PHILADELPHIA — Whatever the fate of the Washington Redskins this season — and let’s be frank: it’s beyond bleak at the moment — they have now entered a period in which they can’t be accurately assessed. There are four games remaining, and Mark Sanchez is their quarterback.
Their only other options at American sports’ most important position are men who are unemployed because they don’t deserve to be employed — save for Colin Kaepernick, who’s a special case altogether.
That’s not exactly a formula to return to the playoffs. The mood, after Monday night’s 28-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, is grim. But step back from the moment, and consider: How in the world, with all these injuries, does this club assess what it has going forward? Go one step beyond that: Who is doing the assessing, and how much do you trust them?
There is a human element to what happened at Lincoln Financial Field, and that much should be acknowledged before all else. Colt McCoy, the quarterback who waited four years to get a chance to start again, broke his right leg on what looked like an innocuous first-quarter sack in which he slipped — but then had that leg whip around the leg of Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins. Watch it in slow motion, wince, and turn away.
McCoy won’t play again this year, and that’s a shame. There were people who thought he might actually be a better fit for Coach Jay Gruden’s offense than Alex Smith, the starter who went down last month with his own grotesquely broken leg. Now, we won’t find out whether that’s true, and the starter — the only healthy quarterback on the roster — is a guy known more for a fumble he made because, years ago, he collided with his own lineman’s posterior than he is for any throw he has completed in the NFL.
Around the league, that’s a punchline. In Ashburn, it’s an abject disaster, and it brings up issues both in the near term and years from now.
“This is a tough blow,” Gruden said.
“It was a tall task, no doubt,” Sanchez added.
I’ve already made the argument that Washington should sign Kaepernick, who — like Sanchez before Monday night — hadn’t played a snap since the 2016 season. But this franchise doesn’t have the courage or the fortitude to make what so many would consider less a football move than a political statement. To me, the nation’s capital seems like the perfect place to foster discussion of the important issues Kaepernick wants to highlight in the first place. That’s not for everybody, and I get it, so shelve that discussion for a bit.
Signing any quarterback who’s on the street right now — Kaepernick or otherwise — addresses the four games that remain this year, and those four games only. The developments of the past three weeks — beginning with Smith’s devastating injury Nov. 18 against Houston, then McCoy’s three-interception performance in a Thanksgiving loss at Dallas, followed by McCoy’s injury Monday night — make you wonder about the future of the position in Washington, which makes you wonder about the future of the entire franchise. The roster. The coaching staff. All of it.
Start with this: Who’s to say if or when Smith will play again? Even if he does, what will his level of effectiveness be, given it was iffy over this season’s first 10 games when he was healthy? When next training camp opens, Smith will be 35. Yet after his trade from Kansas City in the offseason, Washington signed him to a four-year, $94 million deal — of which $71 million is guaranteed. It’s hard to get out from under that much guaranteed money just one year into the contract.
But regardless of what happens this month — with games against the Giants, at Jacksonville, at Tennessee and then home against these same Eagles remaining — who will be Washington’s quarterback in offseason workouts and minicamps? Neither Smith nor McCoy will be healthy. Can Washington draft a quarterback — essentially, Smith’s replacement, even as he has three years remaining on his deal? That seems delicate.
Okay, okay, easy now. Talking about the draft and offseason workouts and future plans is unfair to the guys on this roster who have lost three straight but still stand 6-6.
“We’re going to see what we’re made of these last four weeks,” said running back Adrian Peterson, who took the handoff on Sanchez’s first snap and busted 90 yards for a score — and gained eight yards on his other eight carries.
Peterson, in addressing reporters, sighed heavily no less than four times. “What can you do?” he said. Nothing but move forward with whoever’s left. Whether Washington can remain competitive or not, there are still substantive matters to be determined over the final month of the season. Chief among them: How can Gruden be judged — truly judged — in this environment?
Yes, Gruden has a contract that carries him through the 2020 season, and that matters. But his record with four games to go in his fifth season with Washington is 34-41-1. Want to give him a pass on 2014, his first year, when he inherited the RGIII-Mike Shanahan mess? Fine. Since then, he’s 30-29-1. He has one playoff appearance. That’s an indifferent record, whatever the circumstances in which it was created.
Yet the circumstances are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Monday night, Washington got running back Chris Thompson and wide receiver Jamison Crowder back into the lineup. Yeah, there’s no real deep threat, because Paul Richardson Jr. is out for the year, and the starting guards — including stud Brandon Scherff — are both done in by injuries, too. But this was a chance to see what McCoy might do with proper reps in practice, which he didn’t have before Dallas.
Now? Monday night, the replacement guards — Jonathan Cooper and Tony Bergstrom — both got hurt, too. Bergstrom hobbled through the locker room on crutches, and Cooper is done for the year with a torn biceps. Now we’re supposed to judge Gruden, and Gruden’s offense, with spare parts and duct tape?
Sanchez actually wasn’t ridiculously bad against the Eagles. He completed 13 of 21 throws, the worst of which was a fourth-quarter interception that killed whatever faint hopes Washington had. But it’s clear Sanchez is limited. The signs were everywhere. Trailing by 15 points with under four minutes to go, Washington was called for delay of game. When your quarterback wasn’t on the roster a month ago, that happens. And that can lead to curious coaching decisions, such as: Why, with your playoff chances essentially in the balance, do you punt to conclude that possession, down two scores?
“There’s no excuses,” Sanchez said, admirably. “And to be totally honest, nobody cares.”
That’s right: The rest of the league cares not at all about Washington’s woes — now and for the future. The team’s limited roster is further limited by devastating injuries, an unfair amount at that. Its quarterback for the final quarter of the season is a castoff who will be backed up by — at this point, who knows? Its coach is continuing to make curious decisions with clock and score, but how do you know if he’s failing, given the roster he has left?
Whether this team stays alive in the race for the playoffs or not, judging the direction of the franchise — in coaching and personnel — has become nearly impossible.
There are problems in the next month and over the next year, and no easy way to find the solutions.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.
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