May 7, 2020

Ron Rivera’s Redskins rebuild could be slowed by two decisions made last year

But despite the team’s gains with notable upgrades on defense — led by No. 2 draft pick Chase Young, the talented pass rusher from Ohio State — the lack of immediate improvement on offense is a glaring weakness as Washington exits Rivera’s first draft. The difficult spot the Redskins find themselves in can be pinned, at least in part, on two decisions made by the previous regime: trading two second-round draft picks to reenter last year’s first round and select edge rusher Montez Sweat, and not trading left tackle Trent Williams at peak value last season.

While the new coach’s optimism could become reality on the strength of his fortified defense and the youthful roster’s development, recent history shows the NFL is controlled by teams with explosive offenses and acceptable defenses. Even the San Francisco 49ers, the model for what the Redskins want to do with their defensive line, scored the second-most points per game last season (29.9) while led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a talented supporting cast.

This offseason, it’s unlikely the Redskins did enough on offense to expect a surge. And yet, what else was Rivera supposed to do? The Redskins tried to acquire wide receiver Amari Cooper, who instead opted to re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys; Young was widely considered the clear choice at No. 2; they didn’t have a second-round pick after trading it last year; and the Williams situation was a mess.

The missing second-rounder and Williams’s situation stem from decisions made last season, spearheaded by former team president Bruce Allen. The Sweat trade is the more complicated of the two. He had a solid rookie season, and Rivera might love having two first-round picks anchoring the edges of his defensive line, but the win-now move set the Redskins back. Instead of contending for the playoffs, Washington imploded, and the 2020 second-round pick became the 34th overall selection — which the Indianapolis Colts used on the type of player who might have helped the Redskins’ offense right away: Michael Pittman Jr., a wide receiver out of Southern California.

The Williams situation is more clear cut: The Redskins failed to capitalize on the disgruntled tackle’s peak value last year, and they traded him on the final day of last month’s draft only after a protracted, public spat. It’s unclear what the Redskins were offered last year for Williams (Rivera hinted in a radio interview last week that Williams might have been worth a first-round pick), but it seems clear that what the Redskins eventually received — San Francisco’s fifth-round pick this year and its third-rounder in 2021 — was less than what they could have received at various points in 2019.

Williams’s departure leaves the most glaring hole on the offense, and the Redskins must proceed with a patchwork plan at left tackle: some combination of veteran swing tackle Cornelius Lucas, 2018 third-round pick Geron Christian Sr. and Saahdiq Charles, a fourth-round pick this year. Things don’t look much better at the skill positions; the team wasn’t able to add complements to wide receiver Terry McLaurin beyond developmental bets in the draft and role-player signings in free agency.

The Redskins’ level of investment around second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins lacked in comparison with every other team that drafted a No. 1 quarterback last spring. The New York Giants added top tackle Andrew Thomas with the fourth pick. The Arizona Cardinals traded for all-pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and drafted tackle Josh Jones in the third round. The Denver Broncos added two wide receivers, a starting guard, a change-of-pace running back and two tight ends.

Of course, the improvement on offense might hinge on Haskins’s development more than anything else. This is where the real risk of the Redskins’ roster-rebuild strategy lies. The lack of weapons could impede his development or at least not allow him to fully show it as he adjusts to new coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme. If Haskins has another up-and-down year, the Redskins might be left uncertain about his potential, which would undercut Rivera’s ability to envision and execute a clear plan.

If Haskins succeeds, the sting of not having a second-round pick or getting better compensation for Williams probably will wear off — especially because Allen was a big part of the decision to draft Haskins. But for now, the young quarterback and the offense surrounding him must do the best they can with what they have.

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