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COMMENTARY

Skinny on Vinny sounds good so far

August 17, 2008|Mike Wise | Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Knowing Vinny Cerrato, who watches a lot of ESPN, listens to Miserable Suburban Guy radio and pays close attention to what the masses think, it seems only natural to open up with an obvious one:

"So, how does it feel when you hear someone say, 'When are the Redskins going to get a real GM?' "

Cerrato pauses and thinks, reclining in his suburban office below a color-coded board of every NFL player's name and status. "I haven't heard it for a while," he finally says.

To be sure, he says he pays more attention to national news than the local yokels. Vinny has gone so far as to warn his mother to avoid certain URLs and Web links after she signs on the Internet in Florida and reads everything to catch up on her son's team.

"I told her which blog not to read," Cerrato said, referring to Jason La Canfora's Redskins Insider on the Washington Post website, which eviscerates Cerrato like Post TV critic Tom Shales used to eviscerate Kathie Lee Gifford's Christmas specials. "She gets mad when she reads those kinds of things."

It's only preseason, but Mary Cerrato cannot be too angry these days.

After Joe Gibbs left, her son was promoted in January to the job as Washington's top football decision maker. That's right, not director of player personnel. Or V.P. under Joe Gibbs and 10 other coaches. Nope. Mama Cerrato's boy is all grown up -- a real, bona fide GM, the big cheese who oversees all the team's day-to-day football operations.

Which meant that all the things Vinny used to get blamed for -- trades, losses and general organizational malaise and chaos -- well, now it's OK to blame Vinny.

Or praise him.

Of the team's 10 draft picks, cornfed Iowan Chad Rinehart has been a nice find on the offensive line and seventh-round safety Chris Horton has showed promise. Cerrato pried Jason Taylor away from Bill Parcells with little more than a third-round draft pick, acquiring the not-long-for-Miami defensive end on the same the day Phillip Daniels and Alex Buzbee went down and out for the season with injuries.

And all the guff he and owner Daniel Snyder took in the musical-chair coaching search of Jim Zorn nearly melted away the moment Zorn let the playbook breathe. Zorn opened up the offense and his mouth, showing an earnestness that's already won over skeptics of the neophyte head coach.

"People just needed to get to know Jim," Cerrato said. "Once you got to know him like Dan and I knew him, they would see the real Jim instead of criticizing him for not having the experience. Give him a chance to see what he can do, see who he is. And people have."

If Cerrato's true measure of a full-time general manager is to be shown anytime soon, it will have less to do with how he spends Snyder's money and more to do with the draft. This is a copycat league, and the moment the Giants won a Super Bowl with young, almost anonymous players such as Ahmad Bradshaw, Kevin Boss and other inconspicuous rookies, finding that diamond in the rough took on a greater importance in the NFL.

The big question in two years may be: "Did Cerrato draft well?"

For now, there is only his past to go on, specifically eight previous seasons in Washington under Snyder and his nine years with the San Francisco 49ers during the George Seifert and Steve Mariucci eras.

Vinny's best draft pick: "Probably Lee Woodall in the sixth round," he said. (Woodall, an unknown linebacker drafted from West Chester University in 1994, started as a rookie for the 49ers' Super Bowl team and made two Pro Bowls in an eight-year career.) "T.O. too." (The 89th overall pick in 1996, Terrell Owens, Cerrato admits, almost fell into San Francisco's lap. The 49ers were three picks away before Buffalo and another team passed on Owens.) He also drafted the late Sean Taylor, saying he would have been the best safety to ever play the game.

Vinny's worst pick: "I would probably say (Jim) Druckenmiller." (The slow-footed and not quite mentally tough quarterback bombed out after the 49ers took him in the first round of the 1997 draft.)

Best free agent signing: "Griff (Cornelius Griffin), London (Fletcher) or Shawn Springs," Cerrato said.

Worst? "(Adam) Archuleta. He just didn't fit in to what we were doing."

Brandon Lloyd goes down as the worst trade he can remember. Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Mark Carrier never came up, which seems fair. Although Cerrato was involved in those deals, Snyder committed the money and years to other team's aging stars that eventually crippled the team's salary cap.

From January on, as far as the front office is concerned, it's now solely on Cerrato.

"The hardest part of the new job?" he asked rhetorically. "Making sure everybody stays healthy."

The acquisition of Jason Taylor led to a few awkward moments with the media for Cerrato, who went before the cameras and microphones to say he had not spoken to Parcells earlier in the day -- and then admitting later on he had in fact had conversations with the Dolphins president.

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