The Washington Redskins’ latest crisis exposed many of the dysfunctional franchise’s problems. Following an embarrassing 3-13 season that resulted in the firing of Mike Shanahan, the Redskins are searching for their eighth head coach since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999.
While some around the league say the job has never been less attractive — “That place [Redskins Park] is like a reverse car wash,” a former Redskins assistant told me the other day. “You come in clean and come out dirty.” — the Redskins’ next coach will enter a better situation than Shanahan did four years ago. Robert Griffin III tops the list of reasons why the job has appeal.
Given the way the past year played out on and off the field, it’s hard to remember that Griffin, who turns 24 next month, is just a year removed from having the greatest season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Reconstructive knee surgery, differences with Shanahan and his play-caller son, Kyle, and Griffin’s massive ego contributed to his sophomore slump that also derailed the Redskins. For Shanahan’s successor, the good news is that the 2012 offensive rookie of the year still possesses the tools to have a successful NFL career.
Entering the 2014 season, Griffin will be 20 months removed from surgery. He figures to be physically sound and highly motivated. Taking over a team with a healthy and hungry starting signal-caller would make any coach smile. The Redskins could again have a young difference-maker at the game’s most important position, as well as a young backup quarterback with potential.
Kirk Cousins, 25, didn’t exactly create a quarterback controversy in his three-week stint as a starter — his closing clunker against the New York Giants was painful to watch — but he has shown promise in two seasons and is definitely a keeper. Cousins’s trade value has plummeted — “He turns it over too much,” a former NFC East player-personnel executive told me recently — but he’s more advanced than Griffin as a pocket passer. At the very least, Cousins is a decent insurance policy for an offense that has a few good parts.
After his smashing 1,600-yard rookie season, Alfred Morris rushed for almost 1,300 yards this fall. Any coach worth his salt would build next season’s offense around Morris. Top wideout Pierre Garcon had 113 receptions while establishing a new Redskins single-season record. If Washington’s quarterback play improves, Garcon could do even more. No offensive lineman in the league is more physically gifted than Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.
The Redskins have to shore up the offense — a new right tackle is a must — and the defense is a mess, but they’ll finally have the resources to seek help in free agency. After two years, the NFL-imposed $36 million salary cap reduction has expired. The Redskins are expected to have more than $20 million in cap space, which should go a long way toward filling holes.
In another positive player-personnel development, the Redskins will complete payment on the Griffin trade in the upcoming draft, when the St. Louis Rams will get their first-round pick (No. 2 overall). But in 2015, the Redskins will have a first-rounder again. Surely, Washington’s new coach will be pleased about that.
A roster with two talented young quarterbacks, other nice pieces on offense and money to invest in free agency — General Manager Bruce Allen should be able to sell that to someone. Allen figures to mention the Redskins’ improved facilities in his pitch, too.
A big part of Shanahan’s Redskins legacy will be the success he had in bringing Snyder into the modern NFL. Before Shanahan joined the organization, Snyder was known for paying top dollar for players and shopping for bargain-basement deals in everything else.
The Redskins were the only NFC East team that lacked an indoor practice facility, and Shanahan wanted one. The Redskins’ practice bubble was finished before last season. For years, players and coaches privately complained about poor food at the complex. At Shanahan’s request, Snyder hired a chef. The weight room wasn’t up to Shanahan’s standards, and the Redskins lacked state-of-the art therapeutic equipment. Snyder struck a deal with Loudoun County to modernize Redskins Park. That stuff helps teams.
Shanahan’s successor will inherit a club that went 0-8 in the second half of its 2013 schedule, finished last in the NFC East five of the past six seasons and had just one playoff berth and no postseason victories during that span.
But the Redskins have some things going for them. You just have to look hard enough. The right candidate will.