Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s regular Monday media availability began with nearly 20 questions about tight end Fred Davis and Trent Williams, both of whom are expected to miss the remainder of the season because of multiple failed drug tests. And nearly 20 times, in one fashion or another, Shanahan said he can’t specifically address the status of either player because NFL has yet formally notify him of any pending action.
“It’s something you have to deal with. It’s reality,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got a situation here where we have two excellent football players, and we’ll find out shortly what their status is.”
Even as Shanahan tried to treat Monday as business as usual at Redskins Park, questions remain about Davis and Williams. Even though it’s become increasingly clear neither will play another snap for the Redskins this season, Shanahan will have to make decisions this offseason about each player’s future in Washington.
“We’ll always be looking for not only the great athletes, but great character,” Shanahan said. “Some people will make mistakes — we understand that — along the way. And it doesn’t mean that we’re going to just drop somebody because they make a mistake. We’ll make sure they’re made of the right stuff, and we’ll adhere to that.”
Shanahan said he expects to know the status of Williams and Davis before the Redskins hold practice on Wednesday to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. The league and the NFL Players Association reached an agreement in principle Saturday to suspend the two Redskins for the final four games of the season, according to multiple people familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Both players have tested positive for recreational drug use at least three times, those familiar with the case say, including once prior to the 2011 offseason, once during training camp in August and at least one more time after the regular season began in September.
Williams and Davis were at Redskins Park Monday, one day after playing in the Redskins’ 34-19 loss to the New York Jets. Shanahan said he spoke with both players and they went through the same Monday routine as their teammates, including film study and a team meeting. “Until something is said to me, they will be here,” Shanahan said.
Davis and Williams are cornerstones in Shanahan’s offense: young and talented with Pro Bowl-caliber potential. But since arriving in town in January 2010, Shanahan has also made clear that he wants to work with a specific type of football player.
“In order to put your best football team together, you need talented players,” he said Monday. “You also need to have players with high character. . . . You can get to the playoffs with a lot of talented players. But to win a Super Bowl, to be the top organization, you’ve got to have character, and that’s the way you win it. That’s the way you separate yourself once you get to the playoffs.”
Both Williams and Davis will face a one-year suspension from the NFL with another positive drug test, according to one person familiar with the agreement. Despite the four-game suspension, each player could still have a bright future in Washington.
Williams will be entering the third year of his rookie contract. While his money is not guaranteed in 2012 — the Redskins will owe him a base salary of $11 million — he’s also Shanahan’s first draft pick in Washington and lauded as the coach’s first offensive building block.
Shanahan said Williams played the best game of his young career in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. “Trent’s getting better and better every game,” he said.
Davis’s future could be a bit more murky. His rookie contract ends this season, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The Redskins will have to decide whether they want him back, and Davis will have to decide whether he wants to return.
“A guy like that, he’s a great help to the team,” said wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. “Hopefully he will be [back]. We’ll see what happens.”
The Redskins’ easier decisions are of the short-term variety. Once he’s formally notified of the suspensions by the league, Shanahan will have to fill both spots on the 53-man roster and again shuffle his starting lineup.
The Redskins will be playing their 13th game of the season this Sunday and will have to use their 10th different combination of starting offensive players.
Logan Paulsen began the year as the No. 3 tight end behind Chris Cooley and Davis. With Cooley on injured reserve and Davis, the team’s leading receiver this season, headed for the suspended list, Paulsen is the team’s top tight end option.
“That’s why I’m on the team. I’m here to contribute in these types of situations,” he said.
At left tackle, the Redskins could turn to veteran Sean Locklear, who started twice in place of an injured Williams earlier this season, or might opt to try out rookie Willie Smith, an undrafted rookie from East Carolina.
“I feel like I’m ready to go if they call me,” Smith said.
While players say they still hadn’t heard details of the pending suspensions, they’re all familiar with the league’s substance abuse policy and even more aware that Shanahan preaches accountability on a daily basis.
“When you sign that dotted line to be a part of the NFL, it’s a privilege to be a part of it and we have to act accordingly,” safety Reed Doughty said.
Said special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander: “More than just yourself is at stake if you happen to get caught, especially those two guys who play intricate roles.”