More than four years after joining the Washington Redskins, President and General Manager Bruce Allen finally has the power he always wanted. It’ll be interesting to see how he wields it.
Under owner Daniel Snyder, the men who preceded Allen as the team’s leader didn’t fare well. And Allen, in charge of both the football and business operations, has unprecedented authority to direct the franchise, as well as unprecedented complications to handle. The organization is trying to rebuild from a 3-13 season on the field and is facing scrutiny over its nickname off the field. Allen is now squarely in position to receive credit or blame for both situations. With the team scheduled to open training camp Thursday in Richmond, it’s time to start keeping score.
By banking so heavily on Allen to spur change on both fronts, Snyder is taking one of his biggest risks since buying the team in 1999. Seven times in the past 10 seasons, Washington has finished last or tied for last in the NFC East. The team is coming off a debacle marked by former Coach Mike Shanahan’s feud with quarterback Robert Griffin III.
For Snyder, the more conventional move would have been to hire a top player-personnel man to fix the roster. Instead, Snyder stuck with Allen, who previously played a support role to Shanahan, the head of the football program for four seasons.
Allen won an executive of the year award in 2002 while with the Oakland Raiders, but he is not considered an expert in talent evaluation. People who worked with Allen in Oakland say it would be incorrect to characterize him as the architect of the team that won that season’s AFC championship.
In five seasons as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Allen shared personnel authority with then-coach Jon Gruden, who guided the franchise to a Super Bowl title before Allen arrived. Their partnership produced three winning records and two division titles, but no playoff victories. After the Buccaneers’ late-season collapse in 2008, Allen and Gruden were fired.
In his first four seasons in Washington, Allen again had to share power. Shanahan insisted on having final say over the Redskins’ roster; Allen oversaw Washington’s salary cap and player contracts. In that capacity, Allen must bear responsibility for the maneuvers during the uncapped season in 2010 that resulted in the league reducing the Redskins salary cap by $36 million over two seasons. Snyder and Shanahan checked off on those moves as well. However, Allen’s fingerprints were all over that situation from the start.
So given that history — no experience with unchecked authority, a 62-82 record with no playoff victories and a crippling punishment from the league — Snyder’s trust in him seems particularly speculative. At a time when NFL owners are moving away from centralizing power in one person, Snyder doubled down on Allen, promoting him to team president. Essentially, Allen is commanding the organization in a two-front war: guiding the team back to competitive prominence while also leading the fight against a name change.
Snyder still is the team’s ultimate authority, and Allen knows what working for a hands-on owner is like, having done so in Oakland.
Here’s the other important thing Allen understands, and what gives him the best chance to thrive: The Redskins likely won’t succeed in the foreseeable future unless Griffin does. Shanahan believed he could win without Griffin — and he was willing to torpedo any chance to salvage last season in a failed attempt to prove his point. Allen has no such delusions.
If Griffin regains the form he displayed during his sensational rookie season, Washington will have a strong foundation on which to build. From dipping into his past to hire quarterback-friendly Coach Jay Gruden, who was on Tampa Bay’s coaching staff under his brother, Jon, to pouring money into the offense by adding free agents, Allen has made it clear: The new regime is all-in on Griffin.
People within the organization say Allen has spent significant time strengthening his relationship with Griffin. When Allen counsels Griffin, the young quarterback actually listens, which is a lot more than Griffin did when Shanahan opened his mouth during the last two months of the 2013 season. For the team, that’s good news. Having wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the roster appears to be another positive development.
Allen acted quickly to acquire Jackson, one of the league’s top deep threats, after the division rival Philadelphia Eagles surprisingly released him in March. The bold signing of defensive lineman Jason Hatcher — he’s guaranteed $10.5 million this season — could pay off if Hatcher’s left knee holds up and he improves the pass rush as expected.
As for the name controversy? Allen had better be prepared for anything.
In the NFL, it’s tough enough to excel at one job. Filling two top posts for a long-struggling franchise would seem nearly impossible. But that’s what Allen wanted and, for better or worse, what he got.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.