The Redskins are a bad football team but a good soap opera

Updated: December 8, 2013


The Washington Redskins are a complete mess. They are bad on offense. They are worse on defense. Their special teams are the absolute worst in the NFL — by a sizable margin. And if the team’s complete meltdown on the field today — where a number of players appeared to quit and head coach Mike Shanahan admitted he did not have the team prepared to play — was not enough, the Redskins also have a real soap opera bubbling away off the field. Of course they do. They’re the Redskins. Why do the simple when you can do the complicated? Why not embarrass yourself if you can? Why not air all your dirty laundry?

The latest turn in As The Redskins Turn came this morning when ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote that Mike Shanahan considered quitting at the end of the 2012 season because he was disgusted and dismayed by the way team owner Dan Snyder was running the team.

The source said Shanahan had grown tired of the way Snyder empowered Griffin and openly esteemed him above all other players. Shanahan didn’t blame Griffin but did blame Snyder for creating an atmosphere that Shanahan did not believe was conducive to winning. Shanahan privately told people close to him that he felt Snyder’s behavior with regard to Griffin was a “complete farce.”

In spite of that, Shanahan believed he would be leaving the team on a very positive note, as the Redskins had won the NFC East in his third year as their coach and were preparing for a playoff run. He believed the team had come together and shown strong character during the seven-game winning streak on which it ended the regular season.

But when Griffin injured his knee in that playoff loss, a source said, Shanahan changed his plans. He believed leaving at that point was no longer an option. He didn’t want the general public, or possibly even his players, to think he left because of Griffin’s injury.

Contacted this weekend about this information, Shanahan declined to comment.

Through team spokesman Tony Wyllie, the Redskins said, “That story is ridiculous.”

A team source said Shanahan had grown weary by January of the way Snyder treated Griffin, empowering his quarterback and helping make him feel bigger than the team. The issue apparently carried over into the offseason and into this season.

Snyder regularly sent his security team to accompany Griffin when he went out in Washington. Snyder’s personal driver was spotted picking up Griffin’s then-fiancee (now wife) at road games.

But it wasn’t just Snyder’s relationship with Griffin that irked Shanahan. It was also the way in which he dealt with employees who had less star power than his star quarterback, sources said. After Kirk Cousins relieved an injured Griffin last December in Cleveland and led Washington to a 38-21 victory over the Browns, players and coaches spotted Snyder standing at the quarterbacks’ lockers, talking only to Griffin while, one source said, Snyder “didn’t acknowledge” Cousins.

To me, this story looks like it was obviously planted by Mike Shanahan himself or by another at his direction. I find the notion that Shanahan would quit after last season — walking away from $7 million this season and $7 million next season — to be completely absurd. Coaches just do not walk away from $14 million that is guaranteed as long as they either show up for work or get fired by their employer. So, I’m not buying that part of the story — that Shanahan was prepared to resign.

What I do believe, however, is the stuff about Snyder hobnobbing with RG3, treating him differently than other players, creating a tiered star system on the team. Remember, Snyder is:

the person who went to an offseason movie screening with RGIII, who went to an offseason Cafe Milano dinner with RGIII, who went to an offseason fundraiser with RGIII, who dined with RGIII in Richmond, who joked with RGIII at a luncheon, who was asked to dance at RGIII’s wedding.

ESPN reporter Adam Schefter told local sports writer and radio host Thom Loverro that the perception that RG3 and Snyder have a special relationship is accurate.

“That’s true,” Schefter said. “That’s not a perception. That’s true. That’s a fact.”

“That’s different from maybe other owners might have with their quarterbacks?” Loverro continued. “I’m assuming maybe different from what Pat Bowlen and John Elway had in Denver. I mean, do you think that complicates [the Shanahan-RGIII dynamic]? Do you think that maybe empowers Robert if there is a dispute, to feel that he can push his will?”

“I think both of those statements are true,” Schefter said. “I think it complicates it, and I think it empowers Robert. Yes. I think both those things are true. Now, Dan Snyder is a different owner than a lot of other owners, so he doesn’t conduct his business the way that Pat Bowlen conducts his business or the way that some other people conduct their business. Dan has been a tremendously successful business man, so it’s hard to argue about what he’s done and the way he’s handled his business, to me. But, saying that, yes, I do think that that has empowered RGIII. Yes.”

I believe it because it fits Snyder’s previous method of operation. Snyder went behind the back of his first coach, Norv Turner, to communicate with players. Snyder was notoriously chummy with former Redskins tailback Clinton Portis, who called Snyder the best owner in sports. Portis’ close relationship with Snyder was a frequent topic of conversation around the Redskins and Joe Gibbs referred to Portis as the team’s assistant general manager because of the running back’s frequent conversations with the owner about personnel decisions. Even Joe Gibbs didn’t get the respect from Dan Snyder that a  head coach deserves from a team owner.

Of course, the Redskins are livid about this story Shanahan planted with ESPN.

NFL Media’s Jeff Darlington reports that Redskins owner Dan Snyder is “pissed” with the current state of the organization, according to a team source. Darlington notes that some members of the staff are bracing for Shanahan’s firing to happen Sunday night. Those beliefs are based on Snyder’s current demeanor during conversations with members of the staff.

This is snapping the already-frayed ties between coach and owner:

According to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, some in Redskins management were angered by a report that Shanahan considered quitting his job after last season because of Snyder’s relationship with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. Some Redskins officials questioned the timing and motivation behind those sentiments becoming public, the people with knowledge of the situation said, and added that a parting of the ways between the team and Shanahan appears increasingly likely.

“I don’t know that it can be fixed now,” one of those people said.

Multiple people with knowledge of the thinking of Redskins officials said members of the team’s management wonder whether Shanahan is hopeful of leaving the organization to be a candidate for the Houston Texans’ head coaching vacancy. ..

One person close to the situation called members of the Redskins organization furious and bewildered at Shanahan over the ESPN report and suspicious that the information originated with Shanahan.

[If Mike Shanahan thinks he can get out of Washington, D.C. and head down to the Houston Texans, who are currently in position for the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, he might want to think again. Trusty Houston sports writer John McClain reports that Shanahan will not be a candidate for the vacant Texans job.]

All this is gaining traction, in part, because Shanahan pointedly refused to deny the story, issuing a “no comment” when questioned about it. Redskins team spokesman Tom Wyllie said Shanahan would address the situation after the game today, but that didn’t happen. In response to a question about his relationship with Dan Snyder and the veracity of Dan Graziano’s report, Shanahan said: “It’s not the right time and place to talk about something that happened a year ago.” Moments later he added: It’s not the right time and place to talk about my relationship with Dan Snyder.” So the Redskins wanted Shanahan to bat down the Graziano story and twice now he has refused to do so.

Shanahan also refused to name a starting QB for next week’s crap-fest against the 3-11 Atlanta Falcons. The Shanahan-RG3 relationship, which has obviously been strained, but is now far more poisonous than ever, is central to this drama. Shanahan bet everything on the trade for Griffin and a year ago it looked like a brilliant gamble. A year later, it looks like a catastrophe for the coach. The sophomore quarterback seems upset by the entire situation. It’s clear he wants to get his side of the story out, but feels constrained by circumstances. “I’m getting frustrated now, too, and trying to hold everything back,” said Griffin after the game today. “Some things are allowed to happen and we can cut a lot of this stuff out and it is not being cut out. I don’t know what else I can do about that. It is very unfortunate.”

A real problem the Redskins face is that teams need stars to win games, but Redskins stars quickly find they have a best friend in the owner and don’t need to particularly concern themselves with what the head coach thinks. I saw Redskins players ignore former head coach Jim Zorn during practices because they knew the coach was a powerless puppet — he could do nothing to them without the consent of the owner. The Redskins need stars but the stars — whether it is Clinton Portis or RG3 — have the ability to undermine the coaches who need to exercise authority over the roster. It’s a problem that will persist as long as Dan Snyder owns the team or changes his ways. And there are no indications Snyder plans to change his ways or sell the team.

So, we’re looking at the Redskins starting all over in 2014. There will surely be a new head coach of the Redskins in 2014, something fans of the team are used to by now. Dan Snyder has had seven head coaches since 1999 and the only one who left with a winning record was the one Snyder didn’t hire — Norv Turner. [Turner went 17-12 in 1999-2000 for Snyder's Redskins.] There is no sign Snyder makes any connection between his ownership of the team and the constant failure of every coach he hires. The result of that is lots of losses and this:

Empty FedEx Field v. Chiefs

In addition to coaching the team, Shanahan has also had final say over all personnel matters. What happens now? Surely, Dan Snyder will be tempted to step back in and start playing fantasy football again. He fired Marty Schottenheimer because Marty wasn’t letting him have any fun with his expensive toy. Snyder yearns to do what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has failed to do — win a Super Bowl with the players he picks and be taken seriously as an NFL personnel guy. It’s unlikely Snyder would exhume Vinny Cerrato, but would anyone really be shocked if Snyder went back to playing amateur GM? It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a loud voice in Snyder’s head telling him that if he’s going to be the owner of a 3-13 team, he might as well be the GM of the team, too. At least that’s more fun — during the offseason, anyway. This is what must be avoided. The Redskins have a general manager in Bruce Allen, but he’s more of a contracts and finance guy, not a personnel expert. Since his fingerprints are not all over the roster, it’s certainly possible to see Allen surviving this debacle.

One must hope that a real general manager will be hired or Morocco Brown, Washington’s Director of Player Personnel, is given the roster-building duties. The problem is that Snyder likes to hire big name coaches — guys who have already won a Super Bowl or two and are just chasing dollars in D.C. The other problem is that Snyder still likes stars. He likes them a lot. He likes them more than his coaches.