The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stadium decision is the one the Redskins can’t afford to get wrong

Redskins owner Dan Snyder during a November game against the Houston Texans at FedEx Field.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder during a November game against the Houston Texans at FedEx Field. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

It would seem that the major issues regarding the Washington Redskins concern the present and future of the quarterback position (dire), what in the world to do with Coach Jay Gruden and his staff (murky), right up to the fate of the as-close-as-it-gets-to-the-owner team president, Bruce Allen (please, let it end). All are worthy of discussion and angst for those who still care deeply about the future of this franchise.

And yet all those weighty matters don’t even come close to ranking as the franchise’s most important: In 10 years, where the heck will this team play?

The most important story to be published about Washington’s once-beloved pro football team had nothing to do with Sunday’s embarrassing 40-16 loss to the New York Giants, a loss that crystallized the questions about the roster, the coaching staff and the front office. The overall tenor: Who here, if anyone, is worth keeping?

But in 2028, it won’t matter whether Gruden could manage the clock or motivate a team. Josh Norman will be long departed. Alex Smith’s contract will have long since expired. Mark Sanchez will still be a punchline, but a forgotten one by then. And no one will remember Sunday’s game at Jacksonville, the game that’s next on the schedule.

What they will remember, and what this franchise cannot mess up should it want to retain — check that: win back — its fan base: its new stadium. The site. The look. The traffic. The experience. All of it.

Redskins, D.C. working with Congress to slip stadium provision into spending bill

Last week, The Post’s Liz Clarke and Mike DeBonis outlined how team owner Daniel Snyder is working not only with District officials, but with the outgoing Republican Congress and the Trump administration, to quietly fold a stadium provision into the spending bill Congress is trying to pass this month. This would be, of course, at the RFK Stadium site, and there’s no more romantic notion for Washington football fans of a certain age — read: within, say, 15 years of the age of Snyder, 54 — than returning to the place Riggo and the Hogs once made rock.

On Tuesday, we read about the pushback to that from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and also learned Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been talking to Snyder for the past two years about keeping the team in the state, at a site near National Harbor.

The lease at sorry FedEx Field is up in 2027. That might seem forever from now, but in the world of stadium negotiations and construction, it’s closer to tomorrow.

This is a Washington professional sports story, one that can only happen here, because only here could a stadium issue involve multiple jurisdictions, everyone from D.C. Council members trying to protect the neighborhood that borders the site, to a mayor conscious of her legacy, to the highest levels of the federal government, to a football team with an owner who very well may have a lower approval rating than the politicians he’s trying to woo.

This is just the start of the story, because even if language pertaining to the RFK site sneaks into the massive spending bill — and that’s just what it would be: sneaky — it would only clear the way for the land to be used for a stadium and potential development around it. It doesn’t mean a stadium would be built there, or that the development will follow. Brace yourself for the wrangling and war of words to come.

Still, if there’s one element of the miserable loss to the Giants that matters here, it’s not only that the announced attendance was all of 57,437 — the fifth time in seven home games that Washington has failed to draw even 63,000 fans to a stadium that once housed 90,000 seats — but that those fans fled at halftime like the place was on fire.

Of all the Redskins’ problems, and they are many, the current stadium is high on the list — third, perhaps, behind the owner (who isn’t changing) and the team president (who might). FedEx Field not only doesn’t provide a reason to go to games, it has been built into the fans’ litany of justifications for staying away. Brian Lafemina, a longtime NFL executive, was hired in the offseason in part to try to make the game-day experience something other than dreadful. But at some point, a wise fan with a massive high-definition television isn’t going to be wooed to FedEx Field, with all its baggage, because there’s a nicer place to stand and have a beer.

So Washington has managed to gather an amazing straight flush of problems: It has an owner the fan base can’t stand, employing a team president the fan base doesn’t trust, putting together a team that — at least in part because of injuries, sure — has crumbled with four straight losses to fall to the fringe of the postseason picture, coached by a man who inspires no real sense of long-term confidence, playing in a building where no one really wants to spend an afternoon.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants a land swap to keep Redskins in Prince George’s County

Rank those problems and their solvability: There’s nothing you can do about the owner, other than protest by keeping your wallet in your pocket. Allen, the team president, and Gruden — who knows how long either will be around, who the replacements will be and if change will make things better?

“When it gets to the point where we say, ‘What do we need to do for the future?’ you look at change,” Snyder said. “And that’s what I decided to do.”

That was Snyder upon replacing Vinny Cerrato with Allen as general manager — in December 2009. Over the previous nine seasons, Washington had gone 62-82 with two playoff appearances. This is the ninth season since, and Washington is 58-82-1 in that span.

What makes anyone think anything will ever change?

A stadium, though, could be a salve, and more. Put it in the right place, affix it with the right amenities, make it easy to get to and vacate — basically, make it everything FedEx Field is not — and the franchise will be positioned much differently in the local market.

There are so many questions to be explored about this process, and right now, they start with: Do Snyder and his team really need to work in the shadows to pull one over on the District in getting to use the RFK site without public debate and discussion? Why, too, would Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) bend over backward to work with a team that is so damaged, even with its own fans?

Those, and more, are worthy of discussion in the weeks and months — and years — to come. What’s important to know now: The major issues regarding your once (and future?) favorite NFL team aren’t whether Josh Johnson can beat the Jaguars or even whether Gruden is the coach next year. The major issue is where the new stadium ends up, whether the negotiations are handled transparently, who ends up paying — and whether fans feel welcome, and inspired, to fill the seats when it finally opens, which is sooner than you think.