As if it matters. In the moment, fine, sure. Let’s discuss the two-year contract extension the Washington Redskins granted Coach Jay Gruden over the weekend and acknowledge that it removes some of the burden of 2017 being a save-your-job season. Sing yourself to sleep with that lullaby if you must.
But stability? Puh-leeze. The only person for whom Jay Gruden’s contract extension provides stability is Jay Gruden.
Understand it, though, in the following context: This is an organization that so regularly achieves Hall of Fame-level dysfunction that no one decision, even involving one of the three most important positions in any NFL franchise (owner, coach, quarterback), can change that path. Two-foot swells don’t push an aircraft carrier off-course.
Gruden’s extension is a five-minute piece in a discussion that, if it touches on the proper topics, takes weeks to deconstruct. Others will follow. Allow yourself to be distracted by whether Washington will be able to keep either wide receiver Pierre Garcon or DeSean Jackson. Or neither. Or both. Get caught up in whom the team might select with the 17th pick in next month’s draft — and even who will make that choice. Debate, at the barber shop or the bar, whether the team will be able to come to terms on a long-term contract with quarterback Kirk Cousins — and whether Cousins deserves such a deal in the first place.
As if any of those decisions or developments could alter the direction of a franchise that, at its core, has consistently taught us how dangerous it is to hope.
Even Cousins’s situation, as fundamental as it seems to the future of the franchise, can’t overtake the themes that have defined this franchise for, now, more than a generation. It might seem redundant and a tad cruel to point out that the last time Washington reached the playoffs in back-to-back years was following the 1991 and 1992 seasons. Seemed like a birthright back then. Heady times.
Know how many franchises have gone longer without even a sniff of sustained success? One. That would be the Cleveland Browns. When you’re easily included in sentences with the Cleveland Browns, you’re achieving elite ineptness.
To believe that this contractual decision with the coach matters — writ large — you must convince yourself that Gruden is a strong enough coach that he can somehow modify the very DNA of the entire operation.
Do you really get that feeling?
I’m sick of falling for it. Steve Spurrier was an innovative offensive mind and a charming personality. Disaster. Joe Gibbs was the messiah reincarnate. Couldn’t see it through. Jim Zorn was . . . whoa, man, that really happened, didn’t it? Mike Shanahan was a professional, Super Bowl-winning coach who wanted to enhance his resume to reach the Hall of Fame. He only damaged it.
And now, Gruden. Extending the 50-year-old — he’s now under contract through 2020 rather than 2018 — might have been the right thing to do. It might have been the wrong thing to do. But to see it as anything other than a Band-Aid is misguided. It’s simply a chance for the franchise to offer the fan base a topic of discussion that can distract from the overarching issues that define the team. These announcements might as well come in pre-dawn Tweet-storms; they are just short of propaganda.
Maybe this is a good time to point out the obvious — that Redskins President Bruce Allen, Gruden and Gruden’s agent came to the agreement about the coach’s extension at a scouting combine that wasn’t attended by the organization’s chief scout, Scot McCloughan. His title is general manager, but it’s unclear at this point what he’s allowed to manage — now or going forward. (What odds would Vegas give that McLoughan is looking down from the GM box when Washington opens the season in September?)
Take one of these as the most important development for Washington’s football operation this week: the fact that a coach heading into his fourth season was placed under contract through what would be his seventh season or that the executive who was, in theory, hired to oversee the choosing of football players did not meet or see a single football player he might choose.
You think Gruden’s extension is a bigger deal? I’ll offer this bet, then: You take Gruden reaching that seventh year as the coach here, and I’ll take anything less than that.
Comfortable? Didn’t think so.
There’s so much that makes Gruden’s new deal seem less substantive than it should. If the team was going to extend Gruden, if it believed in him so stringently, why wait until the offseason was more than two months old? (I suppose Gruden hadn’t mismanaged the clock at the end of a half in the interim, so that’s progress.)
Think about it this way: If Allen could have performed a quick and decisive evaluation of his coach after an 8-7-1 season (that included, we might add, two losses in the last three games that might fairly be described as “unforgivable”), perhaps the franchise could have used Gruden’s newfound security to lure one of the premier coordinators they coveted. But Gus Bradley chose the Los Angeles Chargers and one first-year head coach, and Wade Phillips chose the Los Angeles Rams and another first-year head coach, and Washington was left to promote from within Gruden’s own staff.
That’s a fantasy world. The reality is that, even if Gruden coaches here a decade and Cousins signs on long term, such moves can be viewed only as window-dressing. The environment in Ashburn is one that established, top-of-their-game coaches and executives run from, not toward. A middle-of-the-combine contract extension for the head coach not only doesn’t serve as a viable look-the-other-way ruse to take attention from the general manager’s absence, it also doesn’t address the only relationship that really matters.
Jay Gruden could coach here or not. Scot McCloughan could select all the players. Kirk Cousins could be the quarterback for life.
As if it matters. As the transactions come and go, never lose sight of the one fact that defines the Redskins: Daniel Snyder owns the team, and he doesn’t need a contract extension to make that the case for a lifetime.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.