I should not be writing about the Redskins. The Caps are the best team in the NHL, the Wizards are in a downward spiral, and the Nats are about to rebound from a disappointing season — yet, here I am completely preoccupied with the Redskins who won’t play a meaningful game for six months.
Historically, this team would be making noise in March by overpaying free agents, but that was the old Redskins. The new ‘Skins frustrate local sportswriters by quietly going about their business, taking care of re-signing homegrown talent, and casually appraising serviceable journeyman. No steak and caviar dinners to woo veteran free agents looking for a big payday. No Redskins One Tracker necessary — your flight has been grounded, Mr. Snyder. We’re just looking for football players.
This ho-hum free agency approach isn’t why the ‘Skins are on my mind — they’re on my mind because the 2016 season will be the most important season in franchise history. That is not a hyperbole. The Redskins haven’t given fans much to be excited about since their last Super Bowl victory in 1991. Since ’91 more coaches and quarterbacks have come and gone than the previous 54 seasons combined. Stability has been elusive.
Dan Steinberg wrote an excellent piece this week on Robert Griffin III’s departure from Washington. One of the sad truths highlighted in the article is that for decades the Redskins had been looking for a quick fix and every time it ended in disappointment, encapsulated by the phrase, “years of organizational decay were papered over with glossy promises.”
Most people don’t realize that RG3 never stood a chance in Washington. The systemic failures were too far-reaching for any single player to overcome, and his kinship with the owner doomed him from the start. This organization ate him alive, as it had done to the many rays of hope that came before him.
While Chris Cooley and some others are kicking dirt on RG3 on his way out the door, I think we should be thanking the man. Like the many Bible verses prophetically shared on his Twitter, RG3 had to die so that we may live. We had to hit the bottom to learn our lesson — we had to break Daniel Snyder.
Since 1999, one man has been blamed more than any other for the Redskins’ struggles. A man, who many were convinced would never change. As RG3 electrified in the 2012 season, Dan Snyder sat in his Scrooge McDuck-esque money vault and reminded himself how great and smart he was. After years of being wrong about football decisions, he finally had a deodorant strong enough to cover his stench. Snyder, along with the rest of D.C., fell hard for Griffin — the man who had come along to save our beloved franchise. Meanwhile, sober football minds questioned whether the ‘Skins gave up too much to secure Griffin with the second pick in the draft, and whether his style-of-play was sustainable over the long run.
As Griffin’s tragic fate played out over the next two seasons, the Redskins, and more importantly Snyder, came to a crossroad — admit they were wrong about Griffin and go another direction or double down on the mistake and let him play out his contract. It was clear that Jay Gruden was ready to move on from RG3 after the 2014 season, but it appeared that Snyder was still torn. The most important decision Snyder has made in the entirety of his ownership was to leave all personnel decisions to Scot McCloughan — Snyder would not have done this if we had not hit bottom. This would not have occurred without RG3’s downfall and Snyder’s heartbreak. Subsequently, McCloughan’s support for Gruden’s decision to let Cousins lead the 2015 campaign changed the course of the franchise forever.
Kirk Cousins isn’t our savior. McCloughan is building a system that is bigger than any single player, regardless of their paycheck. The Redskins gave Cousins nearly $20M with the franchise tag for the 2016 season, but he still has plenty to prove to the Redskins and to the rest of the league. Cousins’ situation is a microcosm of the Skins situation as a whole — was the 2015 season a fluke or an epiphany? The public doesn’t believe in the Redskins, their 40-1 odds for the 2017 Super Bowl confirm that. Similarly, NFL “experts” still think of Cousins as a mediocre quarterback.
The Redskins don’t need to get to the Super Bowl next year to prove that they are moving in the right direction, they must maintain competency. One of the consequences of overachieving in 2015 will be unrealistic expectations for the 2016 season. The mood amongst fans is tempered optimism. The ‘Skins have a full slate of draft picks and plenty of cash to bolster the roster — why shouldn’t they be a better team in 2016?
This optimism makes for a potentially volatile situation. Years of heartbreak after glimmers of hope have prepared ‘Skins fans for an inevitable debacle next season. It has been 20 years since the team put together back-to-back winning seasons. If next year is a failure, we could be one bad season away from a Snyder relapse and the reemergence of Bruce Allen. That is what is at stake in 2016 and that is why it is the most important season in franchise history. Prolonged competence will keep Snyder at bay.
If the Redskins are able to maintain progress over these next few seasons, and once again become a perennial contender, don’t just look back and thank Scot McCloughan, look back and thank RG3 who broke the one man none of us could.