These sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation, said McCloughan has grown increasingly frustrated by ongoing friction with Allen over personnel decisions and with the team’s failure to come to his defense when former tight end Chris Cooley said on the Redskins-owned radio station that McCloughan’s drinking may explain his absence.
The atmosphere reached a boiling point late last month, three individuals said, and McCloughan left Redskins Park for three days in the week leading up to the scouting combine, which ended Sunday. Eventually, the decision was made that McCloughan would not attend the combine. His scouting staff didn’t learn of that development until boarding the plane to Indianapolis.
Allen, when asked in Indianapolis for clarity on the situation, declined to offer any. He said McCloughan could possibly return to work this week for the start of free agency. But instead, McCloughan has remained absent from Redskins Park, although he was seen at several Loudoun County locations this week wearing Redskins clothing.
Although the team has yet to make an announcement about a divorce from McCloughan (and he remains under contract), players and staffers — much to their dismay — have received indications the franchise will be proceeding without the well-respected talent evaluator. The team is now trying to figure how to sever ties.
It’s known internally that Allen will continue to oversee free agent meetings and acquisitions and draft evaluations.
McCloughan played no role in the decision to use of the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins, nor the contract extension of Coach Jay Gruden. The latter agreement was struck while McCloughan remained absent from the combine, the most significant offseason gathering for the league’s front-office executives to evaluate the top 300-plus college prospects in advance of the NFL draft, scheduled for April 27-29.
As the Redskins began to make roster moves this week during the league’s free agent negotiating window, McCloughan again sat out decisions to re-sign tight end Vernon Davis — although he was high on the 11th-year veteran — and to tender restricted free agents Chris Thompson and Will Compton. The absent general manager also watched one of his favorite players depart, as the Redskins declined to retain wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who Wednesday neared an agreement with the San Francisco 49ers.
Neither McCloughan nor his agent responded to messages left for them Wednesday.
The unraveling of the relationship between the general manager and the team comes less than eight weeks before the draft and on the eve of Thursday’s 4 p.m. opening of the free agent signing period.
It’s believed that the Redskins and McCloughan are in the process of working toward a buyout and, according to individuals close to the process, the Redskins have had internal talks about how to replace McCloughan. It was expected that such a move would come sometime after the draft but could also happen sooner.
When they do part with McCloughan, the Redskins are barred from hiring any currently employed NFL general manager because of the league’s tampering rules. That would leave them with limited short-term options. Among them: coaxing back A.J. Smith, a former front-office consultant who held the title of senior executive and retired two months after McCloughan was hired. Smith, 68, boasts more than 30 years’ NFL experience and spent a decade as executive vice president/general manager of the San Diego Chargers.
Another option: Reworking their current in-house structure and naming Scott Campbell, director of college scouting; Alex Santos, director of pro personnel; or former Super Bowl winning quarterback Doug Williams, senior personnel executive, general manager. Allen, 60, also served as Redskins general manager before McCloughan’s hiring.It’s expected that whether Allen opts for an internal or external hire, he will still remain heavily involved in personnel decisions, just as he did with McCloughan.
That involvement was believed to be one of the contributing factors to the deterioration of McCloughan and Allen’s relationship.
McCloughan, 46, was introduced as the Redskins’ fourth general manager under owner Daniel Snyder on Jan. 9, 2015. McCloughan won the Redskins job, and a four-year contract, by convincing Allen and Snyder he had a proven plan for restoring the three-time Super Bowl champion to prominence. That plan’s hallmark was building through the NFL draft rather than cherry-picking veteran free agents cast off by previous employers. At its foundation were big, physical offensive and defensive lines and a roster stocked with hard-working, tough-nosed brawlers who oozed a love of football.
McCloughan landed the job despite having been fired from high-ranking front office positions with the 49ers in 2009 and Seattle Seahawks in 2013 for alcohol-related problems.
At his introductory news conference, McCloughan was said to have received total authority over the roster. McCloughan did not receive full authority when it came to front-office hires, however, and the Redskins didn’t let him bring any of his former associates with him. Instead, McCloughan inherited Washington’s previous scouting staff.
It turned out McCloughan, who signed a four-year contract, didn’t actually have full control of the roster either. He at times had his personnel decisions overruled by Allen, who sometimes pursued his own preferences and other times sided with Gruden.
When it came time to form the initial 53-man roster for the 2016 season, people familiar with the deliberations said some of the decisions McCloughan lost out on included the calls to keep center Kory Lichtensteiger and linebacker Trent Murphy on the roster, as well as aging nose tackle Kedric Golston over free agent signing Cullen Jenkins. Golston wound up missing the season because of injury, and the Redskins promptly re-signed Jenkins.
When it came to backup wide receivers, McCloughan also preferred speedy wide receiver Rashad Ross to coaching staff favorite Ryan Grant. Although Gruden and McCloughan clashed over the two, McCloughan deferred to the coach, and Ross spent much of the year behind Grant before getting cut late in the year.
McCloughan was said to have come under further scrutiny from Allen once wide receiver Josh Doctson — selected in the first round of the 2016 draft despite more pressing needs on defense — was placed on injured reserve midway through the season, having missed all of training camp and preseason while playing in just two regular season games because of perplexing Achilles’ tendon injuries.
Exacerbating the Doctson decision was the fact Washington’s defense struggled mightily, ranking near the bottom of the league in many key statistical categories. Those woes cost the team several close games, and Washington missed the playoffs by just one game.
Allen also disapproved of McCloughan’s hands-on approach with players. At one point late in the year, a frustrated defensive back left practice with the session in progress and retreated to the locker room. McCloughan went to retrieve him, telling the player to come to his office so they could talk. Allen, according to two people, later reprimanded McCloughan, cursing at him and telling him never to go in the locker room again.
The handling of Cousins and his contract also represented an area of disagreement. McCloughan had told people around the league that if he had full control, the Redskins would have signed the quarterback to a multiyear contract in 2016, avoiding the use of two straight franchise tags with long-term resolution. That angered Allen, who in turn started blaming his general manager in league circles for all of the negative media leaks about Cousins. Allen publicly has taken an “all in” approach on the quarterback. But sources say he is still hesitant to give the quarterback a lucrative multiyear deal.
McCloughan entered his third offseason with the team feeling greater pressure, people familiar with his thinking say. And Allen — perhaps jealous, as some within the organization believed, of McCloughan’s standing with players, fans and media for transforming the roster — further tightened the screws on his general manager. Allen even barred him from meeting with the media to give his usual postseason evaluation and offseason outline at January’s Senior Bowl.
The following week, team PR relayed from Allen that McCloughan would not be permitted to speak to reporters at the combine. No reason was given. But team radio station talk show host and former Redskin Cooley speculated it could have had to do with a possible alcohol relapse. The Redskins never issued a statement defending McCloughan, and Cooley — who drew criticism for making what was viewed as a reckless statement — wasn’t reprimanded.
It was widely known around the league that McCloughan had never stopped drinking even after joining the Redskins. However, several peers, when asked, all agreed they didn’t believe McCloughan’s drinking ever hindered his job.
Frustrated by ongoing frictions with Allen and the lack of a team response to Cooley, McCloughan reached his boiling point, three different sources said, and he left Redskins Park for three days in the week leading up to the combine and eventually the decision was made he would not attend the event. It was the first clear sign the relationship between the GM and the Redskins may be too damaged to repair.
Master Tesfatsion contributed to this report.