Tuesday marked the first day that Washington Redskins coaches and scouts regrouped at the team’s Loudoun County headquarters after a week spent scouring for top college prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
At noon, the NFL’s window for negotiating with free agents opened, giving a green light to front-office executives throughout the league to dangle contract offers to veterans they believe could help their teams.
But Tuesday came and went without General Manager Scot McCloughan, the man most responsible for building the Redskins’ roster, joining his colleagues at Redskins Park. Nor was he among the team’s contingent at last week’s combine.
McCloughan’s continued absence Tuesday, confirmed by a person with knowledge of the situation, did little to clarify the question of who is directing the Redskins’ roster-building efforts this offseason.
Redskins vice president of communications Tony Wyllie said simply, “We’re busy with free agency,” when asked about McCloughan’s whereabouts, declining to elaborate.
If team officials were busy, they were also quiet. They held no internal meetings to fine-tune their strategy, as had been expected. When meetings get underway, Bruce Allen, the team’s president (and also its former general manager). is expected to take over the leadership role typically played by McCloughan for as long as the GM is absent, according to several people inside the organization.
The Redskins made no discernible news on the free agency front Tuesday. While contract talks were permitted as of noon, no contracts can be signed before Thursday at 4 p.m.
At that point, it’s possible the Redskins will lose one, if not both, of their top two wide receivers.
At least four teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys — have inquired about DeSean Jackson, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. At 30, Jackson remains the Redskins’ most explosive deep threat, but team isn’t expected to want to pay what it would take to keep him.
The Redskins have expressed interest in wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. If Jackson departs, the need for a deep threat to open up the middle of the field for tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Jamison Crowder would be acute — and a role Goodwin could fill. Goodwin, 26, has spent all four NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills and recorded a career-high 29 catches for 431 receiving yards in 15 games (nine starts) last season.
Resolving the future of Jackson and fellow free agent Pierre Garcon are just two items among the Redskins’ extensive to-do list this offseason. Others include brokering a long-term contract with quarterback Kirk Cousins and deciding whether to bring back significant contributors such as tight end Vernon Davis and defensive end Chris Baker, among others.
McCloughan is not essential to hammering out contracts. That’s the purview of Allen and contract specialist Eric Schaffer, the contact point for most agents this week.
But McCloughan is essential to charting the Redskins’ roster-building philosophy and making sure that it is implemented.
Speculation about McCloughan’s status ramped up last week, once it became clear he wasn’t leading the Redskins’ delegation at the combine. It’s highly unusual for an NFL general manager to miss the gathering. McCloughan places tremendous importance on the chance to evaluate firsthand the nation’s top 300-plus college prospects.
Moreover, there were mounting signs of tension between Allen and his hand-picked GM. Allen’s explanation for McCloughan’s absence — that he was dealing with the death of his 100-year-old grandmother weeks earlier and would return “when things are handled”–only heightened the speculation.
Allen also barred McCloughan from speaking to media and canceled his annual state-of-the-team address at the Senior Bowl in January. After former Redskin-turned-radio analyst Chris Cooley raised the possibility that McCloughan was battling a recurring drinking problem, Allen made no effort to publicly rebuke the former tight end, who was speaking on the team-owned station, or publicly rebut the damaging remarks.
Speculation increased further Tuesday, as word of McCloughan’s absence from Redskins Park spread. Was it a formal leave of absence? A rift that could be mended before April’s NFL draft? Or is it a prelude to a dismissal barely two years into a four-year contract?
Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s biggest star and most ardent Redskins fans, voiced his concern about McCloughan’s future on Twitter and asked his followers to vote on whether his departure would be a good or bad thing for the team.
Tuesday evening, the Redskins’ own social media account posted three affirmations to its 927,000 followers: “Keep improving. Stay grounded. Ignore the outside noise.”
But it’s unclear whether NFL free agents weighing a potential offer from the Redskins against other offers will truly “ignore the outside noise.”
Will the outside noise that Redskins officials, by their silence, seem content to let build, affect Cousins’s enthusiasm for latching his future to that of the Redskins for the next several years — at any price?
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has a record of paying what’s required to land players he believes can help the team. And Allen is said to be exceedingly persuasive, as well, such as when he sent a custom No. 24 Redskins jersey to cornerback Josh Norman within hours of Norman’s unceremonious release by the Carolina Panthers last spring. The Redskins then dispatched the team’s private plane to Norman’s Atlanta home, along with their defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, to fly Norman back to Redskins Park. Before the cornerback had a chance to negotiate with his 10 other NFL suitors, he’d signed a five-year, $75 million deal.
McCloughan, among the NFL’s more respected talent-evaluators, has said from the outset that his contract grants him total authority over the Redskins roster under his contract, with final say on player signings and roster cuts. On many NFL teams, general managers are charged with acquiring players, while the head coach determines who stays and who is cut.
Staff writer Master Tesfatsion contributed to this report.