I can’t believe I’m about to write this, and no, I can’t believe the following things have actually come to fruition, but as far as three-day runs go, you gotta admit — fans of the Washington Redskins have actually had it pretty good.
And by losing to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Washington landed the No. 2 pick in April’s draft, dramatically increasing their chances of getting Chase Young, the best pass rush prospect in a decade, and a Maryland native to boot.
Not bad at all. Even the athletic trainer who contributed to Trent Williams’ holdout — a franchise embarrassment — reportedly got axed.
It’s just a start to what needs to get fixed in Washington, and of course, Christina Pagniacci-like team owner Dan Snyder can still mess this up.
But Redskins fans deserve this strong start to the offseason, these reasons to believe.
First major move in fixing a broken team and fan base
First, let’s take a moment to appreciate that while we know Cleveland Browns fans and Detroit Lions fans have had it worse — their 0-16 seasons make it so — since the turn of the new millennium, Redskins fans also know what it’s like to be forced to navigate the football season like one of Jigsaw’s funhouses from “Saw.”
While Lions and Browns fans have learned to take solace in their cynicism, Redskins fans are still stuck in the roller coaster of optimism followed by depression when things inevitably go wrong, all because they can’t shake the memory of the all-too-recent glory days.
In the mid-90s, Washington was still one of the NFL’s pre-eminent franchises, one of the league’s crown jewels, with a waiting list as long as the eye can see. What those poor fans have been forced to witness since Snyder purchased the team in 1999 is not normal to them, nor is it yet natural.
In fact, given the history of the franchise — someone born in 1982 saw three Super Bowl titles before they were 10 — it’s been more like a bad dream they’ve been waiting to wake up from.
Well, it looks like that day may have indeed come.
For the first time since the hiring of Mike Shanahan and the selection of Robert Griffin III, there is reason to believe the Redskins may have a path to a Super Bowl title at some point in this century.
Credit Snyder for finally — finally! — awakening from his self-induced slumber to fire Allen, his buddy and road dog who will go down as the NFL’s second-best human shield of the 2010s (behind Roger Goodell, of course).
Granted, the move is at least five years too late, and it was likely spurred by the fact no self-respecting coach would take that job with Allen lurking. That still hasn’t stopped Redskins fans from taking some solace in the fact that Snyder himself even signed the statement announcing Allen’s firing as a show of accountability.
And while that might sound goofy, you have to realize that for the last decade, Snyder has consistently let Allen, whose power struggle with Shanahan likely led to the Super Bowl-winning coach’s undoing, do his dirty work, particularly when it pertains to public proclamations. The overall lack of accountability in Redskins Park, amid a haze of uncertainty about who really calls the shots, has been a miserable experience for everyone involved, contributing to one of the NFL’s most broken cultures.
How Ron Rivera will reshape the Redskins
The hiring of Rivera will help some in this regard, I suspect. He is not without his flaws (just ask Panthers fans about his game management), but as a leader and culture-setter, he’s among the best head coaches in the NFL. His teams always play hard, his players always respect him and his teams always have an identity. They want to kick ass on defense, and pound the opposition into oblivion on offense.
If Snyder gives Rivera the time and, most importantly, the say to establish the culture and chart the course forward, the Redskins will play like that and be a respectable NFL franchise, at least on the field. I even dare to say that day will come sooner rather than later.
A 27th-ranked defense that is now being led by Rivera and coordinator Jack Del Rio could be fearsome as soon as 2020, especially if they manage to draft Young at No. 2 overall and team him up with Montez Sweat (23 years old), Matt Ioannidis (25), Da’Ron Payne (22), Jonathan Allen (24) and Ryan Anderson (25).
That would be four — four! — first-round defensive linemen, all on rookie deals, to compose the type of defensive front most teams would kill for. One of those two guys may be shipped out in an ensuing scheme change from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but the point still stands: The Redskins look nasty up front, just the way Rivera likes.
The presence of some nice young pieces on offense, including a potential franchise quarterback in Dwayne Haskins Jr. and two nice young receivers in Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr., probably makes this job pretty attractive for Rivera, who doesn’t need these previously radioactive Redskins as much as they need him.
Of course, these are the Redskins we’re talking about, so there’s still plenty of room for this to go sideways, and that too must be acknowledged.
For one, Rivera’s offensive coordinator choice will be critical. He’ll need to hire someone who will vibe with Haskins and get the best out of him, and we still don’t know who the general manager will be, or whether he’ll take the franchise out of the Stone Age and introduce the club to analytics. What’s more, Redskins Park is one of the league’s most outdated and smallest facilities. In many respects, Washington is behind the times in a super-competitive league to an embarrassing degree.
And finally, of course, Snyder wants to be a football man but he isn’t, so there’s always the possibility of him making personnel decisions he has no business making. And given the way things have unfolded under his ownership, maybe it’s even a probability.
But if the football torture that Redskins fans have been subjected to is going to stop in the near future, Washington’s early start to the 2020 offseason has undeniably been a step in the right direction.
Here’s to hoping Snyder stays out of the way — and patient — long enough to see it bear fruit.
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