For the Washington Redskins, the drafting of quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday represents the best hope for stability at the game’s most important position. For team owner Daniel Snyder, Griffin offers the potential to rehabilitate a battered public image.
In a move that offered as much suspense as a traffic light changing colors, the Redskins selected the top-of-the-marquee prospect with the second overall pick — and in the process may have provided Snyder with a late-round mulligan. After more than a decade’s worth of head-scratching personnel moves, silly fantasy-football roster management and self-inflicted public relations disasters — all against a backdrop of also-ran seasons — Snyder may have finally found the type of game-changer he needs to restore the District’s most popular sports franchise.
Snyder authorized the Redskins to pay a record price to move up in the draft and take Griffin: three first-round picks and a second-rounder to the St. Louis Rams. If Griffin fulfills his almost too-good-to-be-true potential, that decision will prove to be the kind of bold stroke that can revive a franchise.
In winning the Heisman Trophy at Baylor, Griffin displayed magical ability. If he wins big in Washington, his performance will transform the public image of Snyder from meddlesome tyrant to gutsy leader. That’s the kind of climactic show-closer even Penn and Teller would envy.
But just so we’re clear: For the move to be considered a true success, Griffin will have to bring home multiple Vince Lombardi trophies. He’ll need to be somewhere between Eli Manning-great to Tom Brady-spectacular. Not necessarily this fall or even the season after — but this can’t be a slow-cooking order, either.
Titles-or-bust is a brutal standard, but it speaks to both what the Redskins gave up to get Griffin and what the prevailing opinion of Snyder is now.
Redskins fans have phone-book-sized lists of reasons why they dislike Snyder. They pay steakhouse prices for parking. They push turnstiles in weather best suited for staying under the covers. They line up for overpriced warm beer and cold hot dogs.
And they would do so without complaint if the team were successful on the field. Instead, in 13 seasons under Snyder, the Redskins have had more head coaches (seven) than winning records and playoff appearances (three). The last time fans were able to attend a home playoff game was in 2000.
Snyder has been an all-star owner at generating revenue (the Redskins were listed fourth on Forbes’ latest ranking of the world’s most valuable sports franchises). In the NFL, only Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has more of a Midas touch. But being a leader in maximizing profits while finishing last in the NFC East the past four seasons isn’t a formula for making fans happy.
During my four seasons as a Redskins beat writer, I believed Snyder truly wanted to win. I still do. He just never had any business making football-related decisions.
Early in his tenure, Snyder thought he could buy championships with way-past-their-prime stars. The flaw of this go-after-it philosophy quickly revealed itself: Snyder paid too much for guys on the wrong side of 30 in a league in which 30 often is old.
When rolling with geezers didn’t work, Snyder modified his approach but still relied too heavily on an established star system and got burned (in case anyone has forgotten about the almost $41 million Albert Haynesworth was paid to play, reluctantly and at times embarrassingly, in 20 games).
But authorizing the trade for Griffin demonstrates qualities fans want in an owner: the sense to listen to managers with football expertise and a willingness to pay a high price for exceptional talent identified by that group.
Snyder has made more than enough football mistakes to earn villain status, and Coach Mike Shanahan hasn’t provided the shot-in-the-arm resurgence Snyder expected the past two seasons. But the fact that Snyder has remained less hands-on during that time, coupled with the arrival of Griffin, should be encouraging to Redskins fans.
The continued loyalty of Redskins season ticket holders despite the lackluster on-field product — although the “waiting list” remains dubious, FedEx Field still is a destination spot around these parts — proves fans’ willingness to maintain hope for the future. That will provide a supportive environment for Griffin and the opportunity for Snyder to alter his narrative.
Fans don’t forget. No matter how well Griffin plays, they won’t let Snyder simply wipe the slate clean. But if the Redskins’ fortunes begin to turn as a result of one bold stroke by ownership, many would be eager to flip over the slate to start writing something much more positive.