It is the middle of November 2018. The Washington Redskins are coming off of a dominant defensive performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: a 16-3 win that keeps them at the top of the NFC East. HaHa Clinton-Dix is playing important ball in the middle of the defense, Josh Norman is still creating some impact in coverage and Alex Smith is keeping the Jay Gruden offense on schedule.
They will lose six of their remaining seven games on the schedule, and three of the ensuing 13 on the 2019 schedule. The impetus for the fall was Smith’s injury: an awful accident one after the win over the Buccaneers. The offense sputtered, and the defense didn't have enough gas to keep the team afloat.
None of this was anyone's fault. You cannot predict injury, you cannot prevent it, and you certainly cannot adequately plan for losing your starting quarterback. The Redskins lost a promising season in the worst, most frustrating way.
What happened next — the 3-10 start to the 2019 season, the Trent Williams debacle, the Gruden-Dwayne Haskins fiasco, some of the other, more minor collapses — well, we can find fault for that.
The Redskins can't seem to stay good for longer than half a season. This year is just another tally on the wall of their struggles. So how did we get from there to here? There are two major culprits, and everyone knows who they are, so let's cut to the chase.
Owner Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999, and since then the team has gone 142-190-1. That's .426 in the win column across 333 NFL games, three division titles in 21 seasons, six winning records in those seasons, five playoff berths and two playoff wins — the most recent from the Joe Gibbs-coached, Mark Brunell-led team in 2005.
Washington has been eliminated from playoff contention this year to extend a 14-year streak without a single postseason win. The Redskins have lost their last four playoff games to tie the longest streak in franchise history. The team has been entirely unsuccessful under Snyder's ownership.
Much of this is to do with head coaching issues. Snyder quickly fired the long-tenured Norv Turner following his purchase of the team and bounced across some of football's greatest legends — Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs — without consistent success. The Redskins had a bit of an offense in the mid-2000s under Gibbs, who put up gaudy numbers with Clinton Portis and Santana Moss at the skill positions, but largely the team was middling at best in the NFC.
Come 2010, Snyder hires Bruce Allen to be the team general manager and Mike Shanahan to be the head coach. There is renewed hope in Washington. With Shanahan comes his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and on the Shanahan staff is quarterback coach Matt LaFleur and offensive assistant Sean McVay.
When Mike Shanahan is eventually fired, Kyle Shanahan will coordinate a couple of offenses across the league before stepping into the San Francisco 49ers head coaching job and possibly winning 2019 Coach of the Year. LaFleur would follow Kyle Shanahan to Atlanta before coordinating his own offense and coaching the Green Bay Packers to a 2019 NFC North championship. While McVay would stay on staff, becoming the offensive coordinator before eventually taking over the Los Angeles Rams. He went to a Super Bowl in 2018. The Redskins went 7-9.
Three of the brightest future NFL head coaches were on the Redskins staff, right under Snyder's nose for four years — McVay for even longer and he is probably the best of the lot. Rather, Snyder elected to labor in the mediocrity of Jay Gruden and by Week 6 of the 2019 season, he fired him. Gruden was the eighth head coach to serve under Snyder and the eighth failure.
So the Redskins are searching for another leader, despite proving the most fertile ground for young head coaches in the league over the last few years. That falls squarely on the man doing the hiring: Snyder.
General Manager Bruce Allen
When you become the butt of a joke, or in this case a hashtag, things must be bad — very bad. When I searched “#FireBruceAllen” on a random Tuesday evening, there were exactly 190 tweets fired off in the last hour. But the want for change was well beyond the walls of Twitter. It reached Change, a website for various petitions including one titled "Fire Bruce Allen" that has almost 15k signatures.
Allen has been the general manager of the Redskins since the start of 2010 after abdicated the title and some of the responsibility in the Scot McCloughan era, which lasted exactly two years before McCloughan was fired and Allen was back in full control of the roster. In that time, Allen has struggled to add talent, and accordingly, the Redskins continue to oscillate around .500.
Allen is seemingly on the hot seat this year after reports indicate potential head coaching candidates do not want to be a part of an Allen-led football team.
Williams never reported to camp this offseason, in part because he was searching after a new contract, but in large part because of his frustration with how the team had handled his health over the years. He underwent a procedure earlier in the year to address growth on his head. Williams ended up reporting to Washington after the trade deadline passed and still doesn't have a new deal. He has since discovered the growth on his head was cancerous.
Williams expresses love for Gruden and even for Snyder when discussing the situation and its culprits. But when asked about Allen:
The Redskins eventually placed Williams on the non-football injury list and elected not to pay him the remaining $5.1 million dollars he was due for this season. It is likely an Allen decision, as the team president and primary manager of the roster.
If you can't add talent and you can't maintain or secure the existing talent, you cannot manage a roster in the NFL. Allen's inefficacy has not only cost the Redskins years of potentially competitive play, but it's also forestalling future growth by discouraging potential coaching candidates. If Snyder won't go, Allen is the clearest force that must be removed.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky
It feels unfair to pile onto Greg Manusky as systemic issues at the top have undoubtedly trickled down into the coaching staff. But Manusky's defenses have given up below average points per game and scored in below-average defensive DVOA for all three years he has served as the coordinator. His decisions have been openly criticized by his players.
Manusky's been coaching in the NFL for ages and has tenured respect within the league. He is a safe name, and it's easy to justify retaining him on reputation. But first-round draft picks and big-ticket free agents have invariably underperformed on his roster, and the unit has been bad under his guidance. Playing out the rest of the season with Manusky is fine, as most of his defensive staff will go with him if and when he is fired, but Manusky will be out with a new head coach, and rightfully so.
The Final Verdict
Each of the Redskins’ biggest culprits have been outlined, but who owns the greatest claim of credit for Washington's disappointing 2019 season? In order of most to least blame:
- The owner continues to put his team in an awful spot to succeed.
- The team president and general manager cannot attract or retain talent.
- The defensive coordinator has been a lame duck from the start.
How do the Redskins clean up this mess? Be sure to check back tomorrow, as TDN analysts Kyle Crabbs, Joe Marino and Benjamin Solak outline a plan to fix this team.