Following a 4-0 start, the Washington Redskins have shown little to nothing, and have relieved Head Coach Jay Gruden of his duties – the first coaching casualty of the season. New HC Bill Callahan has to pick a starter for quarterback, yet first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins seems a long way from taking over. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2005, which is simply too long for a team with one of the biggest fanbases and three Super Bowl wins, but by firing Gruden, the Redskins are hiding the real problems that sit behind their franchise slump.
First, a little background. Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, since when the Redskins have gone 139-183-1, and had eight head coaches over 17 seasons. As an owner, he remains fiercely loyal to some, while others don’t get a chance. The frustrated fanbase are not turning up to FedEx Field which, prior to the Snyder era, had been accustomed to success and Super Bowls. Right now, that couldn’t seem further away.
The ‘highlights’ of Snyder’s ownership include him banning all signage from FedEx Field in 2009, after a poor start. This ban was lifted later in the season after an outcry. And when addressing the potentially derogatory term ‘Redskins’ to Native Americans, Snyder told USA TODAY: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple, NEVER. You can use caps.”
And then there is Bruce Allen, former General Manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won a Super Bowl, and Redskins GM from 2010-2014. He is now the team’s President and the second-most important voice in the organisation after Snyder’s.
Allen is instrumental in the new stadium project. FedEx Field has dated quickly and no one is a fan of it; it lacks charm, convenience and the modern amenities that fans expect, and Stadium Journey ranked it 30th of the 32 NFL stadiums. The lease expires in 2027 and it is highly likely Washington will move to a new stadium, a decision likely to be made within the next year. Allen is crucial to this project because of his political connections within the area (his brother George is a former Virginia governor), the people who will ultimately approve any construction and choice of site.
It was Allen who appointed Jay Gruden in 2014, then moved to the role of President and vacated the GM chair for Scot McCloughan. McCloughan lasted two seasons before being fired in mysterious circumstances, although there were whispers about alcoholism, something that had been hinted at in previous stops. Since removing McCloughan, no one has held the title of General Manager, leaving the team to be led by a Leadership Council comprising Doug Williams (Senior Personnel Executive), Scott Campbell (Director of College Scouting), Alex Santos (Director of Pro Personnel), Eric Schaffer (VP of Football Operations) and Allen himself, who has the final say on football operations.
This approach has led to some strange decisions. Kirk Cousins was franchise-tagged for two seasons, costing more to the cap than if they had signed him longer term, and then allowed to leave to the consternation of many and with seemingly no plan in place. As a replacement, they brought in Alex Smith who, while competent, is 34 and not the quarterback of the future. In return, out went a third-round draft pick and Kendall Fuller, a cornerback who has developed into one of the best slot corners in the game for Kansas City. Alas, Smith is now injured, which could not have been foreseen, but his contract hangs around the organisation like a millstone, holding them back from re-signing their own talent or going after the best free agents.
And that brings us to Jay Gruden. Gruden has a 35-47-1 record at the Redskins and was charged with bringing success back to a storied franchise. The team won the NFC East in his second year and many expected the Redskins to kick on from there, and go further into the play-offs. At the time, the team had a good base of players in Kirk Cousins, Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan. QB Cousins has now left for Minnesota, Williams is currently sitting out and Kerrigan has been good but not great. You could say they’ve all been “good but not great” as they needed better players around them to elevate their play – and that simply did not happen.
You can also point to more misses than hits with free agents and college draft picks. Since that NFC East win, the team have been stuck in no man’s land: not winning enough to take the NFC East or reach the playoffs, and not losing enough to have a high-enough draft pick to transform the franchise.
This season has not been one of ongoing mediocrity; in fact, it’s been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster so far. Trent Williams continues to sit out in protest at the medical treatment administered – or not administered – to him. He has been a cornerstone of this organisation and the team needs him back as soon as possible. There are also rumours that tight end Jordan Reed may retire, having been rushed back to health for several seasons and now paying the consequences.
At every level of the organisation, there are issues, some more serious than others, and there is so much to do, change and modernise. The Redskins operate like no other team in the NFL. At this stage, the Head Coach is essentially a puppet, having little say in team selection and personnel. Gruden hinted at this when grilled after the Week 1 loss where he talked of having to use the I-formation to maximise the talents of Adrian Peterson:
“He’s a first- and second-down back. So is Derrius (Guice)… so really, what do we have? About 20 first downs a game. Probably eight of those are passes, 12 of those might be runs, and Derrius can handle those 12… So if we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in a game in an I-formation then sure, I’ll get him up.”
An opportunity to become an NFL HC does not come up every day but any coach should think long and hard before jumping into bed with Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen et al. Someone once pointed out to me the reality of soccer: when you’re young, you follow the players and believe they make the difference but as you get older and wiser, you have the same view of the coach or manager. Eventually, you realise it’s about the chairmen and owners, who ultimately attract and pay for all the coaches and players.
For me, Snyder’s structure leaves a lot to be desired. The Redskins need a new GM and a new Head Coach, and both need to be trusted – and allowed the space – to make the changes necessary to bring back the glory days. Allen and Snyder aren’t going anywhere and for that reason, this position, when it inevitably become available, should be avoided like the plague.
Feature Picture – Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta