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New regime working fast to make over Redskins' roster, philosophy

ASHBURN, Va. -- In a matter of months, new coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen have remade the Washington Redskins.

Certainly, the roster has changed, including bringing the first true franchise quarterback, Donovan McNabb, to Washington in decades. But the reshaping goes well beyond that.

The very fiber of how the Redskins operate as an organization is now so drastically different, as is the way they are viewed around the NFL. The front-office dynamics, the message being sent to the locker room and the culture around Redskins Park are healthier and more conducive to winning than they've been in years.

The management team of Shanahan and Allen, though still a work in progress given their brief three months together, really could not have accomplished much more in such a short time. A 4-12 team has been transformed, hope abounds, and the future looks very bright for the Redskins.

"I'm excited for the future," said linebacker Brian Orakpo. "We've made some big changes this year, and obviously when you're a team that goes 4-12, everything is subject to change, and that's what we're experiencing here with a new quarterback, a new coaching staff and new personnel. So the sky is the limit for us."

Landing McNabb from a division rival for, at most, draft picks in the second (2010) and third (2011) rounds is a masterstroke. It also exemplifies the changes afoot. In years past, had the Redskins coveted McNabb, it would have become common knowledge around the league well ahead of time, and on the first day of the league year they would have likely begun throwing draft picks Philadelphia's way.

The patience, along with a calm and steady hand required to execute such a transaction, was lacking. The rush of the chase, the need for immediate gratification and the consequences-be-damned mentality to get their guy generally trumped all else.

No longer. Not even close.

Shanahan and Allen both are adept at keeping things in house and playing their cards much closer to the vest. The acumen with which they can interact and influence other executives and agents has been sorely missing.

Their ability to be proactive -- adroitly anticipating the market in trades and free agency, waiting coolly to land their prize, understanding the inherent value in certain players and positions -- is an utter departure for a team that for a decade generally set or obliterated the market in their zest to land players, grossly overpaying them at times.

The Redskins were fleeced in many trades, paid millions to free agents with precious little in return and were played at times by agents, bidding against themselves and being used to drive up the price for others. Give owner Daniel Snyder nothing but kudos for breaking with the past, bucking all of that, and putting together a management team that might truly reward his willingness to invest so heavily.

Now, the Redskins allow players like Tony Pashos to leave their facility without a contract if he won't accept a value deal, allowing other clubs to overspend (Cleveland, in this case). Now, Willie Parker visits, leaves without a deal, and then is scooped back up for not much more than a veteran minimum weeks later.

Restraint, maximizing assets and showing nuance in compiling a roster are now the rule, with Shanahan and Allen knowing that those decisions in turn provide the wiggle room to ultimately acquire a big-ticket item like McNabb.

"We've got a game plan regardless of what position," Shanahan said. "We don't want to overpay for certain positions, and you want to get the best value you possibly can, so when you do get somebody that you think you have to really step up and make a splash, or sign someone that you think is in the best interest of the organization, you can."

After assembling a coaching staff, Shanahan and Allen purged a bloated roster of players who have underproduced, were prone to injury or had inflated contracts (and all of the above in some cases). The idea that Washington was a haven for players to get paid, and then often receive preferential treatment within a star culture, was over.

That has extended further into the way Shanahan has handled running back Clinton Portis, who has clashed with coaches over the years and, many teammates believe, received special treatment under past regimes. Despite POrtis being guaranteed roughly $6.5 million this season, Shanahan brought in Larry Johnson and Parker on very team-friendly deals to challenge for the starting spot.

Message delivered.

But no Redskin was more problematic in 2009 than Albert Haynesworth, the prized free agent defensive tackle who received a record seven-year, $100 million deal a year ago. It's a headache Shanahan inherited. The effort to try to include Haynesworth in the McNabb deal is yet another indication of the no-nonsense approach. Dealing Haynesworth, who alienated many teammates last season, would further indicate a complete break with everything that preceded Shanahan in Washington.

Eating somewhere upwards of $20 million to make a fresh start would be the strongest statement yet, and it's hardly out of the question leading up to the draft.

"I'll tell you this, nothing is going to get past Coach Shanahan," said Pro Bowl fullback Mike Sellers, one of the longest-serving Redskins, now on his third coaching regime. "We see that now, and no one is trying to press that button, either, to test him.

"We only have one guy not here (for offseason work), and that's Haynesworth, and we'll see what happens with that. But everybody's been here working out, everybody's amped to go, and there's just a lot of excitement around here now. It's been a long time since we've had that around here. A very long time."

Shanahan is hardly done, and the Redskins remain well positioned for more change. Dealing Haynesworth could go a long way to replenishing the lack of a second- and third-round picks in this month's draft. That would allow Shanahan to address needs at tackle and receiver. Don't rule out the Redskins making a play for restricted free agent Brandon Marshall prior to the draft, either.

The biggest need -- left tackle -- could be eradicated should Russell Okung and/or Trent Williams be sitting there when Washington picks fourth overall (which would not be a surprise, according to my NFL Network colleague Mike Mayock). Options like free agents Flozell Adams and Levi Jones would be an upgrade to a weak right tackle situation. A trade for St. Louis defensive lineman Adam Carriker, a player the Redskins have definite interest in, is a distinct possibility as well. It would add a versatile 3-4 lineman to a team that needs one (especially with Haynesworth disinterested in playing nose tackle). Defensive end Andre Carter, an uncomfortable fit in a 3-4 alignment, is a possible trade chip as the draft approaches as well.

The work is far from done.

"We've got a game plan for a lot of different positions," Shanahan said. "We were 4-12 last year with a fairly easy schedule. So we've got a bunch of strides to make."

Thus far, the upgrades -- in front office personnel, coaching staff and quarterback -- have already returned the Redskins to being a contending team. The days of being the butt of jokes appear to be over. As are the days of coddling prima donnas, over-reaching for players past their primes, and parting with draft picks haphazardly.

The Redskins, this quickly, are better equipped to compete than they've been at any time this decade. For an incredibly-devoted fan base, all of the suffering might finally have a payoff. The times are definitely a changin'.

Two for the road

» I applaud the Eagles for having the conviction to trade McNabb within the division. It isn't ideal, but they got ample compensation, did right by a player who gave them 11 great years, and they truly believe Kevin Kolb can thrive as his replacement. Only one quarterback was going to get the long-term deal, and if Kolb is as good as they think he will be, then his youth and the package they could get for McNabb make it a deal worth doing. You won't win a title in too many sports by managing scared, and the Eagles now enter this draft with 11 picks, giving them plenty of options to continue adding to the roster.

» The biggest surprise of the entire McNabb saga, to me, is that the 49ers, with two first-round picks and a star quarterback away from doing real damage in the NFC, never entered the sweepstakes. On one hand, you can respect their willingness to give Alex Smith one more year to develop, but if it's me, I'm working out a deal for McNabb. Several people in the Eagles organization felt internally, at the start of the offseason, San Francisco would make the most sense. The 49ers might win the division with Smith, and perhaps he will blossom into the player they thought he'd be when they drafted him first overall. But I'm trading for McNabb.

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