Every offseason is the same in Washington.
Coming off a losing season, the Redskins throw all of their money at big-name free-agents in hopes of making a quick turnaround.
Some of the most famous examples include DB Adam Archuleta (seven-years, $35 million), CB Deion Sanders (seven-years, $56 million), and the biggest (literally) of all, DT Albert Haynesworth (seven-years, $100 million).
None lasted more than two seasons.
This trend has been a big reason for the team’s 98-142 record since 2000, a time period where they’ve seen eight head coaches and 16 starting quarterbacks.
Something seems different about this offseason.
Maybe it’s the January signing of General Manager Scot McCloughan, who built the 49ers and Seahawks into championship contenders.
Maybe it’s the additions they’ve made on the defensive line and secondary, two of their biggest weaknesses, without throwing too much money at any one guy.
Maybe it’s just the false optimism that surrounds the team every offseason.
The likelihood of this team seriously competing for a playoff spot next season would require a perfect recipe of drastic defensive improvements and an RG3 resurgence.
Most people consider the scenario impossible, but don’t tell that to Scot McCloughan.
He has attempted to defy the odds and cook up a playoff team using that recipe.
The additions of defensive lineman Stephen Paea (4-years, $21 million) and Terrance Knighton (1-year, $4 million) should improve a defensive line that struggled through injuries last season. Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen, the two players that Paea and Knighton are replacing, both played in just eight games last season.
Bowen had no sacks and Cofield only had one, while Paea and Knighton had six and two respectively. Paea and Knighton also had a combined eight tackles for loss, a number that dwarfs the combined one that Bowen and Cofield compiled.
Even if you project their numbers to match the 16 games Paea and Knighton both played in, they still played significantly worse.
With a defensive line of Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, and Jason Hatcher, who is one year removed from an 11 sack year with Dallas, you have a defensive line that is a force to be reckoned with.
Putting the quarterback under increased pressure could help improve a secondary that ranked 31st in yards per pass attempt, 24th in total passing yards given up, and tied for 28th with only seven interceptions.
McCloughan has made some changes to the secondary in an effort to improve those numbers.
He traded a sixth-round pick for two-time Pro Bowler FS Dashon Goldson and a seventh-round pick.
Goldson is five years younger than Ryan Clark, who retired in February, but he has similar career forced fumble and interception statistics (Goldson has 6 and 15; Clark had 5 and 16).
That’s pretty good for a player with four seasons of less experience. Acquiring a player of that caliber while only moving down one round in the draft is a steal.
Signing former Seahawks back-up SS Jeron Johnson (2-years, $4 million) to provides good competition for Duke Ihenacho, who only played in three games last season due to a foot injury.
Both are young players in their mid-20s eager to prove their worth, and let’s be honest, can they be any worse than head-hunter Brandon Merriweather?
The team also signed former 49ers CB Chris Culliver. Culliver had four interceptions last season, which is more than half as many as the entire Redskins team had. While his 4-year, $32 million contract seems big, only $16 million is guaranteed.
Throw in a healthy DeAngelo Hall as the other starting CB and a promising Barshaud Breeland backing them up and you have the recipe for an improved secondary.
All of these defensive improvements could take some pressure off of an offense that moved the ball down the field, but struggled to score.
They ranked 13th in total offensive yardage, but 26th in points per game with 18.8. This seems strange until you see that their turnover differential was 30th in the league at -12.
An improved defense should help this number a little bit, but Robert Griffin III is the big x-factor. In just 9 games last season, he had 10 of the team’s 31 giveaways with six interceptions and four lost fumbles. That number would’ve been worse if the team didn’t recover his other five fumbles.
With his second offseason in the same offensive system, passing weapons like Desean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, premier RB Alfred Morris complimenting him, and fifth overall pick OT Greg Scherff and Pro Bowl LT Trent Williams protecting his blind-side, Griffin has a lot working in his favor.
He has no excuses next season. It’s a contract year and he needs to prove to the Redskins and the rest of the league that he’s worthy of a starting role.
All of the improvements made this offseason without overpaying players has the fan base brimming with optimism. Even better, with the 12th easiest schedule next season, they will have a real opportunity to improve their record.
Scot McCloughan has turned perennial losers into intimidating title contenders in the past. Next season will be a good predictor of whether the Redskins are his next masterpiece.