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Time for Redskins to think about next year

December 19, 2008

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- With the Washington Redskins essentially eliminated from the playoffs, it's natural to start thinking about next year.

"My plan is to keep playing," said veteran guard Pete Kendall, whose contract expires at the end of the season. "I just hope that it's here."

Then, fully aware of his place on the totem pole, Kendall added: "There will be decisions more important than my future to be made first. We'll see."

Yes, lots and lots of decisions. Even if one assumes that coach Jim Zorn's job is secure -- and there's no reading owner Dan Snyder's mind on the subject right now -- the roster is going to need more than a tinker or two for the Redskins to become championship-caliber in 2009.

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The Redskins (7-7) are a team with plenty of decent players on both sides of the ball, but not enough play-makers. They are still feeling the ramifications of poor choices in previous offseasons, forcing them to address the same problems over and over instead of using free agency and draft picks to build team-wide depth.

What was supposed to be a strength this year -- roster continuity -- became somewhat of a liability as some of the returning veterans started to show their age. At the very least, both lines need to be rebuilt over the next year or two -- a major project for a franchise that usually spends its money and premium draft picks on the flashier skill positions.

A quick look at the state of the team:

QUARTERBACK: Zorn might be tempted to lure a veteran West Coast quarterback to run an offense Jason Campbell is still trying to master, but Campbell more than likely gets another shot. Campbell so far has shown he can be a good quarterback but not a great one, which means the talent needs to be better around him.

BACKFIELD: Snyder is financially wedded to Clinton Portis because the owner guaranteed the outspoken Pro Bowl back tons of money in a renegotiated contract during the offseason. That means putting up with it when Portis publicly criticizes the offensive line or the coaching staff. Portis can't seem to break a long run, but he can still pile up the yards when he's healthy. Mike Sellers is secure as a first-time Pro Bowl fullback, but please don't give him the ball at the 1-yard line.

RECEIVER: Still a big problem, despite recent investments in big-money signings (Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El) and draft picks (Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly). Randle El still seems best suited as a No. 3 wideout, which means the team desperately needs one of this year's disappointing rookies -- Thomas or Kelly -- to emerge next year as a complement to top receiver Santana Moss.

TIGHT END: Pro Bowler Chris Cooley still isn't going anywhere, so -- again -- why did they use a second-round draft pick on Fred Davis?

OFFENSIVE LINE: Huge concern. Zorn's offense is going nowhere unless he gets sufficient protection for Campbell. Center Casey Rabach, 31, is the youngest member of a starting five that has been too injured too often over the last two years. Youngsters Stephon Heyer and Chad Rinehart need to improve quickly.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Huge concern II. Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery -- assuming they re-sign as restricted free agents -- are the future at the tackle spots, but ends Jason Taylor (1 1/2 sacks) and Andre Carter (3 sacks) haven't lived up to their reputations as topflight pass-rushers. It's well past time for the franchise to draft a defensive end in the first round for the first time since 1997.

LINEBACKER: Huge concern III. London Fletcher is 33, Marcus Washington can't stay healthy, and Rocky McIntosh got benched last week and still has questionable knees.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Shawn Springs can't stay healthy. Carlos Rogers faded during the second half of the season and has fallen behind newcomer DeAngelo Hall on the depth chart. Fred Smoot doesn't play much anymore. Hall is an impending free agent who might cost quite a bit to keep. Perhaps Springs comes back as a safety, although LaRon Landry and Chris Horton are holding down those two spots. Landry was expected to have a breakout year, but he's been virtually invisible.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Shaun Suisham is ranked last in the NFL among regular kickers in field goal percentage, Ryan Plackemeier is last among regular punters in net average, and punt returner Randle El is tied for first in fair catches. Need we say more?

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