Further, almost at the midway point of his fourth year in Washington, Shanahan is 23-31, eight games under .500. The truth is Shanahan’s current employer may be now scrutinizing him the way Denver scrutinized him before relieving him of his duties in 2008.
“Now you’re playing to see who obviously is going to be on your football team for years to come,” Shanahan famously said last November when his beleaguered team fell to 3-6 before a memorable run to the playoffs. “Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we’re at.”
Less than a year later, less than five years after the Broncos moved on, it’s time to evaluate the evaluator.
Even in the downtrodden NFC East, Shanahan very likely needs to go 7-3 over the remaining 10 games for Robert Griffin III and his teammates to get a second crack at the postseason.
Nothing pointed to playoffs after 3-6 a year ago, of course, but the schedule and the fan base were more forgiving.
The No. 1 question then — was Griffin a franchise-altering quarterback? — was answered. The No. 1 question in 2013 — will post-surgery Robert ever be explosive, old Robert again? — is gradually being answered in the affirmative as well.
But the next-most important issue for this franchise — whether Shanahan, in the fourth year of his five-year deal, has Washington clearly pointed in the right direction and is worth extending for at least two to three years — is still up for debate with 10 games and one season to go.
From the failed Donovan McNabb experiment in 2010, which included giving up draft picks, to the hard sell of John Beck that ended up producing 5-11 dividends in 2011, to his initial handling of Albert Haynesworth, Shanahan has had numerous questionable decisions in his executive role.
While he wasn’t responsible for signing Haynesworth or DeAngelo Hall, he was sitting in the room when the decision was made to try to beat the system in an uncapped year — a decision the NFL deemed was worth docking the team $36 million in salary cap room over two seasons. That organizational hubris may have come from other corners, but it nonetheless came under his watch as franchise architect.
There is no denying Shanahan, with his sense of structure and organizational skills, changed how the franchise was perceived locally and nationally after the Jim Zorn years. He also turned a relic of a roster into one of the NFL’s youngest.
There is Griffin, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris, Ryan Kerrigan and it appears Jordan Reed. There are also works in progress like Josh LeRibeus, Jarvis Jenkins or Leonard Hankerson, who have much to prove to show they belong here in five years.