What’s the one commodity Mike Shanahan could sell near the end of his second disappointing season in charge of the Washington Redskins? Hope. Hope in young playmakers on both sides of the ball. Hope in an improving defense. Hope in the future of a real foundation.
Now, what’s the one commodity the coach and franchise architect literally just saw go up in smoke?
Short view: The suspensions of Trent Williams and Fred Davis for violating the league’s drug-testing policy cost them millions of dollars in their NFL careers and mountains of respect in the locker room.
Long view: Williams and Davis getting exposed as routinely getting high just sent these Redskins to a new low. The players Shanahan could point to entering this season as potential cornerstones of something special — Davis and Williams on the offense, LaRon Landry on defense — now represent huge financial risks that could blow up in the organization’s face. Another positive drug test for Williams or Davis means one-year automatic banishment from the NFL; Landry’s physical problems make a long-term commitment to him perilous.
The loss of Davis and Williams brings into focus not just what’s gone but troublingly what still may be here: the idea that Redskins Park isn’t a place where all employees take their jobs seriously enough to keep this from happening.
(Note to the decriminalization-of-pot crowd, stop already. All due respect, but this isn’t about how harmless you believe your drug of choice is relative to painkillers, alcohol or league-sanctioned cortisone shots; it’s about the de-stupidization of two young knuckleheads whose relationship with marijuana somehow became more important than their livelihood or their team. Period.)
Beyond obvious roster needs — a franchise quarterback, a couple of playmaking wideouts, two starting offensive linemen, a No. 1 cornerback — you know what’s the overlooked story of the Redskins’ offseason? Whether London Fletcher will return in 2012. If you were 36 and led the NFL in total tackles and showed no signs of slippage, would you return to this? If you were a consummate pro, would you return to an environment where collective goals are undermined by individual irresponsibility?
Personally, if I knew I had maybe a two- to three-year window at tops to win another Super Bowl, I would thank the organization and run like hell to see if I could play among grown-ups.
The truth: After Williams and Davis showed their inability to truly lead, the Redskins and Shanahan need Fletcher right now more than he needs them.
Either way, Shanahan is entering his third season with the walls closing in.
What Davis and Williams hurt most in Ashburn this week is the now-accepted-as-fact notion that the culture has changed. Are the Redskins more professional and disciplined under Shanahan? Washington is 15th in the league in yards penalized, middle of the pack, and minus-13 in turnover differential, tied with the winless Colts for last in the league.
Jettisoning Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb were clear additions by subtractions. Yes, the Redskins morphed into a bad football team again. But at least they were a boring, bad football team — nary a sideshow developing off the field.
That can’t be said anymore. The circus returned the moment Davis and Williams were suspended, the moment the jokes began about whether a Wednesday appearance at the 9:30 Club by cannabis connoisseur Snoop Dogg was a scheduled benefit for the suspended players. The humor was reminiscent of the Haynesworth-out-of-shape jokes that last season catapulted into absurdity (okay, talk-radio absurdity).
The defense is a bit better. The salary cap appears in better shape. But at 4-8, the belief that there is both a plan and promise is dying daily. The Redskins have four games without their best offensive lineman and most healthy playmaker to show they have not regressed after 6-10 a year ago.
Midseason 2012 will be the halfway point of his five-year quest, 21 / 2 years of Shanaplan. In my book, he has 12 more games to get back on course: four this season and eight next year. If this franchise is still regressing, he might as well count the days.
Shanahan needs everything to fall right — the draft, his decision to keep or discard Davis and Landry this offseason, the health of Chris Cooley — to stem the scrutiny.
Much will be learned about Shanahan in how he handles Davis and his contract situation this offseason. On one hand, Shanahan the coach can’t afford to get rid of one of his few consistent offensive performers — not now. On the other, what message would be sent by rewarding a guy whose stupidity derailed what had been a breakthrough season individually?
The dilemma isn’t about whether to cut or sign Fred Davis. It isn’t about what will happen in the last four games of this season.
It’s about what the man in charge sees when he looks at his enterprise in Ashburn: a roster that needs retooling or a culture that needs transforming?