Washington Commanders biggest not-obvious “what if” of the 2000s

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

What is the biggest not-obvious “what if” of the 2000s for the Washington Commanders franchise?

The Washington Commanders have had a lot of “what if” moments in the history of their franchise. So if we were going to try and figure out the biggest “what if” for the organization, we’d be here for a while.

With that in mind, let’s narrow it down quite a bit. First of all, we’re going to limit them to just the 2000s. That still gives us way too much material. So let’s cut it down even further, and get rid of the obvious ones.

The obvious “what if” moments probably don’t need much of a description. Of course, there’s the tragic death of Sean Taylor. A superstar who could have absolutely helped turn them back into a winning franchise with his elite defensive play.

Then you could talk about Robert Griffin III. What if Washington took just him and no Kirk Cousins? What if they took him out before the major injury? Or if he just never had any injury problems? What if they just took Kirk Cousins instead and never traded picks for Griffin III?

We’re going to skip anything to do with the QB position and the draft. Also low-hanging fruit. Obviously, every team is wondering what would’ve happened if they took Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc.

Finally, let’s take out anything with the coaching staff too. Washington had Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Kyle Shanahan. They stuck with Jay Gruden. It didn’t work out.

Honestly, this is still really easy in my opinion. What if the Washington Commanders never traded Champ Bailey?

This trade was baffling. Even a very young Hunter knew how bad this trade was. Look, Clinton Portis was awesome. He was really fun to watch, and an elite talent. But he was also a running back. You can get good production from a running back much easier than you can get elite production from a cornerback.

Bailey was one of the all-time greats. And he was already dominant in his early career when Washington traded him.

The Clinton Portis side for the Washington Commanders

Portis was just two years into his career. He dominated his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos. He ran for over 1,500 yards in both seasons and had combined for 29 rushing touchdowns. That’s insane.

What was Washington expecting though? Did they think he was going to keep that up for 10 years? Or even five? Three?

Well in his first year with Washington Portis did rack up 1,315 yards rushing. But he did it while averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Much worse than the 5.5 he averaged in both of his Denver seasons. He also picked up just five rushing touchdowns.

The next season was better, getting back up over 1,500 yards and picking up 11 touchdowns – hitting 4.3 yards per carry. Those would all be highs with Washington though.

In seven seasons with the Commanders, Portis played in over half of the season just four times. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry with the team, racking up 6,824 yards and 46 touchdowns. Great numbers, but nothing that’s going to push a team over the top.

I’m not trying to diminish the running back position, but it’s much easier to get good production from that spot than it is cornerback. Want proof? No? Too bad, you’re getting it anyway.

In 2006 Portis appeared in just eight games. Due to that, Ladell Betts got a nice workload. In just 245 rushes he ran for 1,154 yards and four touchdowns. That 4.7 yard per carry was higher than anything Portis did with the team.

In 2010 (the last year for Portis), the running back appeared in just five games. Ryan Torain picked up the load, running the ball 164 times for 742 yards and four touchdowns. His 4.5 yards per carry was higher than anything Portis did with the team. The next year saw a nice duo of two rookies in Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster.

Then came Alfred Morris out of nowhere the next season. He set the Washington rushing record with 1,613 yards. Morris averaged 4.8 yards per carry and racked up 13 touchdowns. The sixth-round pick had three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Even if Portis stayed closer to his Denver production, Washington’s own roster proved that you could find really solid running backs much easier than elite – or even good –  cornerbacks.

The Champ Bailey side for the Washington Commanders

You know what really hurts? The Washington Commanders didn’t just trade Champ Bailey. They threw in a second-round pick to sweeten the deal. That’s an all-time fleece by Denver right there.

Okay, you could argue that maybe they couldn’t afford him on his next contract or that he didn’t want to be there. But Bailey had already proven he was elite. You figure it out when you have a cornerback like that.

And he kept being elite.

In his five years with Washington, Bailey was amazing. He had 18 interceptions and a touchdown, 81 pass deflections, two forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and a sack. The corner even proved to be a solid returner.

When he left, Bailey wasted no time making Washington regret it. In his second season, he set a new career-high with eight interceptions. The next year he topped it with 10.

In his entire career, Bailey racked up 52 interceptions and 203 pass deflections (most in NFL history). He had six different seasons with at least 15 deflections, and three of those topped 20 deflections. Insanity.

What’s even crazier, is he played at an elite level basically until the very end of his career – retiring after the 2013 season (three years after Portis).

Meanwhile, Washington was running through options at cornerback. Shawn Springs was their first replacement. He had a really strong first year with the team but was already 29. It went downhill pretty quickly after that.

They drafted Carlos Rogers, who was better than I think some people realize. His stone hands definitely turned some fans off to him. And he didn’t help his case by setting a new career-high in picks with six in his first season away from the team (the previous high was two).

They brought back Fred Smoot at one point as well, but like Springs he was nearing the end of his career.

The addition of DeAngelo Hall was nice. Again someone that I don’t think gets the credit he deserves. Had the tag of someone that got cooked a lot. And yes, he sometimes struggled in coverage – but he could lock people down too. He was a good cornerback for Washington for years.

Not even close to the levels that Bailey reached though.

This really isn’t meant to be a knock on Portis. I loved him, he was a lot of fun to watch and had some incredible seasons. But choosing a running back over a cornerback is just wild. Imagine Bailey paired with Sean Taylor – wow.

In his career, Portis made two pro bowls and was a second-team All-Pro one time. Just one of those pro bowls and that one second-team AP were with Washington.

Meanwhile, Bailey made four pro bowls and was second-team All-Pro twice in his four years in Washington. Then with the Broncos, he made it to eight more pro bowls. He also added two more second-team All-Pros and three first-team All-Pros.

Bailey was named to the first-team All-2000s team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh, and he’s now in the Hall of Fame.

Clinton Portis was really annoying for teams to have to try and stop for a couple of years. Champ Bailey was a migraine that wouldn’t go away for any opposing offense for 15 years. This one is a no-brainer. Maybe don’t trade a superstar cornerback (and a second-round pick) for a running back – no matter how good they are. That’s a lesson the Washington Commanders had to learn the hard way.