Ten years ago, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder fired longtime confidant Vinny Cerrato, replacing him with Bruce Allen as the team’s general manager. Snyder justified the move by saying “it was time for a change.”
It was hardly the last change. The franchise’s poor performance over the next decade subsequently claimed the jobs of coaches Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden, prompted incessant turnover in the quarterbacks room and caused a fan exodus away from home games and Washington-area television screens. At least one man has thus far been spared any consequences: Allen, the team president, charged with overseeing football operations and, as of this past January, the business side of the franchise, too.
That could be changing, too. The Washington Post reported that Snyder is planning a complete evaluation of the team, which could include a deeper assessment of Allen’s tenure than has taken place in previous years. NFL Network reported the evaluation could be the most serious threat to Allen’s job during his time with the franchise, and Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer told 106.7 the Fan that the search for a new coach “is going to be affected by the way that the building has operated for the last 10 years.”
With this as a backdrop, it’s time for a full and honest assessment of Allen’s regime. He has, at times, shared personnel responsibilities with Shanahan, his first major hire, and Scot McCloughan, who spent two seasons as general manager. For a decade, though, Allen has been the highest-ranking member of the front office under Snyder. And throughout his tenure, the Redskins have been mostly awful, in virtually every way.
Allen was hired late in the 2009 season, saying: “I like urgency. I like doing things sooner than later.” Starting with the next fall, the Redskins have a 62-94-1 regular season record under Allen, and their .398 winning percentage is the fifth worst in the NFL over that span. They also have the NFL’s fifth-worst point differential (minus-611) since 2010. Only the Oakland Raiders (62-95), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (58-99), Jacksonville Jaguars (49-108) and Cleveland Browns (42-114-1) have worse records and point differentials over that span. All four of those teams have more wins than the Redskins in 2019.
The Redskins have finished over .500 three times in Allen’s 10 full seasons, with just one campaign, 2012, producing 10 wins or more. Washington has just two playoff appearances over the past decade, both of which ended with losses in the wild-card round. Three-fourths of the league’s teams, 24 of 32, have at least one playoff win since 2010, and only six franchises other than Washington have played two or fewer playoff games in that span.
If you adjust each season’s point differential for strength of schedule, known as the Simple Rating System, three of the years under Allen’s watch, 2013, 2014 and this season, rank among the seven worst seasons in Washington’s 88-year franchise history. The other four are from the 1950s and 1960s.
The losing culture stems from a lack of talent — or at least production — which is a direct responsibility of the general manager or top football voice. None of the players on Washington’s roster from 2010 to the present have earned a first-team all-pro nod. Every other team in the NFL has produced at least two all-pros in that span.
Pro Football Focus’s film-based evaluations aren’t the only way to value players, but according to that metric, Washington ranked below average in player production during every season Allen has been at the helm except for one, a ninth-place ranking in 2016.
Quarterbacks and offense
The yearly debacles are due in large part to the inability of Allen and his staff to secure a franchise quarterback. Eleven quarterbacks have started at least one game for Washington since 2010 (tied for the fifth-most of any team over that span), producing a combined passer rating of 86.6, nearly a point lower than the league average over that span. The two best passing seasons over the past decade, 2012 (102.1 passer rating) and 2015 (102.0), were mostly achieved by Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. The former was the No. 2 selection in the 2012 draft — a move that cost the Redskins three first-round picks and a second-rounder; Griffin spent four years in Washington before being cut in 2016. Cousins was the full-time starter from 2015 to 2017 before contentious contract negotiations precipitated his departure as a free agent.
Since then, the Redskins have produced the fourth-worst passer rating in the NFL (79.6, compared with a league average of 92.4). Some of that underwhelming performance is due to the loss of Alex Smith, Cousins’s replacement, but not all of it. Smith completed 62.5 percent of his passes in a Redskins uniform for 2,180 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions, resulting in a 85.7 passer rating over 10 games before a broken leg ended his 2018 season. Before the injury, Smith was just the 26th-most valuable passer of 2018, per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. Pro Football Focus ranked him 18th out of 36 qualified passers.
Offensively, the team has scored 1.7 points per drive over the past decade, converting 51 percent of its red-zone attempts. Both of those marks are below average for the decade. Washington has scored an above-average rate of points per drive in a season three times over the past decade and had above-average success in the red zone only twice.
The Redskins have been every bit as bad on defense. Washington has allowed two points per drive from 2010 to 2019, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL, and has forced an opponent to go three-and-out less than a third of the time (32 percent, the eighth-worst mark).
According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play with a league average based on situation and opponent, Washington’s defense has finished the season as an above-average unit only twice during Allen’s tenure: in 2011 (14th) and in 2017 (11th). The other seasons, Washington’s defense ranked 17th or worse. According to TruMedia’s expected points added metric, which calculates the number of points scored above or below what we would expect given the down, distance and field position of each play against, the Redskins have the seventh-worst rate over the past decade. Washington has only allowed fewer points than expected per 100 snaps once during Allen’s tenure, in 2017. Every other NFL team except the Raiders has more than one defensive season in the decade with a positive expected points allowed per 100 snaps.
Five Redskins defensive players — Lorenzo Alexander, DeAngelo Hall, Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan — have made the Pro Bowl, although that’s partially a popularity contest.
Kerrigan might be the biggest front-office win of Allen’s tenure. The first-round draft pick was named to the all-rookie team in 2011 and was listed among the NFL’s top 100 players of 2015. His 88½ sacks are the second most in franchise history behind Dexter Manley (91), and no Redskins player has more tackles for loss than Kerrigan (113) since 1999, which is as far back as data is available. In fact, Kerrigan has more tackles for loss than the next two players on the list combined.
Aside from Kerrigan, the draft hasn’t reliably produced impact players. NFL analyst Warren Sharp pointed out in July that only seven of the 52 players drafted by Allen between 2010 and 2015 received another contract from Washington after their four-year rookie deals expired. Nearly two-thirds of those players (34 of 52) were out of the NFL or unsigned free agents this summer.
Another analyst, Jeff Feyerer, looked at the value of every NFL general manager from 2002 to 2015 based on their draft picks’ approximate value (as calculated by Pro-Football-Reference) and found Allen ranked 72nd among 90 general managers surveyed. McCloughan, ironically, ranked seventh. Allen ranked 55th in this group at finding talent in the first round.
Another of the best picks of the Allen era, seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams (a first-round pick in 2010), held out for most of 2019 and never played a snap amid a dispute with the front office over how Washington’s medical staff handled a growth on his head. Williams seems unlikely to play for Washington again, and he has harshly criticized Allen.
Two-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff (a first-round pick in 2015) reportedly was offered a long-term extension, but he and the club have yet to agree on a deal. Running back Derrius Guice (a second-round pick in 2018) has been limited by repeated knee injures, playing just five games over two seasons, and the early returns on quarterback Dwayne Haskins (a first-round pick in 2019) haven’t been encouraging. Haskins has completed 55 percent of his passes for 971 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions over seven games (five starts), producing a meager 61.2 passer rating.
Free agency and trades
Allen’s report card in free agency is also mixed, with the record trending toward bad and sometimes terrible. Notable signings have included Willie Parker, Larry Johnson, Rex Grossman, Joey Galloway, O.J. Atogwe, Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield, Pierre Garçon, Josh Morgan, Brandon Meriweather, Cedric Griffin, E.J. Biggers, Darryl Tapp, Shawn Lauvao, Terrelle Pryor, Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain. None made a Pro Bowl or was selected as a first-team all-pro in Washington.
Two of Allen’s signings that did work out were safety D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Zach Brown. Swearinger held opposing quarterbacks to a 78.7 passer rating in coverage over two years, and Brown was the fourth-best linebacker of 2018, per Pro Football Focus. But Swearinger was released in 2018 after repeated public comments about the team, and Brown signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in May. He was released by Philadelphia in October after six games.
The Redskins also traded a second-round pick and a conditional third- or fourth-round pick for then-33-year-old Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2010. McNabb was benched in favor of Grossman and traded to the Minnesota Vikings after the 2010 season for a sixth-round pick.
The big picture
Resuscitating a storied franchise is tough work, and fans appear to be checking out in droves. In 2010, Washington had the second-highest announced home attendance in the NFL (665,380 total, 83,172 per game). This season, the Redskins have the seventh-lowest home attendance (394,577 through six games, 65,762 per game). There appear to be broader consequences. In 2011, Forbes valued the Redskins at $1.55 billion, which made the franchise the second-most-valuable property in the NFL. This past year, the franchise was valued at $3.4 billion, dropping it to seventh. Those are staggering numbers, to be sure, yet the growth lags behind that of an average NFL franchise, which saw its value rise from $1.04 billion in 2011 to $2.86 billion in 2019.
None of these problems — the dearth of talent, the search for a franchise quarterback, the quest for postseason success, the lagging franchise value — can be solved overnight. But Allen has a 10-year track record, and it has left the franchise mired in mediocrity in every imaginable way.
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