Shanahan mailbag: Skins a '12 contender?

ASHBURN, Va. -- This is the 16th year in a row in which at least five teams will make the NFL playoffs that didn't make it the year before. That's enough of a trend to make you think it'll happen again next year. And head coach Mike Shanahan says he believes his Washington Redskins are in a position to be one of next year's five.

"Yeah, I think we are," Shanahan told me in an interview Friday in his office at the Redskins' training facility. "We've got to be a little lucky with injuries, because we don't have depth. But we'll have a lot more depth next year than we did this year. And I think we had a chance this year if we'd stayed healthy."

Shanahan gave me a lot of time Friday and addressed a wide variety of topics. I was able to incorporate into the interview several of the questions you guys sent me in the mailbag, and my hope is to fill you in on the Shanahan interview as completely as possible in several different posts over the coming days. So here are a couple of your questions and what Shanahan had to say in response:

Kent Senter of Falls Church, Va., wanted to know why Shanahan has been preaching that the Redskins' rebuilding project must take time while a coach like Jim Harbaugh can come in and turn the San Francisco 49ers around in one year.

Mike Shanahan: We had dealt a lot through free agency and not the draft. San Francisco did a great job through the draft, they did a great job with their organization. If you take a look at the players that they have playing for them over the last three or four years, take a look at their draft choices and the free agents that they did acquire, they had some pretty good picks. Here, they'd traded away a lot of the draft choices. I think everybody knows that -- the history of the Redskins and draft choices. But we talked about, when I came here, that with the salary cap you've got to build through the draft. You just can't keep on signing high-priced free agents, because there's no way you can develop the depth. And so we had to change philosophies and we've done that and hopefully it pays dividends.

Greg Martin of Freehold, N.J., says he's on board with Shanahan's change of philosophy and believes it has paid dividends. Greg wanted to know if this year's Redskins draft strategy would be similar to last year's, when Washington traded down and amassed more picks, or if they'd consider trading "multiple current or future picks for one player, QB or otherwise."

MS: You just never know. If anybody says they know the draft ... It takes one person before you, one person after you... You never know what somebody wants to get a deal done. I don't know [if I can trade up] because I really don't know what the value is. I mean, are you looking at three No. 1s? Three No. 2s? And who's the guy? Is it the first pick? Is it the second or third? How bad does that team want to move out of there? You just don't know.

I followed up with a question about the reports and speculation that it could take three No. 1 picks to trade up to the No. 1 spot and take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and asked if he considered that realistic or sensible. He responded with a comparison to the 2002 deal in which the Oakland Raiders got two first-round picks, two second-round picks and cash from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for head coach Jon Gruden.

MS: I told Jon, 'No offense, but you're not worth that much! And don't go to the place where they're giving up the two No. 1s for you.' I mean, it just handcuffs you.

Finally, I asked if he thought his team was close enough to contending that he could afford to give away a big trove of draft picks for one player he really wanted.

MS: No. In fact that's why, when we went from 10 to 16 [in last year's draft] and we were able to get that extra second-rounder from Jacksonville, we were able to parlay that where we got [Leonard] Hankerson, we got [Roy] Helu and we got [DeJon] Gomes. So by going from 10 to 16, not only did we get Jarvis Jenkins, but we were able to get those three players. And those are three starters for us.

Much more to come, as I said, in the coming days. But hopefully this is good stuff for you guys to chew on for a bit. Thanks for your help with the interview.