For weeks, the Washington Redskins have braced for the four-game suspensions of two of their best players for repeatedly flunking NFL tests for recreational drugs. No one has been closer to the problem than General Manager Bruce Allen, who has been talking with Trent Williams and Fred Davis as the storm of disgrace — mostly for them but also for an organization that would employ such dopes — has approached and now come crashing around them.
Allen, whose Redskins roots run back to the ’70s when his father was the coach, says he’s run the range of emotions. He’s been sad, mad, concerned for the damage done to both the players and the team, and, ultimately, has been left feeling “disappointed on so many fronts that this occurred.”
Finally, on Wednesday morning, Allen had one last “very serious discussion” with Williams and Davis, a conversation that sounded like it was about as much fun as a lifetime of visits to the principal’s office.
“You hope they learned a lesson,” Allen said in a phone conversation Wednesday. “But it’s more than that. They are [supposed to be] role models. What does this do to how they are seen? It’s just awful, so sad — all the ramifications.”
After meeting with Allen, the two suspended players apologized to the whole team for penalizing them all with their unprofessional behavior, including a failed test in September after they had been caught, warned and threatened enough by the NFL to wise up a box of rocks or a can of cleats.
“I’ve never before seen what I saw today where players are apologizing to their whole team,” Allen said. “I’m hoping, for them, that they come back and have productive careers. Trent has a contract with us. And [concerning Davis,] the Redskins have given second chances in the past.”
So, operate on the assumption the talent-challenged Redskins prefer both to be part of their long-term future, though the fear of a full-year suspension for another failed test seriously hurts the value of any athlete.
The damage they have done to the image of the perennially battered Redskins carries serious weight, too. Williams and Davis kicked the new regime of Coach Mike Shanahan and Allen just when they were trying, with a 10-18 record running the franchise, to get the team back in the public’s good graces.
Has this incident, nearly two years into the new era with its public emphasis on better character and discipline, damaged the Redskin brand?
“It obviously reflects poorly” on the team, said Allen, aware that no other players in the entire NFL have been hit with similar suspensions. “We feel responsible for what occurred, though it reflects [most] poorly on the individuals. Yes, it hurts.”
Rarely do teams in long-term slumps accept more than their share of blame for any bad news, so give Allen points for accountability. But this is almost entirely on Williams and Davis.
The core issue, in the context of an NFL team, is that they are high-paid members of a business who ignored repeated warnings about a basic league rule and totally trashed their responsibility to their teammates and their employers. If it weren’t for weeks of negotiations between the union and the NFL, they might’ve been exiled from the league for a full year as third-time offenders. They are lucky their apologies were received as well as they apparently were.
“It was extremely genuine,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “They’re remorseful and apologetic. . . . It is a self-imposed tough time. [But] you feel for them a little bit.”
Said Santana Moss: “I didn’t need an apology. I feel like what they [did] to themselves, they apologize to themselves before they apologize to me.”
“This is the law,” Allen said about marijuana use. “I’ve bragged about the NFL’s testing for both performance and other drugs. I’ve always wanted steroids out of the game, not only for health reasons but it’s cheating.”
Some wonder if any player who would still risk so much after multiple failures and warnings might have an abuse problem or at least need counseling.
“The league offers professional counseling away from the [team] facility [to ensure privacy]. I want players to take advantage of that,” Allen said. And Trent and Fred? “I hope.”
What impact will the suspensions have on the Redskins’ play?
“That is the easiest part,” Allen said. “Pro football is very structured. We are trained to focus on the upcoming opponent. So we are in our routine. ‘Is this the day for walk-throughs?’ In a football sense, this is not different than if they were injured.”
Some Redskins fans, who haven’t seen the team draft and develop a good quarterback in 25 years (since Mark Rypien in ’86), would accept four more losses for the sake of a better draft spot, then hope for a shot at Andrew Luck (dream on), Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III, the 220-pound speedster from Baylor. (Landry Jones will probably stay at Oklahoma.)
Thanks, in part, to Williams and Davis, those defeats may come. But with Shanahan as coach, abstract “best interests” won’t be considered. Lie down on him now and you won’t be back next season to play with that new QB.
“Mike only knows one way, even if it was only pickup basketball,” Allen said. “The players on this team, they are playing every play.”
To make sure, the Redskins even scoured the Jets game tape to see if anybody was slacking on New York’s two final touchdown runs by Shonn Greene when it looked liked nobody cared enough to tackle him. Not so. Optical illusion, says Allen. “Both times, it was a mistake by one player.”
For the Redskins, every lesson has to be learned the hard way, sometimes more than once, from the top on down. But the object lesson provided by Williams and Davis, including the universal mockery — “Trent just smoked it for his blockoma and Fred for his catcharacts” — ought to be enough to get anyone’s attention.
This whole ridiculous, destructive episode actually underlines the core tenet that Shanahan and Allen have preached: It’s impossible to build a culture of winning in the absence of discipline and team-first accountability.
Unfortunately, the pattern of clueless behavior by two of the team’s most gifted young players shows just how deep the culture-rot actually goes. But, in one ironic way, Davis and Williams may have provided a service.
“We’re not going to stop giving the message,” Allen said. “And [now] everyone’s ears are open.”