RICHMOND — The email blares the advertisement in the old language of the franchise: “We Hail the Home Opener,” it says above logos of the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts, pushing tickets to the Sept. 16 game at FedEx Field. Tickets are available to that one, and the next week against Green Bay, and in October against Carolina and Dallas and — my goodness — to every single Washington home football game this year.
Three players are used to make the pitch, with their pictures to the left of those words: Derrius Guice, Alex Smith and Daron Payne. Total snaps played for Washington: zero.
Training camp, be it at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn or down I-95 here, so frequently means chaos and calamity for this group. Those seem to be tamped down this year. The first preseason game isn’t till Thursday, but there’s no constant questioning of the quarterback about his contract situation, no wondering whether the quarterback before that was indeed All In for Week 1, shoot no $100 million defensive lineman being asked to pass conditioning drills before he can practice. (Man, those were the days, Albert Haynesworth and Mike Shanahan. Those were the days.)
There was a time when quiet would have been embraced by everyone around this team. No doubt Jay Gruden — the head coach who enters his fifth season with a 28-35-1 record — is among those who don’t mind laying low.
But these Redskins aren’t the Redskins with whom you grew up. They’re not only not the Redskins of Jurgensen and Huff, of Riggo and Dexter. They’re not even the Redskins of Sean Taylor and Clinton Portis.
Whatever happens Thursday night at New England and for the rest of the summer and into the season, remember that there’s no bigger story surrounding this franchise than its admission in June that the club’s waiting list for season tickets — a waiting list around which much mythology was constructed — was, in fact, mythical. Fiction, whether it was listed at 200 or 200,000.
For years, the club, and owner Daniel Snyder, insisted there was an insatiable demand, and thus there was insatiable demand, regardless of what the facts were. What kind of administration makes such bogus claims that go against basic truths and faces no ramifications? (Don’t answer that.)
The point is, for the first time in generations, the local football team is faced with the task of trying to sell itself. It’s selling itself not just to potential new fans. It has to sell itself to the fans it lost.
This is something of a desperate effort. Last month, the club sent emails to former season ticket holders offering a pair of free tickets to the Beyonce and Jay-Z concert staged in late July at FedEx. Even better: It sent packages to former fans containing a “2018 Redskins Season Ticket Member Commemorative Pin,” a zip drive with season-ticket info, and a Redskins portable charger with a cord.
“Your tickets are missing,” reads the message inside the package. “We want you back!”
It’s not that simple. This fan base is more damaged than that, hurt by all the past transgressions — poor play and a lousy fan experience and drama, so much drama. Having a record better than 28-35-1 over the past four seasons would help smooth some of that over. But it says here the wounds are deeper. They’ll take time to heal, if they can at all.
Plus, there is this issue: What does this team have to sell? What has it had to sell for a generation?
Trent Williams is entering his ninth year as Washington’s left tackle. So, Trent, who’s the biggest star with whom you have played?
“I mean, Adrian Peterson is probably one of the biggest stars that’s been around,” Williams said Monday. “Sam Bradford, he won the Heisman.”
No, no, Trent. You played with those dudes at Oklahoma.
“Oh, here?” he said. “RGIII, right? He was the face of the NFL for a couple of seasons.”
Sure. And now Robert Griffin III is 20 months removed from his last NFL game and is trying to stick as a backup in Baltimore. His time as a meteor in Washington seems forever ago.
Williams, 30, is almost certainly the Redskins’ best player. The NFL Network polled players across the league and came up with a top 100 list. It contains one Redskin: Williams, at No. 57. Only Miami and Baltimore also have just one entry. The Rams and Vikings have seven apiece. Seven other teams have at least five. They have players to push.
Now, this isn’t a measure of whether a franchise is on sure footing. The Patriots, for instance, have just two — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski — but New England doesn’t have to sell itself. Washington does.
Quick, Vernon Davis, you have played in more games than anyone else on the roster: Which teammates would you pay to watch play?
“I can name a handful of guys,” Davis said Monday.
Well, then, please do.
“I mean, Trent Williams, Josh Norman, Alex Smith, Jordan Reed,” said Davis, the tight end whose rookie season was 2006.
Norman? That’s fine, I guess, because the cornerback signed a five-year deal worth $75 million before 2016 — and then produced zero interceptions last season. Smith, the 34-year-old quarterback, arrived via trade and is still unknown here. Reed? What a talented tight end. But he’s missed as many games (28) as he has started in his career.
“Uh, who else?” Davis continued. “Jamison Crowder. C.T. — Chris Thompson. Morgan Moses, he’s great.”
Crowder? Nice player as a slot receiver. Chris Thompson, who in five years has run for 878 yards and has started one game? Whoa, whoa, whoa. Morgan Moses, the tackle opposite Williams? Um, how to put this? No.
Sure, ambushing a player — even one as polished as Davis — as he comes off the field after a morning practice and asking him to assess his own roster is a tad unfair.
Still, Washington isn’t going to sell Chris Thompson or Morgan Moses. It just isn’t.
Which gets back to that email. It landed in my inbox Monday morning. Coupled with June’s declaration that there not only wasn’t a long line for season tickets, but that there was no line — none whatsoever — it puts further emphasis on where this franchise is from a marketing standpoint.
The Redskins are pushing Smith, who will replace Kirk Cousins at quarterback. They are pushing Payne, the defensive lineman who was a first-round draft pick out of Alabama and is sitting out drills because of a foot injury. And they’re pushing Guice, the running back from LSU whose debut Thursday night is probably more anticipated than that of any player on the roster.
They have to push someone, so why not the players who haven’t been part of a sorry past? Would you pay to watch them play? The ticket window is open, and a franchise desperately in need of reinvention would love for you to get in line. If there’s a line at all.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.