Safety last


The defensive backfield in Washington has been unsettled for years, with no cure in sight

The 2004 NFL Draft saw the Miami Hurricanes gift six players to the NFL in the first round, a record that still stands.

In the eye of that perfect storm of promise, one Hurricane stood above all. His name was Sean Taylor and he was selected fifth overall by the Washington Redskins. Taylor was the cream of the crop. The first of many. A God among titans, as the NFL deemed.

The best of the best

It’s important to remember Taylor’s skill and ability. He was better than good, he was transcendent, the type of player who despite having his life tragically cut short will always be remembered among the very best of the best. It’s important to remember this. Because in the wake of Sean Taylor’s departure from the halls of FedEx Field, a trail of destruction is all that remains.

Where opponents once feared to run, they now gallop like gazelles on a flat plain. Where quarterbacks once deigned to throw, they now find vast open pastures. An offense used to be in jeopardy when #21 roamed the defensive backfield, but that is no longer the case. Not even close.

Washington’s 16-year game of roulette under center garners the headlines, and deservedly so. But the situation at safety is just as bad, if not worse. The last decade has produced enough holes in the defensive backfield to play a full 18, plus a tiebreak. The problem? The Redskins attacked the problem in the most Redskins way imaginable.

The Redskins Way

You only need two ingredients to properly concoct the Redskins Way: a bumbling, fantastical owner, and truckloads of expendable dough. Together, they create a stew of ineptitude and any salt added to taste only finds its way into the wound. In both the draft and free agency, Dan Synder’s organization has failed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Loin cloth with glasses

First, the draft. Dan Snyder does not like the draft. Or, to phrase it better, he does not see the value in the draft. Snyder sees the value in the Robert Griffins and the Brian Orakpos, the Chris Samuelses and the LaVar Arringtons. But beyond that first round, he sees a detritus of useless throwaways. The Patriots, a team far superior to the Redskins in more ways than should be possible, are known for hoarding draft picks and developing players. Washington only truly cares about that first pick, that star pupil, the franchise savior that renders anything after the first round superfluous.

To his credit, Snyder has improved in this regard – more out of necessity than anything related to his football acumen – but it still stands. The Redskins do not draft well outside of the first round, and to say they even draft well in the first round is doubtful. Since 2006, Washington has drafted exactly zero Pro Bowl or All-Pro safeties, and every safety they’ve drafted is no longer with the team. Reed Doughty, LaRon Landry, Kareem Moore, Chris Horton, DeJon Gomes, Jordan Bernstein, Phillip Thomas, and Bacarri Rambo – none of these names will sniff the ring of honor. Some had their moments, but all flamed out quickly. Only one, Landry, was drafted with any kind of realistic dream of stardom.

Most accomplished, only because he stayed on the longest

The most damning aspect of the Redskins’ inability to draft safeties is that Doughty is probably the most accomplished of that bunch. Half deaf, slow, without a single notable physical attribute, he became one of the most beloved Redskins despite his subpar play. When Reed Doughty is the crown jewel in a decade of drafts, something is seriously amiss.

Washington can’t draft safeties. So why is that? Why is it that they always seem to draft projects and prospects, as opposed to shoe-in starters like Landry was supposed to be?

Free agent free-for-alls

Here, we find ourselves in step two of the Redskins Way: money. Washington has failed to draft any talent at safety since LaRon Landry, but context is important. It’s not that Snyder and Co. were simply disregarding safeties, they were disregarding the draft itself – and turning to free agency. In 2006, for example, the Redskins (unsurprisingly lacking a first-round pick) settled on Rocky McIntosh despite future impact safeties Roman Harper, Danieal Manning and Bernard Pollard still being on the board. Why not address the position? Because they already had.

Archu-let the team down

Instead of re-signing Ryan Clark, at the time a criminally underrated player who had blossomed into a home-grown star in the last great defense Washington has seen, the Redskins stiffed him and tossed money in the direction of Adam Archuleta. Lots of money. TONS OF MONEY. While Clark went on to be a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion as a member of the fearsome Steelers defenses of the late 2000s, Archuleta lasted for seven total starts after being handed a six-year, $30 million contract – at the time, the biggest contract ever bestowed upon an NFL safety. Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb are the highest-profile busts in recent Redskins memory, but Archuleta is right up there as one of the biggest mistakes Snyder has ever made. Washington ended up trading Archuleta to the Bears for a sixth-round pick the following season, which they promptly wasted on Carson Palmer’s brother, Jordan.

Archuleta stands as one of the shining epitomes of Snyder’s tenure.

The great duo

This was supposed to work out better

If there’s one thing that Snyder did right in addressing the safety position, it was drafting LaRon Landry in 2007. Don’t scoff: it’s the same way I feel about Snyder gifting the Rams a multitude of picks to draft Robert Griffin. Neither move panned out particularly well, but you can’t fault the man for making a move that, at the time, was logical. Anyone would have done it.

Landry was the clear-cut best safety in the draft with some scouts regarding him as the best defensive player, period. Drafting him ended up costing Washington dearly down the road but no one questioned the decision. The consensus was that Joe Gibbs now had two premier safeties to play with, Landry and Taylor, a dynamic duo if ever there was one.

And for at least half a season, Landry and Taylor patrolled the so-called Area 51, arguably the greatest combination of hitting power ever put in a defensive backfield. Madden’s hit stick couldn’t do these two justice. Receivers were afraid to approach the crushing young stars. Weekly, it seemed as though the two were competing to see who could knock more opponents out cold.

Landry was a Pro Bowl alternate that year and played admirably opposite Doughty following Taylor’s death, but he never grew as a player in the following years. The knock on him was consistent: a player who too often goes for the big hit while disregarding coverage. Highlight reel stuff, to be sure, but the Redskins’ defense ultimately suffered because of it.

Soon, Landry became a hassle. He rated as one of the worst safeties in football in 2008 and 2009 before having a career resurgence following a move to strong safety in 2010. Before a season-ending injury after nine games, Landry was near the top of many Defensive Player of the Year lists. Injuries continued to plague him, and his tenure ended when the Redskins chose not to re-sign him at the end of the 2011 season.

Calling Landry a failure is cruel, though he did save his only Pro Bowl appearance for the next season, his first with the New York Jets (in typical former Redskin fashion). He played well at times and made an undeniable impact. The hard part about Landry’s legacy is what the Redskins missed out on: Adrian Peterson was picked immediately after him

Steroids, feat. LaRon Landry

, followed by Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, and Darrelle Revis, to name a few. Landry is known more for not being Adrian Peterson and for being the human manifestation of the Incredible Hulk than he is for being a safety.

It’s the perfect example of Snyder making the right call, but having it blow up in his face. Instead of having the greatest safety tandem in the history of football, Washington ended up with tragedy and an under-performer. The Redskins never recovered.

Safeties from a hat

LaRon Landry’s 2010 campaign was the last season a Redskins safety had any positive impact whatsoever. Snyder tried everything to replace him, and simply could not do it. In 2011 and 2012, he resorted to throwing the kitchen sink at the problem, a strategy akin to picking names from a hat and stapling them to a contract.

A day in the life of Oshiomogho Atogwe

Before Landry’s first injury in 2011, Snyder ponied up for another vastly overrated safety from the St. Louis Rams. Learning nothing from the Archuleta disaster, he dipped into the Rams’ “talent pool” and nabbed Oshiomogho Atogwe for five years and $26 million, despite St. Louis releasing him in the second year of a five year, $32 million deal. Needless to say, this didn’t work out; Atogwe was known only for snagging eight interceptions in 2007 and couldn’t play the position otherwise. He was released the following year, another massive bust on Snyder’s ever-growing ledger.

Clearly frustrated with the lack of progress on the safety, front, Snyder literally picked anyone he could find in 2012. The NFL can be a quick-fix league but they have to be smart fixes, and this was not one of them. He signed the legendary triumvirate of Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams, and Tanard Jackson. They all promptly failed in bizarrely unique ways: Williams was simply ineffective, Meriweather couldn’t stop tearing his own muscles while illegally pulverizing the opposition’s heads, and Jackson never saw the field because of injury and a recurring drug problem.

Bacarri Rambo proves you should never play for the Redskins

Redskins Buccaneers Football
Don’t snap the ball without me, guys!

So, as you can see, Washington had failed in every imaginable way. Every way. No bones about it. In 2013, Snyder decided it was time to address the problem with the draft once again.

Well, that didn’t work. After drafting David Amerson to fill a similarly glaring hole at cornerback (Amerson, shocking absolutely nobody, is no longer on the team), the Redskins looked safety. They drafted Phillip Thomas out of Fresno State in the fourth round (passing on the disappointing but immaculately named safety Shamarko Thomas eight picks earlier. Shamarko Shamarko Shamarko). At the time, experts thought it could become a sneaky-good steal. Thomas was a project, but one that could ultimately develop into a full-time starter. In the sixth round, they picked up Bacarri Rambo, another project, but who had excelled in the battlefields of the SEC.

Jesus, playing safety for the Redskins is worse than being the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. Inevitably, Thomas never saw the field during the regular season, suffering an injury in the first preseason game and missing the entire season. He was released in 2015 without playing a down.

Rambo played…well…terribly when forced into action, as any sixth-round pick would. He was benched and then came back and struggled again. He was released near the start of 2014.

And then it happened. The most predictable storyline of all time. Rambo was picked up by the Buffalo Bills and is currently enjoying the best season of his career. He’s not a Pro Bowler, but he picked off Aaron Rodgers twice – something so impossible to do that I have a better chance of bending a spoon with my mind. He even won AFC defensive player of the week for his performance on national fucking television against the Jets, forcing two fumbles, recovering one (the other was recovered for a touchdown), and winning the game with an interception inside of a minute.


This, more than anything, is a decisive example of Washington’s failure to properly address the position.

These issues define the Redskins more than their perpetually rotating quarterback carousel. If anything, this situation makes the quarterback problem seem simple by comparison. Because while there might be a blue-chip passer in the next draft or two, the can’t-miss safety is a rarer proposition. Great safeties aren’t megastars; they make their unit better by their play  and if that unit is broken, there’s nothing one defensive player can do to fix it. The Redskins need more than a safety. They need an organizational overhaul, one that is currently taking place under general manager Scot McCloughan. His philosophy is the ultimate trump card and could be the saving grace for a stumbling defense.

So how do we fix this problem?

Our Lord and Savior

Ahhh, the million-dollar question. The answer?

You don’t.

You don’t fix the problem. It’s impossible, at this point. The Redskins could have Earl Thomas and the ghost of Ronnie Lott back there and it would hardly make a difference. The defense itself is broken. The lineman don’t have gap discipline, there’s no pass rush, the cornerbacks can’t cover consistently, the linebackers have no chance in coverage…no safety will thrive in this environment until the defense as a whole improves.

That doesn’t mean disregarding the position entirely – far from it, in fact; if the Redskins find themselves in a position to sign or draft an impact safety, they should. But they should also remember that a star safety does not a great defense make. More than the opposite side of the ball, defense is about unit cohesion. It’s about teamwork and communication. To fix the problem at safety, they need to fix everything else first. A piece here, a piece there. A solid signing every now and again. A change in philosophy. Building blocks for the future, building, building, building, creating a unit proud to patrol the field.

Somehow, that makes the problem seem more manageable.

Ranking the top 10 athletes in D.C. right now

What makes a great athlete? It’s more than on-field performance. It’s how they interact with the community, how the fan base feels about their presence. It’s about charisma and talent and passion. It’s about loving what you do, and doing it well.

These rankings take all of this into account. So, without further ado, Next Year, D.C. presents the first annual top-10 ranking of athletes in Washington, D.C.

1. Bryce Harper

Importance to team: 5

Performance last full season: 5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4

Importance to the community and fan base: 5

Total: 19/20

Well, this is easy. No D.C. athlete approaches Harper right now, a 23-year old machine who will undoubtedly earn his first MVP award this year in a race so lopsided that the media clamored for Yoenis Cespedes, just to stir up some drama. One year after posting a .273 batting average with 13 home runs in 100 games, Harper finally fulfilled his promise in 2015 in a way that truly took baseball by storm. He led the National League in runs (118), home runs (42), on-base percentage (.460), slugging (.649), and OPS (1.109, are you kidding me), his OPS+ was 195 which, for those uninitiated in sabermetrics, is mind blowing, and he raised his career batting average almost 30 points in just a single year.

He also had a season that, by almost every measure, trumped Mike Trout. That’s no small accomplishment, friends.

In three years prior to his breakout campaign, he never set the league on fire but was constantly compared with the likes of Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. He was a rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star before turning 21. And in a season when the Nationals were expected to contend for a World Series, he singlehandedly kept an underachieving team afloat with an effort that can only be called legendary. His 9.9 WAR led baseball. He was nominated for a Gold Glove. And he had one of the best statistical seasons in recent baseball history. Without Harper’s performance in 2015, the Nationals may have finished far below .500.

In addition, he is a joy in the community and is the face of a franchise that has existed for only a decade. And he’s 23.

People may complain with this ranking, citing his age, but there’s really no question. Harper just put together the single best regular season performance in the last 20 years out of any athlete in this entire city. And he’s only going to get better.

2. Alexander Ovechkin

Importance to team: 4.5

Performance last full season: 4

Career statistics/accomplishments: 5

Importance to the community and fan base: 5

Total: 18.5/20

Of all the players on the list, only Ryan Zimmerman even comes close to approaching the impact Ovechkin has had on D.C. In an era of free agency, with stars switching teams left and right, Ovie has stuck with the Capitals through thick and thin, displaying skill and passion at a level that is unmatched over the course of his decade-long reign.

It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t delivered a championship. So many factors go into winning that laying it at the feet of a single player is irresponsible. In his career, the Great Eight has netted 481 goals (the most in the NHL over that time, and a team record), including six seasons with 50 or more, he’s scored the most points in franchise history (908), he has three MVP awards and five Rocket Richard trophies, and plays with a joy and passion on a nightly basis that endears him to a loyal fan base. He captained the single most dominant team Washington has seen in any sport in two decades, the 2009 President’s Trophy-winning team that finished with 121 points before falling in the first round of the playoffs.

He’s been maligned, he’s been decorated, but most of all he’s been admired both locally and nationally. His work with special needs children and his charitable tendencies show how close he’s grown to the community, and he singlehandedly resurrected a moribund franchise with his play. All that’s missing now is that elusive Stanley Cup.

3. John Wall

Importance to team: 5

Performance last full season: 4.5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4

Importance to the community and fan base: 5

Total: 18.5/20

You can’t hate John Wall (unless, of course, you’re Colin Cowherd). He’s a superstar player, an amazing human being, and a passionate athlete who genuinely cares about his craft. And he’s really freaking good.

Wall came into his own last year, displaying leadership and a passing touch that can only be described as silky smooth. He still needs to learn how to shoot a damn basketball but that’s pretty much his only flaw. He’s the fastest player in the NBA and plays tenacious, animalistic defense, the type that gets you on your feet. He’s the unquestioned leader of a budding, talented basketball team, a leader to indispensable that to have him on the bench grinds all proceedings to a halt. Without John Wall, the Wizards are an average team. With him, they can challenge for an Eastern Conference championship.

Mark my words, folks. This man will one day soon be considered the premier point guard in the NBA (if he isn’t already) and will come close to winning an MVP award before he’s done.

4. Braden Holtby

Importance to team: 5

Performance last full season: 4.5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 3.5

Importance to the community and fan base: 4

Total: 17/20

For years, the Washington Capitals had every advantage on the ice, except in net. That’s no longer the case thanks to Braden Holtby, the savior that this team has been searching for since the long-passed days of Olaf Kolzig. With a career record of 107-54-8 and an MVP-caliber season last year, Holtby has firmly entrenched himself as the goalie now and in the future.

Semyon Varlamov be damned, we want Holtby! He was incredible in 2014, setting a team record with 72 starts and posting an impressive 2.22 goals against average. His consistency was stunning and his play was admirable, and he finally settled the debate about whether or not he could actually develop into a franchise netminder. And yes, his importance to the fan base is large because the Capitals have the most rabid fan base in this city and have been clamoring for a successful goalie for years. They finally have it.

Holtby still has a long way to go to ensure his status as one of the best D.C. athletes in recent memory, but he’s on the right track. A Cup will solidify him as one of the very best.

5. Max Scherzer

Importance to team: 4

Performance last full season: 5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4.5

Importance to the community and fan base: 3

Total: 16.5/20

Max Scherzer may not have the long-term connection to D.C. like the stars above him do, but his one season in Washington proved to be quite spectacular and landed him in the top five. The $210 million man had some rough spots in the second half of 2015 but he still had a memorable year. He tossed two no-hitters, the second and third in the history of the team, and very realistically could have thrown three perfect games if not for some horrid luck. His passion and body language on the mound are infectious and his spirit in the dugout is exemplary.

He’s won a Cy Young in the American League and was the second-best player on the roster in 2015. And best of all, he worked as hard as a man can to live up to his massive contract. He didn’t cut a paycheck and run. He played his ass off, and did a phenomenal job.

6. Nicklas Backstrom

Importance to team: 5

Performance last full season: 4

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4

Importance to the community and fan base: 3

Total: 16/20

Backstrom was recently voted by his NHL peers as the most underrated player in the league. I’d agree. Not only is he a supremely talented athlete, he also happens to be the most important player on the team (even more important, I’d argue, than Ovechkin). When healthy, he’s as good a player as the NHL has to offer. He passes with deft touch and scores efficiently. He and Ovechkin have been the best 1-2 punch this city has seen in a long, long time.

7. Stephen Strasburg

Importance to team: 4

Performance last full season: 3

Career statistics/accomplishments: 3.5

Importance to the community and fan base: 5

Total: 15.5/20

Without his various frustrating ailments, there’s little doubt Strasburg would have appeared in the top five. And for my money, he’s the most talented player in D.C. not named Bryce Harper. But sometimes, luck doesn’t work out. Strasburg’s debut was electric and his stuff is better than most, but he’s face injury and consistency issues his entire career. But a corner could be turned: in his last 13 starts of 2015, he pitched out of his mind, going 8-2 with a 1.76 ERA while striking out 110 batters. That, my friends, is the Strasburg we know and love. He hasn’t lived up to his No. 1 overall billing, but he’s lived up to pretty much any other metric that falls below that nearly unattainable expectation.

8. Trent Williams

Importance to team: 4

Performance last full season: 4

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4

Importance to the community and fan base: 3

Total: 15/20

Hey, look! Our first Redskin! Yes, Trent Williams finally helps the Redskins clock in at No. 8. Williams is a dominant force and has been for several years now, playing well at a plus position that teams often pray will produce. He’s not the best with the media so people don’t really seem to know much about him, but he lets his play do the talking. He won’t win any awards for best lineman in the league, but you can be assured that the Redskins are a different team without him. And when names are being added to the Ring of Honor 20 years from now, Williams will be at midfield looking at the curtain drop.

9. Ryan Zimmerman

Importance to team: 4

Performance last full season: 2.5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 4

Importance to the community and fan base: 5

Total: 15/20

Oh, what can you say about Ryan Zimmerman? He’s the Ultimate National, the first player ever drafted by the fledgling team, and he has had a career that does not disappoint. If not for injuries, I’m quite certain he would have won an MVP award at some point. He hits for power and average, plays sterling defense no matter where you put him on the field, and he has ingratiated himself into the community in ways that most players only dream of doing. His best days are behind him and he’s still more fragile than papier mache, but the history of the Washington Nationals will begin and end with his name, and people will look upon those words and smile.

10. Bradley Beal

Importance to team: 5

Performance last full season: 2.5

Career statistics/accomplishments: 2.5

Importance to the community and fan base: 4

Total: 13.5/20

But Bradley Beal hit a game winner the other day! And he’s averaging 25 points per game! How is he only No. 10? Calm down, people. Beal is a phenomenal player – and he’s only 22 – but he still has a long way to go. His career stats are rather underwhelming and he hasn’t yet established himself…

…yet here we are. Beal is thisclose to becoming the best scorer the Wizards have had since Gilbert Arenas and he will stay in the city for a long time, Durant or not. He and Wall make up the best combo D.C. has going right now and his continued improvement will result in multiple All-Star appearances. He’s incredibly well-spoken on the mic and is passionate about his play. There is little doubt Beal will find himself climbing this ladder soon enough.

Just missed the cut

Anthony Rendon

5, 2, 3, 3 = 13/20

DeSean Jackson

4, 4, 4, 1 = 13/20

John Carlson

3.5, 3.5, 3, 3 = 13/20

Jordan Reed

5, 2.5, 1.5, 3 = 12/20

Kirk Cousins, elite quaterbacks, and the extension quandary

Kirk Cousins is not a top-tier NFL quarterback. He’s probably won’t even find himself in the middle of the pack. At this point, he’s established himself as a below-average player who turns the ball over too much and is far too inconsistent to be considered star material. Yet the Redskins are reportedly wrestling with the idea of giving him a contract extension. Why?

Quarterback play in 2015


The extension is a complex issue that centers around perception. NFL fans see the success of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and naturally wonder why their team can’t find a similar signal caller. It’s why we see first round draft picks thrust into the starting job in Week 1 when all logic says they should sit for a year or two to learn the intricacies of the most difficult position in sports. It’s why Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan all face questions about whether or not they’ll ever take the next step. They have taken it, you heathens, there are dozens of teams that would want those guys! Apparently, if you’re not Brady or Rodgers, you’re not doing your job right.

Which brings us to the State of Quarterbacking in the NFL. It’s not good. It’s actually terrible. Awful. Crap-tastic in so many different ways. We live in a time where:

  • The Houston Texans had a real, live, actual quarterback competition because they couldn’t figure out whether Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallet was the least horrible
  • Josh McCown is starting for the Browns, Johnny Manziel was drafted and can’t find the field behind a career backup, and he was only drafted because the Browns were literally out of options
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are the two best quarterbacks on the roster for the New York Jets
  • Matt Hasselbeck has outplayed Andrew Luck
  • Nick Foles has a starting job
  • Zach Mettenberger is a quarterback and not the name of a fatty food (though he plays about as effectively)
  • Ryan Tannehill is making $95 million
  • Matthew Stafford was benched for Dan Orlovsky
  • Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden, Jimmy Clausen
  • Landry Jones outplayed Michael Vick
  • Colin Kaepernick was benched for Blaine Gabbert

Not to mention the generally poor play of Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford, the list just keep growing. There are a scant number of quarterbacks you can depend on week to week, even though fans seem to believe that one poor showing is grounds for being benched.

The case for Cousins

Finally, we have Cousins. No one would mistake him for a franchise quarterback. But I don’t think we should mistake him for a bad quarterback either, and that’s why the Redskins are thinking about extending him.

In a league where bad quarterback play is the norm, it’s incredibly important to hang on to the chips you have if you think they can pay dividends. Cousins turns the ball over a lot, yes, but he’s started a grand total of 16 games. He just finished his rookie year! And you know what? He’s shown marked improvement from prior seasons. In 2015:

  • He’s thrown more passes than last year and completing them nearly 70% of the time (for the uninitiated, that’s fantastic)
  • He’s led two game-winning drives and a game-tying drive (on the road against an undefeated Falcons team)
  • He has a 95.7 rating in the fourth quarter
  • He has a 112.2 rating in the red zone and despite his turnover issues has never thrown an interception inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in his career – 19 TDs, 0 INTs
  • He’s facing duress every 5.9 dropbacks but is only sacked once every 34.6 attempts
  • He is at league average in first down rating (89.8, avg = 91.2) and third down rating (84.4, avg = 84.5)

In addition, the team seems to enjoy him. Jay Gruden waxes poetic weekly about Cousins’ ability and work ethic. Pierre Garcon noted that the Redskins “expect Cousins to win games” when he has the ball. Even former running back Clinton Portis noted that he gets the feeling Cousins brings “passion” to the team.

Does that deserve an extension? It depends on what you think “elite” means. Cousins isn’t Brady, he never will be. But he could be Eli Manning, or Matt Hasselbeck, or Trent Green, or Steve McNair, or any other quarterback who was never a superstar but remained an entrenched starter for most of their career. With the way quarterbacks are playing now, that’s quality you can’t afford to leave on the table.

Here’s the most important point. This is the point that will make you think, and will force you to consider that maybe re-signing Cousins is essential:

There are multiple teams that would sign him if he were free agent, with the express intent of starting him in Week 1.

I’m not saying Cousins is a savior. I’m not saying he absolutely must be extended. What I’m hoping is that a dose of reality hits the Redskins’ restructured front office, a front office that has thus far overseen the most promising start to a season in this town since 1991.

Teams are always searching for their “franchise quarterback.” You know what almost never happens? Exactly that. And if you’re searching year after year, the team suffers.

Maybe it’s time to step back and evaluate. Maybe Kirk Cousins is more important to the Redskins’ future than we know. He’s not a Hall of Famer, but what’s wrong with that? It’s all about putting it in perspective.

Fantasy football: In defense of my inconceivably terrible team

Effective. Efficient. Dominant. Top-notch. Winner. Champion. These are all words that describe the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the top of the mountain. The New England Patriots. The San Antonio Spurs. Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan. Winners all.

And then, there’s Donovan McFab.

Donovan McFab is the Meg Griffin of my three fantasy teams, so utterly inept in every conceivable way that it deserves derision for the mere fact that it exists. I have become the Taco to my League, as relevant as old sneakers and easier to beat than fresh eggs. Big matchups are often circled on the calendar; when any of the nine other teams see me on their schedule, they erase the circle and write a “W” in neon permanent marker.

Imagine a pickup basketball game. The four teams in my league with 5-3 records are the two captains and the first two picks. The five teams with 4-4 records are the next participants, mostly interchangeable, decent and unspectacular. Then, there’s the last pick. And not just any last pick. I’m talking protruding belly, poorly fitted Larry Bird jersey, headband to keep the sweat from pouring from a shiny bald scalp, 48-year old teenager wannabe, sipping a Big Gulp on the sideline while yelling at the players from the previous game to get off the court and learn the fundamentals of the sport.

Yes, folks, in a league where nine teams have at least four wins, I’m wasting away in the cellar at 0-8.

Look away! *cringe*

You may be saying, “0-8 is bad but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Other fantasy owners start 0-8 all the time!”


This should be impossible to do in a league like this. There is no dominant team, meaning that I should have at least lucked my way into a win or two. And when you break down the numbers, it looks more and more like Donovan McFab could be the worst Yahoo fantasy football team in 2015.

The numbers do not lie:

  • Every team in the league has scored at least 956 points except for mine. Donovan McFab avoids scoring like the plague, netting 793.2 points to put me 163 off-pace. I’ve been outscored by more than 40% of my total team points!
  • The closest I came to a victory was Week 5, when I lost by 14.05 points. Yes, every single loss has been by double digits.
  • In Week 3, I lost by 105.46 points.
  • This is not a typo: my AVERAGE MARGIN OF DEFEAT IS 40.11 POINTS. That is freaking impossible.
  • “I’m pretty stoked to be playing you David” – my opponent this week in the league chatroom

Injuries have hurt, I will admit. LeVeon Bell was out, and now is out AGAIN (just my luck). Alshon Jeffery has been hurt all year. Martavis Bryant was suspended for the first four games. But this is just ridiculous, come on. I don’t have the WORST players. It’s simply not my year. My starting lineup this week, though, gives you an idea of the dire straits I find myself in:

QB: Russell Wilson

RB: LeVeon Bell

RB: CJ Spiller

WR: Martavis Bryant

WR: Michael Crabtree

WR: Terrance Williams

TE: Zach Ertz (oops, bye week. First time I did that this year)

As is customary, losers tend to lose focus on the task at hand. So I had Buffalo in on defense this week (bye) and the aforementioned Ertz. This isn’t a pattern, and I would not have won this week anyway. I still lost by 41.84, right around my season average. Hooray.

I didn’t play Alshon Jeffery this week, leaving 27 points on the table. I benched the perpetually disappointing CJ Anderson only to see him have his best game of the season. IT’S ONE OF THOSE YEARS.

The ultimate example of the year I’ve been having is this: about Week 4 or 5, I needed to replace my two starting receivers, one of which was hurt and the other of which had a bye. My options were Jeffery, Bryant, Davonte Adams, and Sammy Watkins. Every single one was injured. So I had to play with two open receiver slots, netting a grand total of ZERO POINTS. The upshot of it all was that even if I had received 30 points of production out of those two spots, I still would have lost.

Here’s the point

Look, I’m not terrible at fantasy football considering I only started playing two years ago. I finished second in my lone league last year, I’m leading another one this year, and close to the top yet another. I am an average to good fantasy football player (there’s no such thing as a perpetually great fantasy football player, or a fantasy football expert).

I’m thinking this is just one of those situations where literally every break doesn’t go my way. Not just a bad break here or there, but quite possibly every single little bounce.

Or, I just suck. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted about when (or if) I get my first win, and I will publicly shame whoever falls to my roster of misfits.

Captain Kirk boards The Tampa, swashes the Bucs

The Tampa met The Redskin in open waters yesterday. Initially, it appeared the entire crew of The Redskin had incurred scurvy; The Tampa‘s crew streamed over the gunnels like a tidal wave, wiping out the opposition for half of the fight and staking their claim to the mast.

Then, Captain Kirk awoke in his cabin, and led his troops to victory.

With a gun on his right arm, the captain inspired his crew to stymie the onslaught before heading to the front of the line. From there, he singlehandedly shot down his opponents, one by one, before a final push helped him board The Tampa and claim victory within seconds of defeat.

Nautical metaphors aside, what happened yesterday at FedEx Field was nothing short of improbable. There are many teams I would peg as having the ability to overcome a 24-0 second-quarter deficit; the Redskins, by a large margin, are not one of those teams. They employ a backup-level quarterback starting his 16th career game, playing in an offense that has run for 135 yards on 60 carries in its last three games, throwing to receivers who get no separation beyond five yards; the defense has given up at least 176 yards on the ground in three consecutive weeks and has forced only three interceptions all season. Instead, we witnessed the largest comeback in the history of this storied franchise. THIS SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED.

But Kirk Cousins made it happen. He may not be the answer, but he was The Answer in Week 7.

Cousins is buzzin’

The above clip has been played so many times now that it’ll go down in D.C. sports history as Cousins’ version of Bryce Harper’s “clown question” comment. The man had every right to be pumped up and as the Junkies mentioned on 106.7 The Fan this morning, it was probably very important for fans to see this side of their quarterback. For better or worse, Cousins does seem to have a reputation as a goody two-shoes, God-loving, clean cut white boy (there are literally zero things wrong with that, but so many fans resent players who don’t come across as tough or impassioned). His comments earlier this week about watching HGTV to tune out the media noise only served to further this reputation (seriously, Kirk? At least give the Food Network a try). For a large sect of fans, seeing the bedraggled hero emerge from behind the curtain to scream manically at reporters was the first taste of raw off-field emotion from a typically stoic young player. In the endless, superfluous war with Robert Griffin apologists, followers of logic and reason now have some extra ammunition.

The final stat line for Cousins is damning for those who claimed he could never throw 40 times in a game without an interception. He finished 33 for 40 for 317 yards and three touchdowns, including a rushing score on a beautifully executed read-option play, and avoided throwing any interceptions. His fumble that Tampa Bay returned for a touchdown was mostly due to his indecisiveness, so points off for that. But for the most part, he was on point. I only counted two throws that had any chance of being intercepted, meaning he was staying away from the big mistake consistently.

For all of you who deny Cousins any credit, think about someone like Cam Newton. Sure, people rag on Newton all the time but the general feel seems to be that if he just had someone to throw the ball to, he might put up better numbers. Who the hell is Kirk Cousins throwing to? Jordan Reed is a top-10 tight end, maybe even top-5, but outside of that Cousins has fewer candidates than the Democratic election ballot. Pierre Garcon? Averaging under 11 yards per catch. DeSean Jackson? Out for the last six weeks. Jamison Crowder? No one is double covering Jamison Crowder. Ryan Grant? Sure, talented, but far from being even a No. 2 on most teams. That Cousins did what he did yesterday is all the more incredible given that he has nobody reliable save for Reed, and absolutely no consistent downfield threat.

At this point, he reminds me of Eli Manning. He can make all the throws and sometimes looks like the best quarterback you’ve ever seen, then, he turns around a performance making you wonder why anyone ever gave him a chance. The only thing missing is the ability to bring out more good than bad. Cousins may not be the ultimate answer under center, but he is clearly the best option they have right now and has shown an ability to play at an above average level.

Also, he’s led three game-winning or game-tying drives in the final minutes in three of his last four games. It’s becoming a habit.

The defense is a wreck, but came up with the biggest play of the game

Don’t ask me what’s happened to the Redskins’ defense. For the first few weeks of the season it was a revelation. Teams couldn’t run, couldn’t pass, really, teams were being absolutely run over by Washington’s front. Now, it looks like Trent Richardson could go for 200 against a unit that looks Swiss cheesier with each week. The first quarter against the Bucs was the type you lock away in a safe and never speak of.

Tampa put up over 200 yards of offense in a flash, running for 10-yard chunks almost at will. They finished with just under 500 yards, on the road. Mike Evans would make the Hall of Fame tomorrow if he played the Redskins every week; in the last two games against Washington, he’s hauled in 15 catches for – get this – 373 yards and three touchdowns. That, my friends, is absolute dominance.

The defense looked terrible and there are discussions to be had about how worrying this trend is – who isn’t expecting Tom Brady to go for 400 yards in two weeks? – but there is no denying the boys came up big when it mattered.

First, Bashaud Breeland, who is quickly becoming the most indispensable player on that side of the ball despite his poor showing, made the hustle play of the year, running down Doug Martin and turning a potential game-winning touchdown into a mere 49-yard gain. If Martin had scored, the game was over. Instead, the Bucs were forced to run three plays, the last of which resulted in the Redskins swallowing Charles Sims behind the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay had to settle for a field goal, setting up the game-winning drive. The defense also forced a fumble on the Bucs’ last offensive play, a play that likely would have set up a game-winning field goal.

Also, Will Compton needs to start. This is non-negotiable if the coaching staff has any acumen. The defense is simply different when he plays, and he had a hell of a game. Compton will probably be forced into duty because of the mind-boggling amount of injuries, but he should have been in there all along.

Jay Gruden loads the cannons with his balls

Onside kicks never work and there are rarely moments when they are justified. Nothing inspires whines from armchair quarterbacks more than an onside kick that doesn’t end well. Jay Gruden, with balls the size of goddamn coconuts, called for an onside kick that led to consecutive touchdown drives and literally won the game for Washington. Without executing that kick, the Redskins would not have won this game, mark my words.

It’s not as ballsy a call as I might have you believe, considering that the game was essentially out of hand and there was little risk involved. But hindsight being 20/20, it was the perfect play, at the perfect time. Again, without the onside kick, the Redskins would have lost this game.

But Gruden’s performance goes beyond that one play. Washington had only four penalties in the game, and the playcalling in the second half was sterling. To come back from a deficit that large, a team has to execute on every play. The Redskins did just that, and it falls squarely on Gruden’s shoulders.

Also, do me a favor and watch Gruden’s postgame press conference. He looks really determined, really confident, really coach-like, more than I’ve ever seen. I genuinely feel like Gruden’s reputation suffers from Eric Spoelstra syndrome – Spoelstra is a superb NBA coach but looks like an extra who got lost on the set of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m not saying Gruden is a superb coach, he has a lot to prove before he gets that praise – but I think his soft physique, strange mannerisms, friendly face, stupid budding mustache, and  unique vernacular and accent lend many to think he’s just not coach material. If you are hired as a coach in the NFL, even if you’re Jim Zorn, you are coach material in some fashion. Lay off the guy.

As I’ve said before, the Redskins are not a good team. Yet here they sit at 3-4, having been competitive in five of seven games. You look for improvement on a year to year basis as justification for keeping a coach under contract. If you’re a fan who thinks the Redskins haven’t improved over last season, you need to get the hell out. This is a completely different team, and Gruden deserves a lot of credit.

Some thoughts

  • Injuries are decimating this team. Washington isn’t just missing a bunch of players, they’re missing a bunch of KEY players, and lost even more this week. Coming into the game, Chris Culliver, DeAngelo Hall (No. 1 and 2 CB), DeSean Jackson (No. 1 WR), Kory Lichtensteiger (No. 1 C), and Duke Ianacho (No. 1 S) were all out; during the game, Ryan Kerrigan suffered a broken hand, Perry Riley strained something, Keenan Robinson hurt a rib, and Breeland pulled his hamstring. The Redskins are literally falling apart, and they are still a game under .500. THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE. No team will ever benefit more from a bye week than this one.
  • Kirk Cousins is impressively comfortable running a two-minute drill, so I think it would greatly benefit the team if Sean McVay started calling some hurry up at points in the game. Whenever the offense gets in a rhythm, it seems like Cousins plays his best. Also: Kirk Cousins is the first Redskins quarterback with 300 pass yards, 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions in a win since Brad Johnson in Week 4 of the 1999 season.
  • Jordan Reed is the most important player on the offense, just like Jackson was last year. Washington has no matchup advantages at wide receiver, so they have to turn to Reed in times of need. The guy is a matchup nightmare for defenses, too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for defensive backs. He has a chance to be the best tight end in the history of the team, and is slowly proving to be one of the five best tight ends in all of football.

  • Non-Redskins thought: Jameis Winston is going to be a really, really good player. He turns the ball over a lot, as most rookies do, but you watch him play and you can’t help but feel like the Bucs are in good hands. He can make all the throws, he’s deadly accurate when his feet are set, and his mechanics in the pocket are spot-on. Like really, watch him in the pocket – it looks so free and natural, like he was literally born to play quarterback. He’ll take his lumps but I see him putting together a career with more than a few Pro Bowls.

Playing the Patriots

The Redskins travel to play the Patriots in two weeks. The Patriots are 46-4 in their last 50 home games (that is not a typo). If the Redskins win, it would literally be one of the biggest upsets in recent NFL history. So, since they’ll most likely lose, let’s not overreact about what happens, OK? Be realistic, Washington. Please. Even if it’s 55-10 or something. Just remember – the Patriots are the best team in the league and the Redskins are banged up and had to make a historic comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will not end well, so temper your expectations. You may be surprised.

*All photos courtesy of

Why I’m rooting for the Chicago Cubs

The sad truth about the Washington Nationals’ collapse this year is that I can now kick back and actually enjoy a baseball game. There are no stakes for me. A loss is a loss. A win is a win. My envy is palpable, for sure – those fans of the Astros, Cubs, and Mets, and all the other teams in the 2015 playoffs, are in the midst of a ride an entire generation of youngsters and old-timers alike will remember fondly for their remaining days. But I get to watch all of it and enjoy it without really worrying about the outcome. It’s a feeling that, for some reason, I only get in baseball. It’s a good feeling.

You can be sure I have my eye on one team in particular. That would be the Chicago Cubs, who, despite the existence of every Washington, D.C. team, remain the standard-bearers for perpetual ineptitude. The obvious: the North Siders haven’t won a World Series since 1908, they’ve won one playoff series since then (how is that even possible?), numerous curses have been placed on Wrigley Field, Steve Bartman existed, and all of this is so well-documented that even the most average American citizen is aware of it. The Cubs’ history is littered with so much failure that when people tell me the Redskins have to win a Super Bowl at some point in my lifetime, I shudder. Someone said that to a Cubs fan in 1910, I’m sure of it. That Cubs fan is now dead. I hope they have WGN in heaven.

Why root for the Cubs? Surely the Astros, losers of more games than anybody over the past several seasons, are a viable candidate. How about the Mets, and the success-starved fans at Citi Field? Even the Royals, whose sheen as an upstart is slowly dulling, seemingly deserve some love from fans across the country.

No. Not even close. All of those teams have endured heartbreak for years, but none have endured what the Cubs have faced.

This is why I’m rooting for the Cubs.

I went to school in Chicago. I even lived in Wrigleyville for my junior year, a two-minute walk from Wrigley Field. I attended multiple Cubs games and had more fun in the Wrigley neighborhood than any other part of the city. I know what those fans have been through.

Yet they keep coming. No matter what.

Cubs fans are incredible. There is no single fan base in North American sports (besides, perhaps, those maniacs at the Bell Centre cheering on their Habs) that has such a connection to their team. Tell me all you want about Pittsburgh Steelers fans and St. Louis Cardinals fans, wax poetic about Los Angeles Lakers fans and Detroit Red Wings fans – Cubs fans are a special breed. Their team has won as many important games in the last 107 years as a deep dish pizza, yet they stream through the gates at their incredible ballpark year in and year out. You know what happens to teams that lose perennially? The fans stop coming. The bottom line keeps dropping. The team disbands or moves away. Not the Cubs.

Why they didn’t keep this mascot is beyond me. Obviously a good luck charm

To be sure, the mystique of such a titanic losing streak is a cause for camaraderie. If the Cubs had won, say, two or three championships since 1908, perhaps the novelty of their current run would be less impactful. But here we are. One playoff series win in 107 years. That kind of tradition brings people together.

This is why I’m rooting for the Cubs.

You know what Cubs fans have witnessed in the last several years? They’ve seen the hated Chicago White Sox end a similarly historic title drought. They’ve watched the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, two teams with laughably insignificant histories in comparison, win and appear in a World Series, respectively. Cubs fans have seen the goddamn Florida Marlins win two championships, one of which was aided by the Cubs’ ineptitude. They’ve even seen our very own Washington Nationals, as disappointing as they are, transform from also-ran to odds-on World Series favorites within 10 years of existence. Cubs fans can be excused for wondering why the hell this kind of stuff happens to other teams and not theirs.

This is why I’m rooting for the Cubs.

More than any other fan base, those who follow the Cubbies deserve a win. ESPN doesn’t cut away to bars and outdoor viewing parties for every team, they do it for teams like the Cubs, whose fans are so desperate for a seminal victory that they gather in copious numbers to imbibe mountainous flights of alcohol in the hope that the big block “W” will be raised over the outfield ivy.

Remember when Vancouver shat itself after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup? Everyone still has vivid memories of the party on Bourbon Street after the Saints won the Super Bowl. Riots, parties, call them what you want, they were large events that signified intense passion.

Those celebrations would be…well, if you’re not at least somewhat associated with Chicago, it’s probably hard to understand how insignificant those celebrations would seem if the Cubs somehow pulled one out. Wrigleyville would be in ruins by the following morning and people would still be partying in the streets well into the next day. The Loop would be deserted because everyone would take the day off to recover. Every local news channel would halt normal activity to cover the victory, and I’m quite certain Rahm Emmanuel would declare some sort of city-wide holiday to commemorate the event. The skyline would probably be dotted with the red and blue the Cubs don on gameday, and all around the city memorials would crop up, legal or otherwise, to mark the occasion. The Bears, even if they were good, would be an afterthought for weeks, something that almost no other city can claim would happen.

It would be the best kind of madhouse. There ain’t no party like a party that hasn’t happened for 107 years.

This, above all, is why I’m rooting for the Cubs.

I went to one Nationals game this year, and boy did I pick a doozy

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Baseball is the most poetic of games. From the mad genius of Yogi Berra, to the innumerable platitudes that teach us the happenings on the diamond are a metaphor for life itself, there is no sport with quite as rich a history, or such a wealth of memorable characters and anecdotes. There is one saying, though, that never became gospel in the annals of America’s pastime, or at least in the minds of the Washington Nationals:

If you score 7 runs at home against Matt Harvey in a crucial, season-defining game, you’d better pull out a win.

Yes, folks, disappointment wore a big curly “W” in 2015 and at no point was that more painfully obvious than the night of September 8. On that fateful evening, I endeavored to attend my first Nationals game of the year, deciding that the magnitude of the contest was worth more than the pain I would endure waking up at 5 a.m. for work the next morning. This remarkable miscalculation yielded a Mourning After, and no amount of sleep would have repaired my shattered soul.

If you pay an inkling of attention to the enormously disappointing baseball team occupying southeast D.C., you are no doubt aware of the late-night massacre that took place that Tuesday night. The Nationals, in a pivotal game with the season quite literally in the balance, jumped to a 7-1 lead against the upstart New York Mets and their superlative star pitcher, Matt Harvey. A win would pull the Nats to within five games of the division lead—a large deficit, to be sure, but wholly surmountable given how many games were left in the season. A loss would all but cancel the postseason parade that so many predicted would march down South Capitol street.

Over a grueling final three innings, the Nats imploded in a way that is difficult to fully appreciate had you not been in the stands.

On stadiums, having the air sucked out of

I’ve seen my share of train wrecks on TV. I watched helplessly as Michael Vick turned into Dan Marino with wheels and torched the Redskins for 59 points on national television. I cringed as Damon Jones sunk the Wizards with a corner three in Game 6, and I fell to my knees in dismay when Jaroslav Halak impersonated a brick wall and singlehandedly eliminated the Capitals from the playoffs. More recently, I stood silently in the aftermath of an 18-inning assisted suicide attempt as the San Francisco Giants danced on the ghosts of Matt Williams’ decisions on the Nats home field.

But never in my 23 years have I experienced a feeling such as the malaise that settled over Nationals Park that warm September evening. Presence is exponentially more affecting than viewing, as this night proved. And when Williams lifted Jordan Zimermann with two outs in the sixth inning and a 3-1 lead, you could already feel a wave of unease wash over those in attendance. The Nationals had to have this game, and visions of Pete Kozma began dancing in my head. I presciently formed a picture in my mind of Drew Storen flailing on the mound in the deciding game of the 2012 playoffs. These fears were well-founded.

Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, and Storen combined to end the Nationals’ season, tossing up an inning that saw six walks, six earned runs, and 70 consecutive pitches without a swinging strike. The inning ended with the game tied 7-7, and the Mets golfed one out of the park against Jonathan Papelbon in the next inning to seal the deal.

Back to that seventh inning. Words escaped me that night. I’m generally stolid when watching sports, even when I’m at a live event, but I was getting excited for this. I was on my feet. It was a big game! And then there was a ball. And another. And another. And another. On and on, self-destruction the likes of which I had never seen in a professional setting. There were more groans in the park that evening than a Canadian comedy club. You know when announcers on TV proclaim that the home fans are starting to seem “restless?” Restless is underselling what I felt. Almost 40,000 people were collectively heartbroken, having been punched in the gut for an excruciating near-hour of incompetence.

Every time I attend a baseball game, I look to fulfill that old adage, “You never know what you’ll see when you come to the ballpark.” Michael Taylor’s little league grand slam early in the game should have been that moment; instead, it was a mere footnote. I witnessed, as I later surmised, the single worst regular season game in the history of the Washington Nationals.

What a time to be alive.

No regrets

Moments matter to me. I value experiences over material possessions, so I will forever cherish what happened on September 8, 2015. The following morning, the Mourning After, I decided that I was lucky to have been there.

Why, David? Why were you lucky to have been at such a cataclysmic affair?

Because I will remember it. Forever.

I didn’t go to a game the Nationals won 7-3. I didn’t go to a game they lost 4-2. I attended the Worst Regular Season Loss in franchise history. And as a D.C. sports fan, that’s something special. It’s another piece of heartbreak I can file away in my ever-expanding junkyard of depressing memories. I’m not being sarcastic here, this is the complete and unvarnished truth: I’m happy I went to that game.

It put a cap on what is officially the most disappointing year of any sports team I have ever followed. The 2013 Nationals were a massive failure and the 2006 Redskins lived up to approximately zero expectations, but the 2015 Nationals were different brand of misery. Never have the stakes been so high, and the fall so great.

It’s years like this, folks, that make us proclaim to the heavens, “Next year, D.C.!”