The 5-7 Redskins have six teams ahead of them in the NFC Wild Card race. Even if they were to run the table in their final four games, they’d still have just a three-percent chance of making the playoffs.
Head coach Jay Gruden is stuck in the unenviable position of getting the most out of an already depleted roster that knows its playoff hopes are basically zapped. For those playing hurt, do they continue to suit up or pack it in for a healthy next season?
Jay Gruden has spoken, saying he’ll only shut down players facing season-ending injuries. He’s choosing to fight to the last down. And for good reason. Despite signing a contract extension through 2020 last offseason, the Redskins have made the playoffs only once in three — soon-to-be four — seasons under Gruden. Given team owner Dan Snyder’s predilection for firing coaches, Gruden has no choice but to fight for his job, to favor the immediate future over one that’s only contractually guaranteed.
“Jay Gruden’s looking around going, ‘Even though I got an extension, everybody gets fired from here, so I better squeeze out one or two more wins,'” said Rouhier.
“But they’re not having players come back and play because they’re fearing for their jobs, or because they feel like they need to win one more game,” said Paulsen. “That’s just the league. That is the way that you operate. You do everything you can every single week with whoever’s available to you to win, and then you try it again the next week.
“If you want to shut guys down when you’ve lost the season, you can do that. I don’t think anyone’s gonna take that lightly. But Jay Gruden’s not more likely to lose his job if he shuts down Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, and whoever else, because they lose one more game. If they go 0-4 down the stretch as opposed to 4-0 down the stretch, yeah, how Dan Snyder views Jay Gruden the start of the season can alter, but he’s not making decisions on health of players — really even thinking about it — based on his job status.”
Paulsen pointed out that some players, even hurt ones, have a financial incentive — some $60,000 in potential games-played bonuses — to play out the string.
“Some guys just like to work,” he said. “So you’re gonna tell someone who isn’t hurt, and is just going through pains of the end of the season like everyone else they see around them, a lot of them, not to play because they’re in pain?”
“Yes,” said Rouhier. “And here’s why: because that 60,000 would be nice, but I’d rather have you a whole other year where you’re making millions.”
“Yeah, but my point is, you keep saying that,” said Paulsen. “Morgan Moses is not less likely to be healthy in September by playing in the last month of this season, and if he was, he wouldn’t play. Like, the team’s not stupid. I don’t know if you’re assuming that the training staff is stupid and they’re risking him for next year, but, like, Matt Ioannidis, because he has a broken hand that’s wrapped, playing against the Cardinals and the Broncos is in no way putting him in jeopardy for the 2018 season.”
“Well, this is where we’ll disagree then,” Rouhier said.
“Well, you’re disagreeing with a lot of medical people who get paid a lot of money at Redskins Park,” Paulsen said.
“No, no. What I’m disagreeing with is the idea that a guy on two sprained ankles isn’t at further at risk for something else,” Rouhier said. “That’s what I’m saying. Morgan Moses goes down every single play. He’s rolled up on every single play. It can lead to terrible habits. Just ask Ryan Zimmerman. All it was was an ab soreness on his side that led to a shoulder problem that changed his career forever, and that’s not even an offensive lineman that’s going up against 270-pound animals every time. For Morgan Moses, who’s going out there on two hurt ankles, he’s absolutely at more risk.”
“So you’re gonna shut down pretty much everyone who’s dealing with anything?” Paulsen asked.
“Yes,” Rouhier said. “Absolutely.”
“That’s insane,” said Paulsen. “I mean, that’s just insane.”
“It’s smart thinking,” Rouhier defended. “It’s forward thinking, but no one does it.”
“It’s not,” Paulsen insisted.
“It’s correct,” Rouhier said. “And everybody does the tough guy, ‘You can play out there. You get out there and give it your all!’ It’s pointless. It’s a futile exercise.”
“So if you have a sprained ankle, you’re done for the season?” Paulsen asked. “If you roll your ankle, you’re cooked?”
“For Morgan Moses’ case?” Rouhier asked.
“No, I’m saying if Josh Norman rolls his ankle, and could hobble back on the field or could play the next three weeks, and is going to be in some pain during the week getting ready,” Paulsen clarified.
“Yeah,” Rouhier. “I’m not having a hobbled guy out there for no good reason, because a hobbled guy leads to bad things.”
“If you can be better in two weeks, then you can play in two weeks,” he added. “But if you’ve got a lingering injury, where you’re just sitting, you’re hurt all the time, I’m not bringing you back for a game that’s pointless. I won’t do it.”
“It’s my same thing for the preseason,” he said. “It’s why the league has adjusted to that. They figured out that you don’t waste bullets in week No. 4 of the preseason any more. Starters barely play now in Weeks 1 & 2 and the third game is the dress rehearsal. The league has wised up to that.
“You only get so many shots out of your gun for the course of your career. They don’t waste it on times that are irrelevant and don’t really matter. I know there’s some value. There’s more value in career longevity to me than there is, ‘Hey. We beat the Giants in Week 17 to go 7-9.’ Congrats. People are wising up to that, I think.”
After a pregnant pause, Paulsen returned serve. “I guess. Yeah. I just don’t. We disagree on this one,” he said. “The idea that you should shut down anyone who’s not 100 percent, in a sport where no one’s 100 percent right now, I can’t play along with.”
They continued snipping at each other into the next segment, but were able to agree the Redskins probably won’t make the playoffs.