There are bad losses, and then there are seminal moments of pathetic performance. It feels like the Washington Redskins suffered the latter Sunday afternoon. It feels like there is no way back, not after watching this spiritless team fall behind 40-nil in a late-season home loss to the pedestrian New York Giants, not after watching a sparse FedEx Field crowd boo loudly and then vanish at halftime. A gloom falls over the franchise — again — and it demands two things: an open door and a strong foot to kick out a few ineffectual leaders.
If this 40-16 loss wasn’t the game that ended an era of constant waiting for little reward, then Daniel Snyder should be considered a disengaged and negligent owner. And for all the criticism Snyder has received during nearly 20 years of inept ownership, his passion has never been in question. But he needs to show some sanity and mercy right now. Coach Jay Gruden is in his fifth season and still producing teams that play with iffy effort and focus. But even more problematic is Bruce Allen, in his ninth full season as team president. The Redskins are 58-82-1 under his direction and have a laundry list of follies and transgressions.
While quarterback and offensive line injuries have ruined this season and triggered Washington’s free fall from 6-3 to 6-7, there are larger issues for the franchise. The team wasn’t as good as advertised in some areas. In others, it is playing far below its talent level. And after the Reuben Foster debacle, Allen can’t pretend to be winning off the field, either.
If there’s a price to pay for the cumulative mismanagement and chaos and it doesn’t include Allen, then Snyder has done nothing. He could fire Greg Manusky, who would be the third defensive coordinator canned in Gruden’s five seasons. He could fire Gruden, whose one playoff appearance in five seasons certainly doesn’t give him the equity to keep laying eggs in December. He could even try to blame Brian Lafemina, who was last offseason’s white-knight hire on the business operations side, which would be puzzling and unfair but typical of this franchise. But there’s a bigger problem.
Is Snyder prepared to dump his toxic right-hand man? If he’s not, it doesn’t matter what Washington does in response to this new low. Unless there is accountability at the highest level of the front office, the franchise won’t change. It will keep throwing darts with its eyes closed.
It’s easy to blame Gruden, his assistant coaches or any of the underperforming players right now. We’re in the middle of a season. The results highlight their mistakes weekly. They deserve the scrutiny. As Gruden said after the game, “My job is in jeopardy every week.”
But it’s also true that these coaches and players compete at a disadvantage every game because of the front office’s incompetence. The blame falls on Allen, who carries a double-whammy of poor management: He can’t do his job. And he gets in the way of others doing theirs.
This team hasn’t fallen apart because it was built to be too dependent on its starting quarterback and its defensive line. The Alex Smith acquisition was a good one, until he suffered that gruesome broken leg four weeks ago. The defense was stout, as long as teams were willing to try to play power football against Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Co. Washington is capable of doing good jobs, but it only does 50 or 75 percent of what’s right. The Redskins weren’t built to last because they weren’t built to be versatile and win in different ways. They were built only to grind out ugly football games.
Smith joined a team with suspect offensive weapons, and now all those suspect offensive weapons can’t support a bunch of quarterbacks who shouldn’t be in the NFL. The defense is all power and no speed. Washington has managed the cap well, with Eric Schaffer’s creativity and Allen’s tough negotiating. But that has led to poor relationships with agents, according to USA Today, which last spring labeled Allen the least-trusted decision-maker in the NFL.
For the most part, Washington has negotiated excellent, team-friendly contracts for middling players. When it has gone all in the past few years, the results have been mixed. In April 2016, it made Josh Norman the league’s highest-paid cornerback, but he has been up and down. And now Smith is guaranteed $71 million, even though there are reports that his career may be in jeopardy.
Washington should consider this late-season swoon to be an existential crisis. What does this franchise want to be? How does it get there? How can it start to rebuild trust in a fan base that is eroding?
These are questions much greater than evaluating the coach. As bad as his team looked Sunday, Gruden should be a secondary issue. For Snyder, the most pressing matter should be whether he can find any reason — other than he’s easy to talk to and Snyder trusts few people — to justify keeping Allen in charge of the franchise. It should take less than five minutes to find the answer.
Who signed Gruden to a two-year extension of fully guaranteed money two years ago just to send a false sign of continuity during the Scot McCloughan debacle? Gruden’s extension hasn’t even kicked in, and he may have shown himself incapable of moving the team forward.
Who turned petty and feuded with McCloughan because fans and media gave McCloughan too much credit when the team was improving? Who hired McCloughan, a brilliant talent evaluator with a history of alcohol issues, only fire him two years later for alcohol issues?
Who couldn’t close the deal on a Kirk Cousins extension? Who spearheaded the Smith trade and contract extension? Who just claimed Foster on waivers only days after he was arrested for domestic violence? Who hid in the background while Doug Williams tried clumsily to explain the decision?
These are only the recent Allen mishaps. He has nine years full of offenses. If Snyder doesn’t want to fire him, he should at least move Allen to a different job. If Allen is so valuable to the effort to get a new stadium, let him focus his energy on that. But run football operations? No. That has only led to shame.
“We pretty much got kicked in the jaw,” Norman said of Sunday’s game.
It’s not just about the quarterback misfortune, which has taken Washington from Smith to Colt McCoy to Mark Sanchez to Josh Johnson over the past month. The defense has allowed more than 400 yards five times in the past six games. Eli Manning threw three touchdowns without Odell Beckham Jr., and Saquon Barkley rushed for 170 yards in less than three quarters. The Giants had 227 rushing yards. Washington is allowing 149.8 rushing yards per game over the past six weeks. And run defense used to be the team’s dominant strength.
“It hurts, man,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “It’s a horrible feeling.”
It’s a pattern, too. No matter what the franchise has tried under Allen, it has failed ultimately. No matter what the franchise has tried under Snyder, it has failed. Allen and Snyder are the most vilified people associated with the team. Snyder won’t kick himself out. So he has to do the next best thing.
Remove Allen. And leave the rest of the cleanup to the discretion of the next team president.
It’s not even about punishment anymore. It’s about mercy. Let this torture end.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.
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