A lot of the stories have been told, and re-told, over the years -- and, because of the lack of overall success by the Washington Redskins, they become fodder for those starved for the good ol' days. What they also do, though, is serve as a reminder of the subtle aspects of building a winner. It’s something I was reminded of in the lead-up to last week’s Hall of Fame announcement.
After talking to Joe Jacoby and Donnie Warren and Joe Gibbs, they provided a reminder of what helped drive those championship teams in the 1980s and early '90s. It’s quite telling that the bond remains strong between many players on those teams, especially among the Hogs. One reason former coach Gibbs was excited about Joe Jacoby eventually moving to Charlotte, North Carolina: the ability to spend more time together. Gibbs already checks in on Jacoby every so often.
It’s a bond that might not be able to be created today -- or at least have one as deep -- because of free agency. But you can duplicate that for a little while at least, certainly longer than what the Redskins have done in recent years. It’s not as if players now aren’t as close; the Redskins’ defensive line was tight this season (and offensive lines in the past have been as well). But it’s more short-lived -- the Redskins' defensive line will have a different look in 2016.
Playing together a long time added to the bond and strengthened their ability on the field, leading to three Super Bowl titles in 10 years. When you change rosters every few years, it’s tough to build anything special.
"Obviously we were great as a group, but what made us great is that we played for a long time together," said former Redskins tight end Warren. "We knew where everybody was going to be at all times, their footwork. I knew on a counter trey if I’m running to the left side and Jake is to the right of me, I knew exactly where his footwork was going to be and what footwork I had to stay with. That makes things a hell of a lot easier on the edge."
And the best way to develop this sort of situation is through the draft. It’s one reason general manager Scot McCloughan advocates such a plan. Free agency in its current form did not exist in the 1980s, so it was easier to keep guys together. But it also shows what can happen when you draft and develop players, too.
In the past, I used to do a survey of Redskins players asking their favorite football memories. Inevitably, they would have occurred with other teams -- typically the ones that drafted them. That’s a big offshoot of going the route Washington is, building its roster through the draft. You get to raise players in your system, not force them to adapt from something that perhaps made them successful in the first place. You get to, perhaps, have them build a different level of camaraderie and trust because they would have been raised as NFL players together.
The Redskins' offense is in a better place, with possibly all five starting linemen next season as former draft picks -- along with the quarterback, tight end, slot receiver and, perhaps, running back. Perhaps it’s even bigger for the line to be this way considering how often they must work in concert (yes, receivers and quarterbacks, too). Just look at Warren’s comment above one more time.
The defense will be the focal point this offseason and needs more homegrown talent (not everyone needs to be; free agency has a rightful place in building a team, but not as the focal point). It’s not as if signing free agents is a bad thing. It’s not. But the draft provides a better chance at shaping a culture to your liking. Of course, the 1980s Redskins won, and that prevented the worst part of the past 15 years: constant change. The Redskins' past two drafts have been solid, especially this past one, and now they are coming off a winning season. It’s a good start toward getting where they need to go.