ASHBURN, Va. – It would be all too easy to cut the kicker who missed the two short field goals. Or the holder who had the snap go through his hands on an extra point in the final seconds of a one-point loss.
But the Washington Redskins have more flaws than can be fixed with a late-season roster move or two. On the day after his team was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, coach Mike Shanahan gave his strongest indication yet that he's taken on a project that might take a while.
"Going from four wins to a chance to win a Super Bowl takes some time," Shanahan said Monday. "It doesn't happen overnight. And it's a day-by-day process. There's a lot to do in the offseason, relative to the draft and free agency, and we've still got three games of evaluation against three pretty good football teams, and we'll get a good feel who will be with us after taking a look at the next three games."
Chances are, he won't end up deciding that he has many must-have keepers on his 53-man roster. The Redskins are 5-8 and out of the playoffs for the 15th time in 18 years because they have weaknesses everywhere — offense, defense and special teams — the result of poor drafts and even poorer free agent signings.
Try to write down a list of potential elite-level Redskins who aren't winding down their careers, and the ink runs dry quickly. Linebacker Brian Orakpo. Tight end Chris Cooley. Left tackle Trent Williams. Kick returner Brandon Banks. Safety LaRon Landry. Running back Ryan Torain, if he can stay healthy. Maybe cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers. Those are the only players that might put a genuine scare into an opponent's game plan, the players someone would claim right away if starting a team from scratch.
Of course, Shanahan was starting from a hole, inheriting a dispirited 4-12 team after the firing of predecessor Jim Zorn. He installed new schemes on both offense and defense, had to deal with a season-long Albert Haynesworth distraction, shuffled and reshuffled an offensive line that has used six different starting combinations and has watched Donovan McNabb struggle through his worst season since becoming a full-season starter.
Sunday's 17-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasn't troublesome because of the way it ended. It was troublesome because the Bucs are 8-5 with the youngest roster in the NFL — lots of good things to come with that team — while the Redskins began the season with the oldest roster.
"You tip your hat off to a young team," McNabb said after the game.
Shanahan has started to infuse the lineup with youth. Torain is the future at running back, not Clinton Portis. Anthony Armstrong is a starting receiver, not Joey Galloway. The coach is playing younger guards on the offensive line.
Shanahan said he was also hampered this year by limited player movement during free agency, a result of the terms of the soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union. Next year, according to the coach, there should be a "normal free agency."
But spending big in free agency is a well-worn tactic that hasn't worked for the Redskins over the last decade. It will take at least a couple of drafts to restore the type of youth and depth that made the franchise perennial contenders in the now-distant 1980s.
"It's all a process, trying to get the best players in the right positions," Shanahan said, "and sometimes it does take time."
Notes: Shanahan said he still has "a lot of confidence" in Graham Gano, who missed from 34 and 24 yards on Sunday and leads the NFL in missed field goals with 10. The Redskins will audition kickers on Tuesday, but the coach said that was because Gano suffered a rib injury in the scramble for the ball during the flubbed extra point. "If he's full speed, he'll be our kicker this week," Shanahan said. ... Shanahan said he was upset over getting a delay of game penalty after a timeout inside the 10-yard line late in the first half. He said officials didn't tell him it was only a 30-second timeout. "I normally don't make mistakes like that, but I had no idea we had a 30 second timeout. You can't make mistakes like that and still win."