. He’s been inconsistent and has never become the player Washington’s previous staff hoped he would be. Injuries haven’t helped him at all. But Hankerson lacks any sort of explosiveness after the catch. He’ll have a tough time this season coming off his knee injury. Not the way he’d want to enter a contract year.

RB Roy Helu (fourth round): He can still help, but what he’s proven is that while he can at times look excellent in the open field he’s not a patient runner from scrimmage, leading to too many short runs. The Redskins drafted Lache Seastrunk, but Helu has a big edge over him in the pass game. It’s not just about catching the ball, it’s about knowing how to run routes and pick up blitzes and recognize coverages. Don’t underestimate that aspect of the job because it’s huge. But if Seastrunk improves and shows he can be more than a runner from spread formation, then Helu’s future beyond 2014 is in doubt. For now, he’s insurance if something happens to Alfred Morris.

S DeJon Gomes (fifth round): The Redskins cut him before the 2013 season and he was picked up by Detroit. He’s still with the Lions, but will be a reserve and special teamer. He never developed in Washington.

TE Niles Paul (fifth round): Entered as a receiver with decent speed, but was more known for his blocking on the edge as a rookie and then moved to tight end in his second season (after some discussion of trying safety instead). Paul hasn’t become the sort of tight end the coaches felt he might, but he was better last year than in 2012. Still, he’s a third tight end who can block on the move. The Redskins drafted Ted Bolser, but based on watching his college tape and again this spring, he did not seem like a real threat to unseat Paul. The latter is a key special teams player, too. He’s a tough guy and adds a lot on that unit.

RB Evan Royster (sixth round): Will enter once again as a guy on the bubble. He was insurance last year and carried the ball twice and caught one pass. With Morris, Helu and Seastrunk, it’s hard to imagine Royster being anything other than insurance again. It will depend, too, on how Chris Thompson looks this summer -- and how many backs Jay Gruden wants to keep. Tough to see Royster being around in 2015.

WR Aldrick Robinson (sixth round): He improved down the stretch, but to expect a big leap this season would require much faith. Robinson has had to learn how to run routes at the proper speed and depth, something he did get better at in 2013. But like Hankerson he needs to improve his consistency. At best he’s a fourth receiver this season and if Ryan Grant progresses, he’ll eventually bump him from this role (not a lock for that to be the case this year however; Grant needs to get a lot stronger). Another guy who could be gone after this season.

CB Brandyn Thompson (seventh round): Cut before the 2012 season; now plays for Ottawa in the CFL.

OT Maurice Hurt (seventh round): Has never really looked in great shape. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and will have a tough time making the roster. Worked at right tackle in the spring. He’s not a right tackle.

LB Markus White (seventh round): He looked the part, but never quite grasped the position. Cut during the 2012 season. He spent time with Tampa Bay that season, but was cut last August. He now plays for Saskatchewan in the CFL.

NT Chris Neild (seventh round): Opened with a flash as a rookie with two sacks early in the season. His game, though, is not built on sacks so that was an anomaly. He’s a try-hard guy, but will have a real tough time making the roster.

What the Redskins' O must produce

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
This was going to be an answer in the mailbag section. Then it started getting too long. So, now, it’s a separate item.

Here’s a little backdrop: One of my twitter followers, @mcredskins, asked me last week about Joe Gibbs’ offense and how many points he wanted to average, if the Redskins were to be a playoff team. It wasn’t a high number (21) and he wanted to know if the NFL had changed that much or if defenses were that bad. So I did some research. Then came more research after @mcredskins asked about this for the mailbag, wondering what the Redskins under Jay Gruden needed to average to make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassWhat do Jay Gruden and the Redskins' offense need to accomplish to get to the postseason? A look at recent playoff teams could provide the answer.
First, the Gibbs era. During Gibbs 1.0, the Redskins averaged at least 21 points per game every season except 1985, when they averaged 18.6 and missed the postseason. Under Gibbs 1.0, the Redskins reached the playoffs in six of the eight years they finished in the top 10 offensively. Overall, since 1981, the Redskins have made the postseason eight of 12 times in which they finished among the top 10 in scoring.

The Redskins averaged at least 25 points per game four times under Gibbs; they reached the Super Bowl each season. They averaged between 21.1 and 24.1 seven times and reached the postseason twice. (The Redskins once averaged 24.1 points en route to 10 wins and failed to make the postseason. Another time they averaged 18.6, won 10 and missed the cut.)

Now for Gruden and the current group. A lot of this, of course, is dependent on the defense. A bad one, as you’ve seen, means they’ll obviously have to score more (the Redskins have finished 21st or worse in points allowed per game defensively each of the past four years and 30th last season). This is just a guideline of what playoff teams in the past three years have done.

So here goes:

  • It’s clear that you must be in or near the top 10 in points scored per game. Last season, for example, of the top 12 teams in offensive points per game, 10 made the postseason. The only two playoff teams that weren’t? Kansas City (15th) and Carolina (19th).
  • Last year’s playoff participants averaged 25.1 points per game offensively during the regular season. But eight of those teams averaged between 21.1 and 24.4 points.
  • In 2012, 10 of the top 12 teams in offensive points per game made the postseason. The only two not in that group were Minnesota (16th) and Indianapolis (19th).
  • Seven playoff teams in 2012 averaged 23.7 points per game or less, while the average for the playoff teams was 24.1.
  • In 2011, eight of the top 12 in offensive points per game made the postseason. Eight of the 12 averaged between 17.1 and 23.9 points per game.
  • In the past three seasons, a combined 28 of the 36 teams that made the postseason finished in the top 12 in offensive points per game. In the last three years, the No. 12 team has averaged 22.3, 22.7 and 23.1 points per game, respectively. There’s your target.
  • Of the last four Super Bowl winners, all have averaged at least 24.2 points per game or more. The Redskins, of course, have some work to do before they dare dream about being in this category.
We in the sports world like to simplify complicated economic issues, and so goes a question I've heard from readers and admittedly wondered myself: Why would a capitalist such as Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder oppose changing his team's name when he could make a ton of money from merchandise sales adorned with the new brand?

The quick answer: Because he probably can't, at least not in the short term. A poke through the NFL's labyrinth of financial rules and interviews with experts revealed two important factors. First, a chunk of that revenue would be shared with 30 other teams. Second, the immediate costs connected with a rebrand could extend into "the millions," according to one analyst.

[+] EnlargeRedskins
AP Photo/Nick WassRebranding the Redskins would likely cost the team millions of dollars in the short term.
Let's consider each issue separately.

The NFL's revenue-sharing system is set up for all teams but the Dallas Cowboys to share national merchandise sales. (The Cowboys opted out of the consortium.) So when you buy a Robert Griffin III jersey at your local sporting goods store, the NFL's portion of the proceeds is split equally among the remaining teams. The Redskins would receive 1/31 of it.

Teams are incentivized to set up their own points of purchase, however, and they keep the profits from those sales. So if you buy an RG III jersey from the Redskins' website, or at FedEx Field or when you visit training camp, the Redskins don't have to share their take.

The breakdown of sales between national and team-specific points of purchase is a closely held secret, but given the international appeal of the Redskins, it's safe to say that a good chunk of their total sales must be shared with the other 30 teams. As a result, the Redskins would miss out on at least a significant portion of whatever uptick a new name would drive.

And in the bigger picture, the experts I spoke with weren't certain of our basic premise: that a name change would drive massive sales of merchandise.

"It really depends on how the change is perceived," said David Carter, the director of the Sports Business Institute at USC. "Remember, fans don't like name changes. They learn to live with them. If they perceive the team has handled it well, that it was proactive and collaborative, if the community viewed it as a good decision, and they had a great marketing game plan and messaging, if they went that route, it could be a success."

Mark Conrad, the director of the sports business specialization at Fordham's Gabelli School of Business, said the name change could be a "bonanza" if it is proactive and well executed. If it's forced, however, Redskins fans might not buy in -- literally.

"It could be a bonanza if you get the right name and process," Conrad said. "If you did it right, by yourself without a court saying it or the NFL saying it, it could bring you goodwill on a local and national level. But if the owner is smirking or growling about it, if you're effectively saying, 'I don't like this new brand but I'm forced to do it,' as opposed to saying, 'This is a creative new way to maintain the identity of the franchise,' then revenues will be impacted."

Meanwhile, Conrad said it would be difficult to provide a specific estimate on the second factor: the costs relating to a name change. The Redskins would presumably absorb all of them.

Four years ago, Michael Jordan estimated it would cost between $3 million and $10 million to revert his NBA franchise name in Charlotte back to the Hornets from the Bobcats, a change completed this summer. (The final number is likely to be $4 million, Hornets CEO Fred Whitfield said in May.) Generally speaking, NFL franchises are bigger businesses than those in the NBA, but using a multiplier in this case would just be a guess.

"There are just so many factors involved," Conrad said, from potential consulting fees to physical changes on owned property to legal costs. "It could be millions of dollars in the short term. That, I think, is a good estimate."

Given the unprecedented nature of an NFL name change, Carter said it is possible that the league could step in to cover some costs, reducing the drag on the Redskins' bottom line. The league would also have to decide what to do with the Redskins' existing inventory of merchandise. It's possible the team would be responsible for buying it, especially if the NFL mirrors its policy for when players change their numbers. (Players must buy out the inventory before new merchandise is produced.)

These are all issues of short-term finances, of course. Both Conrad and Carter said the long-term matter of brand impact could be far more valuable. In an immediate sense, however, it's difficult to envision the kind of net revenue bonanza that seems intuitively obvious to those of us in the world of amateur sports economics.

Something to prove: Brian Orakpo

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: linebacker Brian Orakpo.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe Redskins are letting Brian Orakpo play under the franchise tag tender for $11.45 million this season.
Why he has something to prove: He's on a one-year contract and will need a big season to get the sort of deal he wants. Orakpo said at his golf tournament this spring that he felt he didn't have anything to prove. And, yes, what he's done over the course of his career has been solid. But he also hasn't had a monster season when it comes to sacks and that would help him get paid. A lot. Coach Jay Gruden has said he's content on Orakpo riding out the season on a one-year deal and why wouldn't he be? It provides more motivation for his best pass-rusher. It could be a win-win. Not everyone in the building thought Orakpo would even receive the franchise tag offer from the Redskins, so there are others waiting for that season as well. Orakpo contends he is an elite linebacker and it's true that he has more responsibilities than others at his position, especially in terms of dropping into coverage (as does Ryan Kerrigan of course; other linebackers in this style of 3-4 also have this job). But the big-money guys post the big totals. Orakpo's all-around game has developed, but if he makes more game-changing plays and gets a few more sacks, he'll cash in.

What he must do: Take advantage of his surroundings, as in coaching and talent. The Redskins added an interior pass-rusher in Jason Hatcher and drafted Trent Murphy to add another dimension as a third outside linebacker in their fast nickel package. That means Orakpo (and Kerrigan) have more around to help. In the past, teams mostly worried about those two as the defensive line posted paltry sack totals (8.5 sacks the past two years combined). Both Orakpo and Kerrigan should benefit if the inside can pinch the passer more; in 2011 the pass rush was much better in part because of how well Orakpo worked with end Stephen Bowen. Also, the Redskins' outside linebackers are being taught more techniques this offseason. It's not just about adding moves, it's about using their hands better and taking stronger angles off the ball. Under the previous linebackers coaches, it was more about responsibilities. Now it's about technique. Orakpo is considered a momentum rusher, going as much by feel. There are counters he can add (spin move) that would make this tactic more effective. There's also a heavy focus on sack/fumbles -- Orakpo has caused just six fumbles in his career. He needs several such plays this season -- and then some.

Projection: Obviously he'll start outside. Orakpo has developed as a linebacker and is a solid all-around player; the Redskins wisely retained him this offseason (though I was not in favor of a deal worth $11 million per year. Not yet.) He works hard and plays with passion. And when he's on his game, he not only pressures the passer he sets up teammates to do the same. Just because the Redskins drafted Murphy does not mean they view him as Orakpo's replacement after this year (Orakpo does not see it that way, either). If Orakpo has a really good year, and the pass rush overall is strong, why wouldn't you re-sign him? The Redskins have helped him out by some of their moves this offseason; Orakpo will need to produce.