The Slow March of Progress: Are the Redskins Learning from Past Mistakes?

Dan Snyder sued the Washington City Paper for the story that accompanied this image, which his lawsuit called anti-semitic. Just because he's making better football decisions, doesn't mean Dan Snyder isn't still a jerk.

Dan Snyder sued the Washington City Paper for the story that accompanied this image, which his lawsuit called anti-semitic. Just because he’s making better football decisions, doesn’t mean Dan Snyder isn’t still a jerk. (Washington City Paper, Illustration by Brooke Hatfield)

Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner of the Washington Redskins is most famous for a parade of expensive free agent busts. Deion Sanders. Adam Archuleta. Jeff George. Fat Albert Haynesworth. Bruce Smith. Vinny Cerrato. Donovan McNabb. And so forth.

Ok, so Vinny Cerrato wasn’t actually a player, but he did suck, and he’s the reason for a lot of the other names on that list. It turns out that building a team of expensive players who were Pro Bowlers five years earlier isn’t a winning strategy in the NFL.

But things have been looking better recently, with the Redskins making the playoffs last year. A lot of that is due to Robert Griffin III, but the Redskins are also much more disciplined in giving away large contracts, which has enabled them to build a more complete team.

Spotrac data on the Redskins player contracts shows a team that is allocating its resources pretty well. The top five contracts belong to Trent Williams, Pierre Garcon, Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, and RGIII (in that order). All five of those guys are quality players. Three of them play on the offensive or defensive line, showing that the team is prioritizing the fundamentals of winning at the line of scrimmage. Reading further down the list, there aren’t too many eye-rollers where the team is still paying a huge contract on a past free agent bust.

Some of this is due to the Redskins operating under a lower salary cap, as a result of an NFL penalty for refusing to collude with other teams to keep player salaries below market rate during an uncapped year (that’s not illegal?). But if the Redskins can waste money under a higher salary cap, they could easily find a way to screw up with fewer resources.

By being more careful about large contracts, the Redskins have been able to keep together the same team that won the NFC East last year, even with the salary cap penalty. If RGIII can stay healthy and they can figure out how to play defense against the pass this year – and their draft was focused on improving this area – then we should expect another solid season for football in Washington.

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