By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Of course Carlos Rogers is right when he says "it starts with ownership." It always does. The Steelers' success in Pittsburgh starts with Dan Rooney. The Red Sox' success in Boston starts with John Henry. The Clippers' incompetence in Los Angeles starts with Donald Sterling.
Rogers's statement to reporters this week carries some shock value because players very rarely, if ever, include the owner in the list of reasons teams can't win. Usually, players limit any mention of ownership to thanking the man who signs the check. But I'd better not hear anybody suggest Rogers's reasoning is flawed because the issues confronting the Redskins absolutely start with ownership.
The Washington Redskins, according to Forbes magazine's tracking of the value of NFL franchises, is the second-richest club among the 32 in the league. The Redskins were first last year, and if it wasn't for the Cowboys moving into that brand new stadium, the Redskins would be first again. You know which team leads the league in operating income by an impossibly wide margin? The Washington Redskins. That, boys and girls, starts with ownership, with Daniel Snyder specifically. Snyder, when it comes to generating income, is the best in the game.
Snyder, when it comes to getting his team to win football games, is closer to the bottom of the league. That, too, starts with ownership.
Just in case you didn't get to hear Jimmy Johnson on the Fox pregame show Sunday, I come armed with a transcript. The bet here is Johnson has had this exact conversation with Snyder.
"Realize that a great 53-man roster is what wins championships, not five or six high-priced stars. Dan Snyder builds his team like its fantasy football and that's a big negative. The Redskins need a GM who can prevent Snyder from making decisions while letting Snyder think he's involved. Who can work that magic? I don't know."
Game over! That's it. That's the only analysis you need to consume about what's wrong with the Redskins over most of the past 10 years and why it starts with Snyder.
See, Snyder is great at the business side of the Redskins but the exact opposite when it comes to the football operations side. Football isn't instinctive to Snyder and it's never going to be, no matter how many fat checks he signs, no matter how many times he sits and stares out at practice. Yes, Snyder knows a lot more about football than he did 10 years ago, but nowhere near enough to call the shots like Bill Polian, who has been NFL executive of the year five times and has had almost illogical success building successful teams in Buffalo (the Super Bowl teams in the early 1990s), Carolina (when the Panthers went to the NFC title game in the club's second year of existence) and the Indianapolis Colts, who have won one Super Bowl and could be working on another one now.
Me? I'd go to Polian and offer him $30 million to come and run my team, which is a $70 million savings on Albert Haynesworth, who is playing just more than half the plays. Jimmy Johnson knows exactly what he's talking about and Polian knows exactly what he's doing. (And another head coach with a Super Bowl ring recently told Snyder much the same thing.)
And if you can't get Polian, who would have no reason to leave what he's doing, then spend the time finding the next best thing to Polian. Actually, it could be his son, Chris Polian, who also works in the Colts' front office. A dear friend who knows the men who know personnel and are ready to build a football team tells me Chris Polian is atop a list of five guys he'd hire right now to run a football operation that wants to win and not just show: Eric DeCosta of the Baltimore Ravens, Mark Ross of the Giants, Rick Spielman of the Vikings and Tom Ciskowski of the Cowboys. That's his list, and I know if I had asked he could have gone 10 deep.
Going back to Jimmy Johnson, his analysis of the Redskins didn't just center on Snyder. Here's what else he said:
"[Jim] Zorn . . . he's not good enough to do the work that lies ahead. That's a negative. The scouting department . . . they are trucking around the country doing their job but no one in the D.C. office is trusting their work. That's a negative. The salary cap situation . . . well, that's a negative. The team is bloated with high-priced veterans. On the other side, how about young, up-and-coming players. Hmm, can't think of any . . . Jason Campbell is not championship material . . . Since the roster isn't where it should be, the Redskins need extra draft picks to rebuild, however they don't have any right now; that's a negative. To get any marks in the positive column there has to be a drastic philosophy change . . . "
And where would such a change of philosophy start? It starts with ownership, of course. And while Carlos Rogers might find himself in a pickle for saying so, that doesn't change the fact that his assessment is right on the money. Rogers, Johnson, they're both spot on. The Redskins' powers-that-be are good at directing anger at the messenger without ever taking note of the message, even if everybody outside looking in knows exactly what needs to change.