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Don't let the catastrophic past year overshadow all that Trent Williams did for the Redskins

Don't let the catastrophic past year overshadow all that Trent Williams did for the Redskins

Trent Williams and the Redskins paired up on April 22, 2010, when Washington took the Oklahoma tackle fourth overall in the NFL Draft. Almost exactly a decade later, the two have split, with the franchise sending the perennial Pro Bowler to the 49ers.

The trade thankfully ends a year-long saga that could, on its best days, be described as bitter, and on its worst, be labeled as a total (word not allowed on this website) mess.

Everyone associated with the team knows the story by now. The Burgundy and Gold's medical staff, per Williams, badly mishandled what turned out to be a cancerous growth on his head for quite some time, which led to him losing all trust in them as well as former president Bruce Allen.

That dispute angered him enough that he sat out all 16 games in 2019, and while Allen and the staff are out and Ron Rivera is in, the 31-year-old still wanted to be gone. Well, he's gone, though not before a hectic few days that involved a near-swap with Minnesota and another confusing statement from his agent. One final spurt of chaos felt appropriate.

But even with how awful last season and the start of 2020 was for everyone involved — for Williams, who was forced to take a stand after he was wronged; for the Redskins, who struggled without a guy who covered up so much for them for so long; and for fans, who simply had to watch and squirm as it all unfolded — Williams' overall impact on the organization should not be forgotten.

For the past decade, so much about football in Washington has been uncertain. Potential answers at quarterback have faltered. Coaches have arrived, struggled and departed. Injuries have marred promising starts. Often, there were no promising starts at all.

Yet, throughout that unpredictability, Williams remained. At the start of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 campaigns, there was no debate about who'd be starting at left tackle for the Redskins offense. It'd be the wildly powerful and impressively nimble man with No. 71 on his back.

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Of course, Williams wasn't flawless. He was suspended twice, with each punishment costing him four contests. Then, as he aged, the injuries mounted, with his last full year coming in 2013. 

His toughness and skill? Unassailable. His decision making and durability? Legitimate issues. Those matters, combined with his showdown with the Redskins, do stain his legacy quite a bit in the minds of plenty.

When Williams was dressed for kickoff, though, there was no questioning what he'd bring. He'd open up holes for running backs, keep passers safe, maul people on screens and take opposing stars on and erase them. In D.C., he generated countless absurd highlights and replays.

Now, Redskins supporters haven't seen Williams do any of that for them since Dec. 30, 2018, yet that gap shouldn't make them forget this simple truth: Williams was a legend for the team and held down the most crucial spot on the offensive line starting as soon as he was drafted. 

Unfortunately, Williams won't be able be able to end his legendary career where it commenced. Instead, he's off to San Fran, and his former employer will go on without a clear replacement. In Saahdiq Charles, they at least have a candidate, but he's closer to a Williams fan than a Williams fill-in.

Had things been handled more competently early on, then this transaction likely wouldn't have happened. It's been obvious for a while, however, that this kind of move would be the only solution.

Still, the inevitability doesn't make it sting any less overall, despite the accompanying immediate relief that the turmoil is over and both sides are allowed to proceed into their respective futures.

For the FedEx Field side, that short-term future includes major doubt without Williams. But hopefully, the long-term future consists largely of gratitude for him. There hasn't been much worth celebrating over the past 10 years when it comes to the Redskins, but Williams and his rare talent were.

He still is, in fact, and always will be. Don't allow the conclusion to spoil all that preceeded it.

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

Making a case for Red Tails as Washington Football Team's new name

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for Red Tails.

Case for: Washington Red Tails

“Red Tails” might’ve been the favorite among fans and others on social media before the “Red Wolves” hype train started gaining traction.

The origin of the name comes from the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black pilots in the United States military. A group of Tuskegee Airmen known as the Red Tails -- because of the paint on the tails of their planes -- made up the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. The Red Tails had one of the lowest loss records of all escort fighter groups.

CONCEPTS: TOP 5 NEW FAN-GENERATED WASHINGTON REDTAILS UNIFORM, HELMET DESIGNS

Brad Nierenberg, CEO of RedPeg Marketing, an Alexandria, Virginia-based marketing agency, thinks the history of the Red Tails provides an opportunity for Washington to attach itself to a powerful story, particularly in a time where conversations about social justice have been amplified.

“The Red Tails is an incredible opportunity for [Washington]," Nierenberg said. "I don’t know of it as a major team name. I think that it allows them at this time to take a leadership role in this time of changing of understanding of social justice. And I think that their recognition of the Red Tails could be a dramatic, great first step for them as a brand that I think is overcoming… there’s a great story behind it. They can run with that story that already exists.

"And at the time to actually capitalize on this, you can get a lot of wind beneath your wings on that one. I think there’s a lot of energy there with society. I think this town would wrap their arms around it. As a company and as a team, as an ownership group, recognizing this incredible story could be powerful forever. And it’s a fighter group, it’s a fighter, it’s an overcoming odds -- there’s a tremendous story there, and I think that with today’s society doing what it is, I think it could be an incredible time for them to take advantage of this groundswell of energy. And it’s not going backwards, it’s only going forward, so I think they could be in a very positive position.”

RELATED: WASHINGTON'S NEW NAME MAY BE MORE FOR FUTURE FANS THAN CURRENT ONES

Additionally, the Red Tails name allows the team to maintain its "warrior" ethos, according to Matt White, president of the marketing and ad agency WHITE64. White also likes that the name provides the opportunity for Washington to stick with its traditional burgundy and gold color scheme. 

"Graphically, the [old] logo on the helmet had the feathers. So you could certainly see how that could be very consistent," White said. "And certainly with the colors of the uniform."

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Most marketing experts have stressed the advantages of a team's name drawing a connection to the city it plays in. While Red Tails doesn't immediately evoke thoughts of Washington, Tim Derdenger, assoicate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, thinks there's a strong enough connection for it to work.

"It’s a strong choice for multiple reasons. One being that it relates to D.C. and the military," Derdenger said. "It keeps the team colors. If you keep 'red' in [the name], it has to be the right name. And I think Red Tails is one of those right names. It has a strong connection to the city, to the military, the colors, it still can pay homage to the team, the players of the past with keeping the 'red' name in there. It should be a strong candidate.”

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