Redskins' future already may have passed them by


WASHINGTON -- Losing to the pedestrian Seahawks by three touchdowns on Opening Day would almost be excusable if the Redskins were starting from scratch this year. But they aren't.

Getting knocked as flat as road kill, in a home game, by a team going nowhere, would almost be acceptable if the Redskins were in the process of collecting young players and building to a foreseeable future. But they aren't.

Sure, with their new head coach, their franchise rookie quarterback and their decision to get rid of many of the players who led them in their glory, the Redskins appear to be starting over.

Don't be misled by that appearance.

They may have shed their past, but they haven't replaced it with their future. They're neither a young team nor a building team right now.

They're just a bad team.

A year ago, they won four of 16 games. This year, they might have trouble beating anyone on their schedule other than Baltimore's teams (Rams, Buccaneers).

When you start the season with a 28-7 loss to the Seahawks, as the Redskins did yesterday at boo-infested RFK Stadium, there's no telling how low you can go.

It would be all right if they were rebuilding with youth, as the Cowboys did when Jimmy Johnson took over for Tom Landry in 1989. But the Redskins have earnestly tried to make this a winning year. They signed nine free agents in the off-season, five of whom are 30 years old or older. They have four starting offensive linemen who are at least 31. Their starting split end is 33. Thirty percent of their roster is 30 or older.

The Redskins are about as youthful and fresh as the "Hair Club for Men" client book.

Yes, in Heath Shuler and Reggie Brooks they have a quarterback and running back around whom they can build, their Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. And sophomore starters Tom Carter and Sterling Palmer are major-leaguers. But most of the rest of the roster is composed of aging stars, average talents and ZTC journeymen. Not building blocks, in other words.

The Redskins need to start over. But they probably won't. There's a little problem with the owner. Jack Kent Cooke said during the preseason that he thought this year's team could go 10-6 "with a break." He is positively delusional. All those years of winning have spoiled him beyond repair. He expects success no matter the circumstances. He probably can't even bring himself to say the word "rebuilding."

And even if Cooke were to admit that the team needed to start over, it is fair to question whether general manager Charley Casserly is the one to facilitate the process. His record is not without blotches.

From his first three drafts (1990-92), only six players remain. The failure of those drafts is what is killing the Redskins now. There were no replacements ready when the prior generation got old.

In Casserly's defense, the last two drafts have been much better. But he has taken some ill-advised dips in the free-agent pool. He spent $6 million on Carl Banks, Al Noga and Tim McGee before the 1993 season. None is on the team a year later. This year's group includes some decent players such as Ken Harvey and Henry Ellard, but none is special. Spending $1.2 million for aging Leonard Marshall was a waste. And what did injury-prone Bobby Wilson do to deserve a contract extension?

The lesson of the Redskins' plight might just be that it's impossible to build a top team with free agents in the NFL. There aren't that many available players who can make a significant difference.

The lesson also might be that Joe Gibbs is missed even more than anyone thought. He could win with average players. Richie Pettibon couldn't. It's too early to know what rookie coach Norv Turner can do. He seems like a sharpie, but your reputation is never better than when you're the promising young former assistant just starting out. Let's wait and see.

It certainly isn't going to make Turner's life any easier that his owner expects to win 10 games with a patchwork team such as the one the Redskins have this year. Their defensive line is shreddable. Shuler is inexperienced. John Friesz is John Friesz. Their offensive line is a strength, but it will need replacing by the time Shuler is ready in a few years.

If Cooke decides to scale back his 10-6 prediction to a more realistic level one of these days, like after the team is 0-5, he probably should also scale back his plans to put 330 sky boxes in his proposed stadium in Laurel. The loyal Washington fans, most of whom left early in the fourth quarter yesterday, might not be quite that excited about his team in the next few years.

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