Washington Redskins’ problems run deeper than Mike Shanahan, or any head coach

The Washington Post's Mike Jones analyzes what a tough loss to the 49ers means for the Redskins and Coach Mike Shanahan. (Mike Jones & Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Mike Wise
Columnist November 26, 2013

Normally, the only silver lining of a 3-13 or 4-12 NFL season is the promise of a high first-round draft pick. So if things continue at this bang-up pace that’s really excellent news for the St. Louis Rams.

Look, before Daniel Snyder really answers the question, “Why would I want to keep Mike Shanahan?” doesn’t a more salient question have to be asked first?

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Like: Who else wants this mess?

Forget about Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher or any glitzy retread. Really, with all the non-football drama surrounding the organization, does Shanahan even want to stick around and finish the fifth and final year of his deal?

Anyone watching the Monday night fiasco saw a listless team and a crowd in a lifeless stadium streaming toward the exits at different junctures of the fourth quarter and should also realize this: Resurrecting Vince Lombardi and un-retiring Joe Montana would not change the fact that Washington is a bad team that can’t block anybody and can’t cover anybody.

Josh Wilson is not a starting cornerback in the NFL. He may not be a starting cornerback in the CFL. Tyler Polumbus is not a starting offensive lineman in the NFL. Chris Chester and Polumbus were not just outmuscled and outquicked; the right side of Washington’s line was physically emasculated Monday night. Trent Williams is the best Robert Griffin III has at the moment, but even he has looked as if he were sleepwalking the past two weeks.

A highly respected NFL mind recently told me, on condition of anonymity, that Washington probably has four genuine starters on defense — Brian Orakpo , Ryan Kerrigan, DeAngelo Hall and Barry Cofield .

After a solid 2012 campaign, Stephen Bowen has been a disappointment. Jarvis Jenkins shows signs of coming around, but it’s unclear whether any long-term investment is worth it. That Reed Doughty and Kedric Golston have managed to not just stick around this long after being taken in the sixth round of the 2006 draft but to actually start and carve out veteran niches for themselves is not merely a statement about their own resolve and heart; it’s an indictment of the players they have beat out to get those jobs and an indictment of the people that brought their potential replacements in.

Unfortunately, Jim Haslett is going to be scapegoated this season, whether Shanahan stays or not. Here’s just one reason why he shouldn’t be: His starting secondary at the moment (Doughty, Hall, Wilson and Brandon Meriweather ) makes a combined $5 million this season, just as much as one particular starting offensive lineman.

No creative thought or money went in to addressing the holes of this defense since Haslett was hired. It’s led to a predictable result: So many substandard players have led to so few wins.

On offense, Aldrick Robinson is said to “stretch the field,” meaning in NFL parlance he is a burner, a guy who has the speed to get behind any defensive back and haul in that long bomb from Griffin. You know what? So was Bob Hayes, but he could also catch.

If you’ve got Usain Bolt wheels but Braylon Edwards’s hands, who cares?

Niles Paul will be shown to be the Rock Cartwright of this era when all is said and done. Jack of all trades, master of none, he is simply a versatile, old-school football player who helps your team. That he is getting slammed today because he only takes kickoffs fielded at the 5-yard line straight ahead, barely back to the 20, isn’t on him; it’s on his superiors who let special teams slide during personnel evaluation.

Anyone who has watched London Fletcher and Santana Moss over the years would have ensured both players returned this season for the sole purpose that they deserved to be part of something special after being part of something so ordinary in Washington for too many years. But the drop-off in presence and contribution is so alarming at this juncture we’re way beyond, “Let’s win this for ’Tana and Fletch.” It’s now, “Thanks for the memories, guys. Sorry we couldn’t do better by you.”

The point is, other than winning football games there is no quick fix for what ails this organization.

So before the panacea of bringing in a new coach is entertained too much or the notion that the quarterback’s ego — not the flawed roster — is really the problem, Snyder should really give serious thought to what kind of short-term cure is out there that doesn’t have to tear down the foundation and start over again.

Because if wasting another year of Griffin’s prime, wasting another year of Alfred Morris’s churning legs, for the sole purpose of a rebuild after Shanahan is in the cards, fans won’t buy it; they’ve already waited too long and are sick just thinking about how cruelly they were teased last season.

Looking back, how higher expectations were ever foisted on this team, given what we know now about its obvious deficiencies, should demand a league inquiry. Really, beyond a more forgiving schedule how did essentially the same roster win those final seven games last year and seize the NFC East title on the last day of the regular season to complete a miraculous turnaround? Who knew that would be the fluke of the Shanahan Era instead of the first two seasons of overhauling and unpacking the misery of the past?

The one glimmering hope out there — the idea that one offseason of being able to spend millions on free agents taken away the past two years because of league-imposed, salary-cap penalties will lead to a harmonious 12-4 campaign a year from now — sounds so much like how this franchise used to do business that it’s scary.

Fourteen years running, money still hasn’t bought Snyder anything but false hope yet.

This is deeper than the coach and the quarterback. Much deeper. It always has been.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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