Mike Shanahan-Daniel Snyder showdown has to end with the coach making his exit

The Washington Post's Jason Reid sees Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins's performance on Sunday as encouraging, but wonders if he can keep it up against the Cowboys. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist December 16, 2013

The high-stakes game of chicken between Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Coach Mike Shanahan figures to continue. At issue is the $7 million Shanahan is owed next year, which Snyder would rather not pay. Amid dueling reports, however, about Shanahan supposedly hoping to remain with the franchise and Snyder possibly being open to the idea, understand this: It would be bad for the Redskins if Shanahan stays on the job.

Over the weekend, people close to Snyder suggested there are scenarios in which Snyder and Shanahan could continue to work together, at least long enough for Shanahan to lead the team in 2014 and complete his five-year, $35 million contract. Hiring new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators, they say, would give Shanahan a fresh start. But even dumping his top lieutenants — including his son, Kyle, Washington’s offensive play-caller — won’t help Shanahan repair his relationship with Robert Griffin III.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Although Griffin has handled his benching for the remainder of the season professionally, he has concealed his anger publicly only for the good of the team, according to people familiar with Griffin’s thinking. Behind the scenes, Griffin and Shanahan haven’t been on good terms since about the middle of last season. By starting backup Kirk Cousins for the final three games — for all the wrong reasons, Griffin believes — Shanahan ended any hope of reconciliation.

Last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year does not trust the person who runs Washington’s football operation. For Snyder, that’s a major problem.

No matter who occupies the head coach’s office at Redskins Park next season, Snyder is committed to Griffin as the team’s starting quarterback. The Redskins gave up four high-round draft picks for the pick to select Griffin. Despite a sophomore slump in his first season after reconstructive knee surgery, Griffin has the potential for a successful NFL career. Forcing Griffin to continue working with Shanahan could ruin it.

Griffin comes from a military family. His background will help him soldier on until the season ends. It would be unreasonable of Snyder, however, to expect Griffin to spend another season under Shanahan. How could Griffin perform his job well if he’s always concerned about his boss stabbing him in the back?

Coaches and quarterbacks don’t have to be friends. In fact, some of the most productive coach-quarterback unions were volatile. Early in his career with the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre gave Mike Holmgren fits. Even during the best of times, Mike Ditka wanted to strangle Jim McMahon. Bill Parcells and Phil Simms argued regularly on the sideline while helping the New York Giants win championships. During their days with the Dallas Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman occasionally had Texas-sized disagreements. Conflict is inevitable when competitive people attempt to accomplish great things together.

For relationships to survive and grow, though, they must be built on a foundation of mutual respect. Shanahan appears to be using Griffin as a pawn in his showdown with Snyder. There’s nothing for Griffin to respect about that.

Some Redskins observers would argue that after Griffin’s poor season, no one should care what he thinks. In addition to struggling in the pocket, Griffin has had many foot-in-mouth news conferences. Griffin also had the greatest year by a rookie signal-caller in league history last season. It would be ludicrous to jettison him after one shaky season.

At the very least, the Redskins must determine whether Griffin can make the transition from being a great dual-threat quarterback to a strong one in the pocket. To do that, Griffin needs time to develop in a good working environment. It won’t exist for Griffin as long as he reports to Shanahan.

Griffin always has suspected Shanahan was eager to give Cousins a stretch as the team’s starter. Cousins’s uneven-but-encouraging performance in Sunday’s 27-26 road loss to the Atlanta Falcons has further fueled speculation about a potential quarterback controversy entering next season. On Monday, Shanahan said Griffin would be the starter entering the offseason but you want “legitimate competition.” Griffin has no reason to be confident a quarterback battle under Shanahan would be a fair fight.

In addition to the Mike Shanahan-Griffin problem, the perception is Shanahan quit on the team. Shanahan never denied an ESPN report he cleaned out his office after the 2012 season but eventually changed his mind about resigning.

Coaches demand commitment from players. They ask them to sacrifice their bodies for the team. If Shanahan was so close to walking away from the Redskins — and the remaining $14 million on his contract, which I highly doubt — how can they count on him if times get tough next season? And with as much work as the roster needs, the Redskins can expect more rough times.

When I wrote that Snyder should bring back Shanahan and sign him to an extension, the Redskins were 3-6 and coming off a promising outing on offense in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Since then, they’ve lost five more times to drop to 3-11. Meanwhile, the dysfunction in the organization has been embarrassing. Even Shanahan’s most vocal supporters (I was once among them) had to reevaluate the situation.

After everything that has occurred on and off the field the past six weeks, it’s hard to imagine Shanahan will remain with the Redskins much longer. But if Shanahan does come back, Griffin will have to watch his.

For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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