Thursday, December 17, 2009

Goodbye Vinny, we knew ye too well


When news broke about Vinny Cerrato's "resignation" as executive vice president of player personnel (i.e. Daniel Snyder's right hand man) and the subsequent hiring of Bruce Allen as the team's new General Manager, I wasn't euphoric or happy like a lot of longtime Redskins fans. Maybe I'm jaded now that I'm older, but the move didn't resonate with me like Joe Gibbs' return to the franchise in 2004. I've been burned too many times by Dan Snyder to have blinding faith in another blast from the past — for the non-Washington folks, Allen is the son of legendary Skins coach George Allen.

Instead, my thoughts turned to how exactly we got here. By all accounts, the Danny-Vinny years began like all great NFL dynasties do — on a SQUASH COURT! That's right, the two struck up a friendship because they were weekly playing partners. Snyder was a young, naive owner during that time and understandably (I guess) trusted his squash partner, who happened to have some decent football credentials (he was director of college scouting for the 49ers in 1994 when they won the Super Bowl and he was Lou Holtz's recruiting coordinator when Notre Dame won the 1988 National Championship). And so the Snyderatto dynamic was born.

What should have been Cerrato's only big moment came after the Redskins made the postseason in 1999, their first playoff appearance post-Gibbs I. Snyderatto decided to shake things up that offseason, bringing high-priced veterans like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and Jeff George — all of whom turned into giant busts as the Skins started the 2000 season 6-2, but crumbled to an 8-8 finish. With three games remaining Snyder fired Norv Turner, and in the offseason gave the reins of the organization to Marty Schottenheimer. Cerrato was let go by Marty, and seemingly we were done with this wretched squash-based experiment. But he was brought back a year later, and luckily the incompetancy of the ol' ball coach, Steve Spurrier, hid him from the brunt of the criticism. Then, Gibbs II began, and Cerrato played a key role, but ultimately decision-making fell to Gibbs. Then ... the last two seasons happened.

And while it's now well-documented the various failures of Vinny Cerrato, the executive vice president of player personnel, I wanted to go back to his first big decision to sign so many big name veterans to back loaded contracts back in 2000, because it really gets to the crux of Vinny's epic fail. The man thought he had an eye for talent, but had no clue how to build a team. That may sound simplistic, but it gets to the crux of why the Redskins have been a mediocre NFL franchise during Dan Snyder's stewardship. They're constantly addressing wants, rather than focusing in on needs.

But let's not switch topics here and overlook the fact that he deliriously ignored the Redskins clear weakness along the offensive line — even though everyone and their mother knew that's what they should be focusing on — because many of the offseason moves were done so only after the stamp of approval from his squash partner. And let's ignore that Cerrato's most noteworthy moves the past two offseasons were drafting three receivers in the first three rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft, giving up a second-round pick for a defensive end who ended up with 3.5 sacks (Jason Taylor) and left the team after playing one season, and signing an oft-injured defensive tackle to the biggest contract ever given to a non-quarterback.

Let's judge him on his supposed specialty, the draft, because apparently he was pretty successful at judging talent during his days at Notre Dame and with the 49ers. Let's take a look at the selections the team made while he had a say in the process:

2000: *LB LaVar Arrington, OT Chris Samuels, *DB Lloyd Harrison, *G Michael Moore, *DB Quincy Sanders, *QB Todd Husak, *DT Delbert Cowsette

2002: *QB Patrick Ramsey, RB Ladell Betts, *CB Rashad Bauman, *WR Cliff Russell, *S Andre Lott, *TE Robert Royal, *OT Reggie Coleman, *C Jeff Grau, *DE Greg Scott, RB Rock Cartwright

2003: *WR Taylor Jacobs, G Derrick Dockery, *QB Gibran Hamden

2004: *S Sean Taylor, TE Chris Cooley, *OT Mark Wilson, *OT Jim Molinaro

2005: CB Carlos Rogers, QB Jason Campbell, *FB Manuel White, *LB Robert McCune, *LB Jared Newberry, *FB Nehemiah Broughton

2006: LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, *G Kili Lefotu, *LB Kevin Simon

2007: S LaRon Landry, *LB Dallas Sartz, LB H.B. Blades, *QB Jordan Palmer, *TE Tyler Ecker

2008: WR Devin Thomas, WR Malcolm Kelly, TE Fred Davis, G Chad Rinehart, CB Justin Tryon, *P Durant Brooks, DB Kareem Moore, QB Colt Brennan, DE Rob Jackson, S Chris Horton

2009: LB Brian Orakpo, CB Kevin Barnes, *LB Cody Glenn, LB Robert Henson, TE Eddie Williams, WR Marko Mitchell

So you know that saying "build through the draft" that was popularized by the Patriots' recent winning ways? Well, Cerrato, a supposed expert college talent evaluator should be the perfect person to implement this. Ummmm ... not so much. All those stars next to names are guys no longer with the team Out of those 57 draft picks, just 28 are on the current roster (and presumably that number will be a lot smaller once Bruce Allen cleans house). Hell, if you wanna go further of the 29 that aren't on the Skins anymore, only eight are still in the NFL altogether.

I don't mean to pile on Vinny Cerrato, especially considering he was probably just doing what his squash partner wanted him to do. And I've only been around the guy once or twice and it's never been in a football setting (a couple times he brought his kids into the Capitals locker room after a game), but from all accounts the dude was totally oblivious. He was a clown, being paraded around as someone with power, so that Snyder could pull all the strings. If that's true, what self-respecting football person allows that to happen? And if it's not true, what self respecting personnel guy makes some of the decisions he did?

Wait, what's that. More piling on? Okay. I dug up a column by Mike Wise from 2005, detailing the relationship between Cerrato and Snyder:

In spite of the perception that he only indulges Snyder, Vinny does work. He has thick, color-coded binders competing for space and time in his office at the team's Ashburn training facility. He shows you Carlos Rogers, whom the team took with its ninth pick in the April draft, was No. 1 on the Redskins' defensive draft wish list. Cerrato said he wrote 300 "Redskin reports" that were used to form the team's final offensive, defensive and overall rankings for the draft. "Look, I've got binders in here, calendars," he said, pointing to his files.


Really? Carlos Rogers, No. 1? The same Carlos Rogers who got benched by the Redskins a couple weeks ago? I looked up some defensive players who were also selected in the the 2005 NFL Draft, along with Rogers. Do the names DeMarcus Ware, Antrel Rolle, Lofa Tatupu, and Shawne Merriman ring a bell? Or what about late-round finds that have already made the Pro Bowl like Justin Tuck, Jay Ratliff, and Trent Cole? And again, I know I've said this already, but the dude's background makes it seem like the draft would be his forte.

So in reflecting on Vinny's tenure here in Washington, I only really have one lingering question. How in the world did he convince Dan Snyder to hire him in the first place. Was it his good serve (are there even serves in squash, I don't know, I'm not an avid player)? Did he let Snyder win or something? How exactly did that conversation go? I don't think we'll ever know, just like I don't think we'll ever know why this man was employed by the Redskins for a decade.

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