Just when the Redskins and their fans thought things couldn’t get much worse, they did. A 45-10 blowout by the Kansas City Chiefs served as the backdrop for more drama with Mike Shanahan, Robert Griffin III and Daniel Snyder at center stage.
You knew this ship was thinking. But it didn’t appear that things would take this ugly a turn, and this soon. But here we are.
There’s no point in going over that disaster of a game. So here are five observations/musings about the state of this team.
1. Shanahan’s move: Despite saying all the right things in recent weeks — that he would continue to coach this team as if a playoff berth still remained possible, that he wouldn’t go young and risk losing his team, that he believed that he had earned more time to turn this around — Mike Shanahan wants out. It’s painfully obvious, based on the report that leaked Sunday that he considered resigning last season because of frustrations over Snyder’s relationship with Robert Griffin III, that Shanahan would prefer Snyder to fire him so he can start over somewhere else. Redskins officials were furious over the report and believe that Shanahan leaked it in an attempt to force the owner’s hand. Why? Because just a partial handful of people would have known about the details, and because the Houston head coaching job just became available this past week and Shanahan already has been mentioned as a possible candidate. People close to the situation say Shanahan’s office was not at all packed up the day before or after the Seattle game. But it’s clear someone is now trying to revise history. Remember Shanahan’s reasons for sticking with Griffin even though he was far from healthy? He didn’t want to lose his quarterback because he needed him for the future. If you’re planning on quitting, you aren’t thinking about salvaging a relationship. Did Snyder and Griffin’s relationship irk Shanahan? Possibly. But, as the coach told me at the start of training camp, a head coach with a chance to win games with a promising team doesn’t worry about that. He focuses on the on-field product and his job. Funny how things have changed now that the ship has sunk. Shanahan didn’t deny the report after the game. He said now wasn’t the time to talk about something that happened a year ago. But Shanahan looked like a battered, defeated man Sunday night. He appears to be hoping to be put out of his misery soon.
2. Snyder’s next move: If you’re the Redskins owner, you’re frustrated because you have given this coach more power than any other coach that you’ve hired before, and you have given him everything he wanted in the past two years: franchise quarterback, No. 1 receiver, renovations at Redskins Park, off-site training camp … The list goes on. And none of it has worked, and that coach appears to want out and seems to be trying to save face by painting the situation to be very unfavorable. So what do you do if you’re Snyder? Do you fire Shanahan today? He and Bruce Allen remained at Redskins Park late into the night following the 45-10 embarrassment to the Chiefs and were believed to be weighing the options. If you fire Shanahan, you still owe him the $7 million for next year’s final season of the contract. So, do you make Shanahan suffer through the next three weeks and force him to quit? Do you work out a settlement where you agree to part ways and not have to pay the full $7 million? Shanahan said after the game that his focus is Sunday’s game at Atlanta. But now that all this has come out, do you believe him? Will you be set up for more embarrassments? Would an interim coach find a way to coax better effort out of this haggard group in the final three games of the season? But who would want that task? Jim Haslett, who already has been an interim coach once and is believed to have had regrets about doing so? Raheem Morris has been a head coach, but if things continue to end in ugly fashion, that could spell the end of his head coaching aspirations? Offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who has served as an offensive coordinator before, but no higher? Shanahan’s associate head coach Bobby Turner, who has been with him since Denver, but probably has loyalties to Shanahan? Kyle Shanahan certainly wouldn’t appear to be a candidate. Tough call here.
3. Griffin-Snyder relationship: We know that Snyder has a reputation of latching onto star players and developing divisive relationships with them. (See Clinton Portis and LaVar Arrington). We know that Snyder loves Robert Griffin III. The two had Thanksgiving together with Griffin’s family in Dallas last year after the Redskins’ victory over the Cowboys. Snyder and Griffin went to a couple high-roller events over the offseason. But how close are they? I’m told that during the season, the two have little contact. One person familiar with the situation said that Snyder, aware of his past missteps, made an effort to distance himself from Griffin during the season so he wouldn’t be perceived to be meddling. As one person put it, “There is no bat phone” for Griffin to call up Snyder whenever he’s upset about something. There’s no shot-calling on the quarterback’s part, and that Snyder hadn’t spoken to Griffin about the owner’s plans or the quarterback’s desires regarding Shanahan’s future. Will Snyder take Griffin’s pulse on the head coaching situation in the future? Probably. It’s not uncommon for a franchise quarterback to be asked what he thinks about a potential head coach. But will the two sit down and identify candidates together? Will Griffin give Snyder a wish list? Not at all.
4. Next coach: This will be an intriguing move. Does Snyder break out the checkbook and hire another big-name coach? Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? Tony Dungy? Lovie Smith? Gruden, who is close with Bruce Allen, is said to have no desire to coach next season and reportedly has told ESPN he’s returning to Monday Night Football in 2014. (That can change at any time, though). There’s no indication that Cowher is ready to come out of retirement. And given how long he’s been away from coaching (seven seasons), would that really be a wise move? Dungy has said he would never coach for Snyder; Marty Schottenheimer said that once, too, but Dungy does seem content to be off the sideline. There is no clear-cut hero in the mix. Smith is the least flashy of all those names. He owns an 81-63 career record. But he’s a defensive-minded coach, and it’s hard to say how much appeal he would have. Should Snyder go after a hot college name? Art Briles’s name has come up because of his history with Griffin, but that would only exacerbate the impression that the player, not management, is calling the shots. From talking to people familiar with the quarterback’s thinking, Griffin is aware of this and although he loves Briles, a reunion isn’t exactly something he’d want. And Briles himself has said that he has no intention of leaving Baylor. He reiterated this last night at a news conference Sunday night for the Fiesta Bowl, “I’ve had zero contact with anybody. I’m a Baylor Bear — that’s all I’m concerned about.”
5. Damaged goods?: This team at once appeared to be very close to contending. Even early this season, despite the slow start, there was a sense that the key pieces were in place on offense and that the Redskins could erupt and offset a shaky defense. You had an up-and-coming franchise quarterback, promising running back, receiver, rookie tight end, Pro Bowl left tackle … But now it’s clear that the holes are abundant and that this roster is in need of an overhaul. The Redskins have money to spend in free agency this year. But the needs are so plentiful, that the money will have to be spread out across the board and big-name free agents will be hard to afford. There are questions about Griffin’s ability to mature into an elite NFL passer, although I think it’s still early and a Cam Newton-like stride forward in Year 3 remains possible. Some candidates could look at this situation and think, “If Shanahan couldn’t turn this thing into a contender, and if there are indeed headaches with this owner and quarterback, do I really want it?” Money talks, though, at least most of the time. So, we’ll see how this unfolds. Never a dull moment. That’s for sure.
The Takeaway video:
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.
● Full coverage of the Redskins’ coaching situation and the loss on Sunday.
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