The Redskins will move forward this season under interim coach Bill Callahan, but the relevant questions about how the franchise proceeds have no clear answers. Who can Snyder convince to lead his organization? There are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs, as the cliche goes, but any sought-after coach who can exercise his preference would choose one of the other 31. What coach will risk his reputation to work for Snyder and, presuming he is not also canned, Allen? Every other head coach has left diminished by the experience.
Under those conditions, the hire could not be more important. The next head coach will have to develop a franchise quarterback. It will likely be Dwayne Haskins, the local product taken 15th in last April’s draft. But Washington is so bad this season that the Redskins might end up with one of the draft’s first two picks, which would give them the option of taking super-prospects Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama or Justin Herbert of Oregon.
Washington’s roster is bereft. The team’s management structure is murky, with franchise icon Doug Williams in charge of personnel, longtime executive Eric Schaffer running the salary cap, Allen making final decisions and no fans quite certain of who’s really picking the players. This arrangement has to compete directly in the NFC East with Howie Roseman’s front office in Philadelphia, one of the savviest, most up-to-date and forward-thinking in all of professional sports. It’s not a fair fight.
Unless there are more changes to come after Gruden’s dismissal, though, that’s how Washington will attempt to build something out of the current wreckage. Since Alex Smith broke his leg last season with their record at 6-3, the Redskins are 1-11. Losing a franchise-level quarterback can decimate any team’s hopes. But the Colts lost Andrew Luck to sudden retirement, and they are 3-2 after Sunday’s victory over Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Those Eagles won a Super Bowl without Carson Wentz.
It’s folly to compare Washington to teams of that caliber, of course. But losing Smith did more than set back the Redskins. It exposed their talent level, and it’s clear that talent ranks at the bottom of the NFL.
The only way that happens is from making bad decisions, born out of a bad decision-making culture. Washington is far from the only terrible team in the NFL, but the other terrible teams at least can see a path forward if they squint.
The Dolphins have actively torn down their roster to accrue draft picks and open salary cap space. The Jets just hired renowned personnel man Joe Douglas away from Philadelphia. The Bengals hired a young coach from the Sean McVay tree in Zac Taylor. The Cardinals just drafted Kyler Murray first overall and paired him with a new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, his talents are made for. The Falcons are cycling out of contention, but they have a franchise quarterback and a front office that stays on the analytical cutting edge. The Broncos seem rudderless under John Elway, but they hired a defensive coach to pair with edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Not all of those plans will work, and some of them are flawed. But they are clear, obvious ideas for how to succeed. In Washington, could anybody state the plan to rebuild and contend in one clear sentence? The Redskins under Allen don’t have a plan, other than to hope Haskins saves them and lifts a hollow roster.
In the NFL, implausible ascension happens all the time, and it can happen fast when new quarterbacks and new coaches arrive. Gloom can leave quickly. The Rams were boring and irrelevant for years, and within two seasons of hiring McVay they went to the Super Bowl with third-year quarterback Jared Goff. When an NFL team starts over with a new coach and a new quarterback, the changes are sometimes only cosmetic. But possibilities suddenly become boundless. Having coach and quarterback openings at the same time should be a recipe for justified hope.
But in Washington, Allen and Snyder have not given fans reason to hold even that belief. Firing Gruden is another sign Washington must think only about its future, and that this season is completely lost, three weeks before Halloween. Snyder and Allen have provided only reason for pessimism about that future. The coach is gone, but the people picking the coaches and the players and setting the culture remain. The restart is here, and the biggest question is still the same: What does it even matter?