February 25, 2015

Redskins first-round draft picks "that got away." Or did they?

     "Since 1984, a span of 31 drafts, the Redskins have taken 20 players in the first round. Only two of them, 2000 first-round picks LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, have signed second contracts with the Redskins. Some, like Brian Orakpo, have stayed on the franchise tag. Carlos Rogers, the team’s top pick in 2005, was kept around another year as a restricted free agent. But for the most part the Redskins’ first rounders have moved on when their rookie contracts were up if not sooner."

Initial reaction to the Rich Tandler piece excerpted above? Damn, this team needs to learn to hang on to its young talent.

Second thought, based on memory of the last 30 years? What young talent?

Clearly, retaining only two out of 18 first round selections over 31 years does not sound too good. But the implied conclusion of the piece—that the Redskins need to get better at retaining their home-grown young talent—may not be the right one. For one, it pre-supposes those picks were worth re-signing in the first place. And, if they were not, it points to a very different conclusion.

Here is the Redskins first-round history since the chosen starting point of 1984, accompanied by highly scientific notes and observations.

(Why 1984? Beyond possible Orwellian connotations, I'm thinking it was because the three first-round picks prior to that—Art Monk (1980), Mark May(1981) and Darrell Green (1983)—didn't exactly support the thesis.)

1984—1990. No picks.

1991—Bobby Wilson. Whiff.

1992—Desmond Howard. Just a guy. Yes, he got a Super Bowl MVP trophy—for someone else—on the wings of one shining moment in one really big game. Beyond that, the Heisman Trophy winner was just an average NFL … kick returner. The Redskins did not err letting him go. The Green Bay Packers let him go during the off-season after his moment of glory.

1993—Tom Carter. Just a guy.

1994—Heath Shuler. Whiff.

1995—Michael Westbrook. Whiff.

1996—Andre Johnson. Double-whiff.

1997—Kennard Lang. Whiff.

1998—no pick.

1999—Champ Bailey. The only no-brainer on the list. He should have been re-signed. True, the Redskins did not choose not to resign Champ Bailey based on on-field performance—they ended up trading him away because they, and he, believed they had to based on off-field considerations that we will not rehash here today.

2000—Lavar Arrington and Chris Samuels. Both re-signed. One turned out to be far more flash than substance. The other was the exact opposite.

2001—Rod Gardner. Whiff.

2002—Patrick Ramsey. At best a “maybe.” Some still suggest the Redskins “ruined” Ramsey by allowing him to get pummeled in Steve Spurrier’s un-lamented gimmick offense, but I have never subscribed to that theory. Even at his best, Ramsey never looked to me like anything more than a solid NFL backup. Joe Gibbs, apparently, agreed, benching Ramsey in favor of a geriatric Mark Brunnell at the very first opportunity.

2003—Taylor Jacobs. Whiff.

2004—Sean Taylor. Please don’t be the one to comment that the Redskins would not have re-signed this once-in-a-generation player.

2005—Carlos Rogers. Retained one year beyond his rookie contract, then not re-signed. Because he went on to find success elsewhere (49ers), this one can arguably be considered a mistake by the Redskins. That said, few Redskins fans will have forgotten the level of frustration they felt during his time in Washington (read: Hands of Stone).  The feeling then, almost universally, was “good riddance.” That the team felt the same should not be surprising, nor held against them for purposes of this discussion.

2006—no pick.

2007—LaRon Landry. At best a maybe. Great physique, lack of technique. A great physical specimen who was (and is) simply not a great football player. Certainly not one that the team’s decision not to retain should be considered a mistake.

2008—no pick.

2009—Brian Orakpo. Retained under the franchise tag. But dare we say it? Yes. At best a maybe; great physique, lack of … you know. If he ends up getting paid top dollar elsewhere, will the team be criticized for the decision not to retain him? Probably—but only because the Redskins have made themselves an easy target. Would it be fair in this particular instance? No.

2010—Trent Williams. No-brainer. The Redskins will almost certainly re-sign him.

2011—Ryan Kerrigan. No-brainer. The Redskins will almost certainly re-sign him.

2012—Robert Griffin III. The jury is out. It is not unreasonable to suggest at this point, however, that should he end up not signing another contract in Washington, it will likely be because he fits squarely into a category Redskins fans are quite familiar with: Great physique, lack of technique.

Let’s wrap this up.

Four of the 20 players the Redskins selected in the 31 NFL drafts between 1984 and 2014 (Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, Robert Griffin) are still under contract. As such, while germaine to the greater conversation going forward, they are not fair fodder for criticism of the team in terms of free agent retention at this point.

Breaking down the first-round selections the team either did not or could not re-sign to date:

One (Champ Bailey) was inarguably worth resigning. While it is true that the underlying reasons for his non-retention were not related to on-field ability, and also true that it may or may not have been the team's prerogative anyway, it is hard to look back and wish they had not found a way.

One (Sean Taylor) was going to be re-signed. Book it.

One, (Rogers) was retained by restricted free agency, then allowed to depart. Maybe a case could be made they should have fought harder to keep him, but in no way can he be classified as a no-brainer for retention. 

Two (Patrick Ramsey, LaRon Landry) were at best “maybes.” Again, neither close to being no-brainers.

Nine (Bobby Wilson, Desmond Howard, Tom Carter, Heath Shuler, Michael Westbrook, Andre Johnson, Kennard Lang, Rod Gardner, Taylor Jacobs) were “just guys, whiffs or double whiffs.”

Over the past 31 years the Redskins stepped to the plate 20 times.

They hit home runs in Champ Bailey, Chris Samuels and Sean Taylor—only of whom "got away."

They went extra bases on a couple of guys they will re-sign in Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan.

They arguably squeezed out singles in LaVar Arrington, Patrick Ramsey, Carlos Rogers and LaRon Landry.

And they went down swinging eleven times.

The Redskins problem has not been re-signing young talent. Their real failure has been an inability to consistently identify talent worth fighting to keep at all.


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