Last year's season for the Redskins was both disappointing - and tantalising - in equal measures.
The 'Fun and Gun' went 7-9, which represented a step back from the 8-8 record posted by the 'Marty Ball' team of the year before.
However there were encouraging signs down the stretch which give hope (which springs eternal for 'Skins fans in recent years) that better times are ahead. The D took a while to both buy into and adjust to Marvin Lewis's scheme, but when they did they were one of the better units in the league. The offense struggled, in no small part due to the lack of NFL talent at quarterback - which is always going to be a problem when the offense is based on a pass first philosophy.
So what are the missing pieces to the puzzle that is the Washington Redskins?
QB - We all knew Patrick Ramsey had the arm and the word was he had the brain. In the useful game time he had last season he confirmed this and we also learned he has the heart and the fire. He has convinced Steve Spurrier and many Redskins fans that we have a QB to build an offense around. He will be the starter next season - and hopefully for the next decade. Shane Matthews will not return, Danny Wuerffel may return as the back up. We may take a QB on either the second day of the draft or look for a young guy in the second tier of the FA market to fill the number 3 spot.
RB - Stephen Davis has been a good player for this team over the years and great value for the 4th round pick we used on him. However he does not fit into the new offensive philosophy and his high cap number means he is certain to be released - perhaps as early as the end of February. Watson and Betts had good moments and have showed enough to give hope they can be productive. Both are effective pass receivers, Betts is better between the tackles while Watson excels on draws and counters. I don't see the Skins spending any big dollars in the FA market at this spot. We may take a RB in the middle rounds of the draft. FB is set with Rock Cartwright and Bryan Johnson.
WR - This is a real area of need for this offseason - we have a need for speed! Rod Gardner has shown he is a legitimate NFL starter with a thousand yard season in his second year with the team - but he is more pf a possession receiver than a real deep threat. The experiment of bringing in various Ex- Gators who had failed elsewhere was a flop (they failed here too) and it was only the emergence of Derrius Thompson part way through the season which gave any consistent threat on the opposite side of the field to Gardner. Thompson has been around the Skins roster for a few years now but got his first real look last season and showed big promise. Again he is more of a possession receiver and needs to work on his concentration but he showed a big upside as at least a 3rd receiver. What is missing is a real downfield threat to spread defenses and really make the offense work. Peerless Price is recognized as the top available receiver in the FA market and the Skins may make a big push to sign him if the Bills don't lock him up first by using the franchise tag. If the Skins can not get Price don't be surprised if they try to move up the draft to get either Charles Rogers or Andre Johnson who are recognized as clearly the best two receivers in the draft.
O Line - Not a great year for the line - though they did play better as the year went on. The good news is that we look to be set at tackle for a good few years with one of the better tandems in the league in Samuels and Jansen. Moore was steady at centre. The problem is the guard spots. It was a question of getting by with a committee as nobody really stepped forward and made either guard spot their own. This is another real area of need with at least one (and probably two ) starters needing to be found through either the draft or FA. (Editor's note: Tre Johnson filled in well and would be a smart contingency plan for veteran league minimum.) Moore could go back to his natural guard position, but a center or a guard is a major need.
TE - Zeron Flemister had another frustrating year showing great physical skills and potential and dropped balls in equal measure. Rookie Robert Royals had a great camp and looked like winning a starting job before a high ankle sprain put him on IR. If he can pick up where he left off before getting hurt he should be in the mix again next year. Walter Rasby is still the best blocker at TE. Not an area of need.
Priority Needs - OG and WR
D -Line - Much depends here on whether we can ink DT Daryl Gardener to a new contract which both rewards him for his stellar play last year and also protects the 'Skins against his back injury flaring up again. Next to him Dan Wilkinson will be gone unless he can renegotiate his contract to a much lower cap number than he currently has. If Gardener stays and Wilkinson goes (which is the betting at time of press) we need to find a starter to play next to Gardener. DE is also an area where we need to find a starter. Bruce Smith has indicated he wants to play one more year in search of the NFL Sack Record and he still has some gas in his tank as a pure pass rusher - but he is not up to being an every down starter. On the opposite end Renaldo Wynn did a good job against the run but is not much of a sack threat. The smart thing might be for the Skins to stay put in the draft and either take a DE or a DT in a draft rich in D-Line prospects - however see above re WRs!
LBs - The trio of Arrington, Trotter and Armistead looked one of the leagues best on paper and - after some initial teething problems and indiscipline - that's just about how they played. Both Trotter and Armistead finished the year hurt but both should be back full fit for next year. Antonio Pierce is a bright young backup. Not an area of need.
CB - Darrell Green will no longer be a Redskin next year. He is one of the Redskins all time greats and should be an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame - he will be missed by all Redskins' fans. He has passed the torch to Champ Bailey who is one of the best cover corners in the league. He sometimes has trouble in zone coverage but is still a real quality player. Opposite Bailey, Fred Smoot had an up and down sophomore season. He had four picks but was also beaten deep on occasions and struggled with big physical receivers. He is a good cover corner though, and if he can learn, we will have one of the better cover tandems in the league. Replacing DG at nickel back will be Rashad Bauman who showed real promise in his rookie season and actually ended the season ahead of Darrell on the depth chart. Not an area of need.
S - Another area which could use an upgrade. SS Sam Shade is good against the run but a liability in pass coverage and will not return. He lost his starting job to Ifeanyi Ohalete who showed raw talent and big play ability but also made mistakes that cost the Skins in key third down situations. At FS David Terrell is competent but simply does not make enough big plays to be a starter. At least one position needs to be upgraded with FS favourite in my book.
Priority Needs - DT, DE and FS
Kicker - yes please. No seriously when was the last time we had a kicker who did not make you close your eyes on any field goal over 30 yards. If you are under 30 you can not remember. Enough said.
Punter - see above.
Some guys who can block for returns and cover punts and kickoffs other than Eddie Mason would be nice as well. (Editor's note: Luring Kato Serwanga back to the Skins ST would be a wise decision.)