Now he, like several of his teammates, is left wondering whether the team’s next coach will feel the same way.
“It’s a tough situation,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to really understand that you made it to the league, you are a good player, but you also have got to understand in this business, coaches have their guys that they like. If he likes you, it doesn’t mean the next coach will. … You just never know.”
While the early-season change from Gruden to interim coach Bill Callahan brought immediate adjustments for the organization, uncertainty looms over the rest of the season for several players and coaches who don’t know how — or if — they will fit in under the next coach. The final seven weeks will be a time for many to try to prove their worth to whoever takes over next.
Thompson came into the season knowing this was a possibility. He was aware that Gruden was on the hot seat, and that he was set to be a free agent after the season. Now Gruden is gone, and Thompson has missed the past three games with a toe injury. Additionally, the organization has spent draft capital on running backs Derrius Guice and Bryce Love in the past two offseasons.
“This could be my last year,” Thompson said. “It’s hard not to think about it, especially in my situation. I’ve been here my whole entire career. Do I want to leave? No. I don’t want to go anywhere. But I also understood and know that if I didn’t stay healthy, chances were slim. … I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Quarterback Colt McCoy is another Gruden favorite facing an unknown future. He endured a grueling recovery in the offseason after the broken leg he suffered in December required multiple surgeries and caused setbacks that lasted into 2019 — costing him the starting job he appeared to have won early in training camp.
Once McCoy was healthy enough to return, Gruden named him the starter against the New England Patriots, but after a 33-7 rout that dropped the Redskins to 0-5, Gruden was fired and Callahan demoted McCoy to third-string. He has been inactive for all but one of the past four games.
“It’s been hard for me,” McCoy said. “I came off a start and then I wasn’t dressing after that. That, obviously, has been something I had to work through and be a professional about. … I’ve just tried to keep my head to the ground and keep working and keep being a great teammate. And whatever role I’m asked to be in, I’ll do it.”
McCoy will be a free agent after this season, his sixth in Washington. He and Gruden were close, and the conditions seemed to be set up this offseason for him to get a final shot at earning a starting job. Now he knows he could be playing elsewhere next year.
“I know that I can play,” McCoy said. “I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this point.”
Wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. signed a five-year, $40 million contract before the 2018 season to add a speed dimension to Gruden’s offense. There were flashes of Richardson beginning to fit in last year, but a shoulder injury lingered and he landed on injured reserve. Richardson has been a virtual nonentity in the offense this season, and he didn’t have a reception in Callahan’s first two games as interim coach, during which Washington focused on its running game.
“I’m trying to figure out what my role is in this offense and the direction we’re going,” Richardson said. “If we’re going to run the ball more, I know my role in that run game. I’ve got to find my role in the pass game.”
Richardson’s contract puts him in an unsteady position. There is no guaranteed money in the final three years of his deal, making him a candidate to be released after this season for salary cap reasons. His cap number rises from $7.07 million in 2019 to $8.5 million in 2020 and to $10 million in 2021 and 2022, according to OverTheCap.com, and he hasn’t put up the kind of numbers that are likely to impress a new coach.
“Thinking about the business side, yeah, it’s challenging at times because so much is out of my control,” Richardson said. “I’m playing for my future in terms of being a part of the future plans of this organization. … That vision is blurred because of the position I play. There’s only so much I can do without the ball.”
Players aren’t the only ones feeling the effect of the coaching change. Callahan will receive consideration for the full-time job depending on how the team performs for the rest of the season. Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell finds himself in a strange predicament. Many consider the 34-year-old a bright offensive mind, drawing comparisons to past Redskins assistants who went on to become head coaches, including the Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay and the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan, and he is expected to be considered for the head coaching job at season’s end.
At the same time, however, O’Connell is a first-year coordinator who only began calling plays after Gruden was fired. Like the players, he is in the midst of an 11-game audition — one that could end with him becoming a head coach, remaining with Washington as an assistant or looking for a new job.
“The comparisons [to other coaches] are something I’m really, really humbled by because I know I’ve learned so much just by watching those guys and … what their teams have done since they became head coaches in this league,” O’Connell said. “But it’s still something where I’ve got a long way to go just in my own role, the role that I’m in right now, making sure I do the best possible job that I can do right now.”
Several Redskins players and coaches could say the same thing as they work under a cloud of uncertainty during the second half of the season, knowing their performance will be evaluated by the next head coach.