In November, the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts played in one of the NFL season’s most anticipated games. The Redskins used to play in that kind of game. They went to four Super Bowls and won three between 1982 and 1992. They were a state-of-the-art franchise.
The week before New England beat the Colts 24–20, the Patriots massacred the Redskins 52–7, making clear how far the Skins have to go to rejoin the ranks of elite teams.
There’s a lesson in the success of the Patriots and Colts.
Their success is built on the relationship between the head coach and the top player-personnel man.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his sidekick Scott Pioli are on the same page when it comes to picking players. So are Colts coach Tony Dungy and Bill Polian.
The Redskins’ top personnel man, Vinny Cerrato, isn’t in the same league as Pioli and Polian. He keeps his job because he never says no to owner Dan Snyder.
The Redskins have a coach, Joe Gibbs, who can match wits with Belichick and Dungy. In Gibbs’s first run with the Redskins, when Belichick was the defensive coordinator of the Giants, the duels between the Redskins offense and the Giants defense were great to watch.
As we’ve said often in the last two years, the Redskins don’t have the right man to work with Gibbs. Back in the good years, Gibbs had Bobby Beathard and then Charley Casserly to bring in the right players.
Then there’s having a consistent philosophy.
The Colts built their team through the draft. Only three players on their 53-man roster have played with another team.
The Patriots rely on free agency to plug holes. They have 20 players who started their careers with another team. But the Patriots don’t overpay for over-the-hill stars. Does the name Deion Sanders ring a bell?
The Patriots will spend big for younger players but usually get good deals on veterans like Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison.
It’s hard to tell what the Redskins philosophy is except that Snyder and Cerrato often pay big for aging players—the Dan Snyder version of fantasy football.
If Snyder is going to turn the Redskins into an elite team, he needs to find the right player-personnel man to work with Gibbs, put together a philosophy, and stick to it. That means being patient.
Don’t bet on that happening as long as Redskins fans continue to pay a lot of money—$500 a ticket per game to sit in the yellow club seats—to see a so-so team. Snyder is a money guy: He’ll stop treating the Redskins as his personal toy when it affects his bottom line.
See all the empty seats at Fed Ex Field, Dan? It’s going to get worse if you don’t fire Cerrato, hire a good player-personnel man, and then let the pros do their jobs.
This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Washingtonian Magazine.