With 2019 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on what made this a truly mediocre decade of Washington Redskins football.
Sure, there were good times in the last 10 years, the two division titles stand out the most, but the majority of Redskins fans would agree that the bad times outweigh any positive moments enormously.
And that’s why we are here today, to reflect on the moments both on and off the field that were truly a part of this organization’s unique brand of dysfunction. While I tried to keep it down to just 10 moments, I’m sure there are plenty that I also missed which just goes to show exactly how bad this organization has been this decade.
So, let’s kick off this list in style, and look towards the next decade as a means for hope, and a chance for better days.
10) The hiring of Joe Barry
Looking at what I have ranked ahead of this moment, it’s clear this one isn’t nearly as bad as many of my other ranked moments of pure ineptitude, but I felt I had to include this simply because of what the other option for defensive coordinator was at the time.
As the story goes, head coach Jay Gruden had the golden opportunity to hire legendary defensive coach Wade Phillips after the team fired Jim Haslett. Phillips had just about as good a resume as a coach could have, with NFL experience as both a head coach and as a defensive coordinator dating back to 1981.
Phillips also came off a successful stint in Houston, where he was head coach Gary Kubiak’s defensive coordinator from 2011-2013. Houston’s defense ranked in the top-10 in total defense in all four of his seasons as defensive coordinator until he was dismissed by new head coach Bill O’Brien.
Needless to say, Phillips’ track record was outstanding, and the fact that his son Wes Phillips was Washington’s tight ends coach was enough of a connection to the team to warrant serious consideration.
During his interview with coach Gruden, Phillips described it as one of the most bizarre interviews he’s ever had, with Gruden seeming to not have much interest in Phillips at all. He instead hired Joe Barry, a friend of Gruden’s and the linebackers coach for the Chargers. The end result was of course predictably laughable.
Barry’s two defenses in Washington were both ranked 28th in total defense, and his tenure ended after the 2016 season. Phillips, on the other hand, joined the Broncos, where his defenses were ranked first and fourth in the league respectively; the top-ranked defense ended up carrying the team to their third Lombardi Trophy after beating the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
The decision to hire Barry over Phillips may stand as one of the biggest blunders in Redskins history, and yet it’s only No. 10 on this list. Strap in for further dysfunction.
9) Donovan McNabb’s new contract and “The Monday Night Massacre”
In a desperate move to remain relevant in what was a stacked NFC East, the Redskins decided to end the Jason Campbell-era by trading for longtime Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb, who was forced out of Philadelphia to make way for Kevin Kolb.
It was a huge trade at the time, with two divisional rivals making a deal together that could change the balance of the NFC East. With the Eagles, McNabb was consistently one of the best signal-callers in the league, and at 33 years old coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, he didn’t look to be stopping that kind of production anytime soon.
In his lone season with Washington, McNabb ended up being serviceable at best. Going into their bye week at 4-4, McNabb certainly wasn’t playing like his typically electrifying self, but he was doing just enough to keep the team in the playoff hunt. He was also doing just enough to get a 5-year, $78 million contract that would potentially keep him with the Redskins for the remainder of his career.
On the same night that the contract was finalized and announced to the public, Washington had a key division matchup with the Eagles on Monday Night Football.
This is where “The Monday Night Massacre” happened. Despite beating the Eagles earlier in the season, the Redskins got absolutely demolished on national television by the Michael Vick-led Eagles in a 59-28 shellacking that saw Vick gain 413 yards of total offense and score six touchdowns; McNabb responded with three interceptions.
McNabb would later be benched after Week 13 for Rex Grossman for the remainder of the season, and was eventually traded to the Vikings after the season, effectively ending his Redskins career after just one season.
The contract and MNF performance from McNabb were legendary instances of the Redskins committing to a quarterback at exactly the wrong time and being rewarded appropriately for such impotence.
8) The mismanagement of RGIII
This one hurts to write about.
What the selection of Heisman-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft represented for the Redskins fan base for the first time in a long time was hope. How could it not? RGIII’s electrifying junior season at Baylor was a historic and wonderful thing to watch. He had the arm, the athleticism and the style of play that seemed destined to change the way NFL teams use quarterbacks.
He was also very injury prone.
Griffin III suffered an isolated ACL tear in his sophomore year that wasn’t enough to knock his draft stock, but was certainly enough of a concern in the NFL. And what a concern it was.
Even in his incredible rookie season, Griffin was constantly banged up throughout the regular season, even playing hurt in the team’s Week 17 victory over the Cowboys that won the Redskins their first division title since 1999. While he started the team’s playoff game against Seattle, Griffin III just did not look right. After coming down hard on a non-contact play early in the game, RGIII’s limp on his right leg became incredibly noticeable, and in the fourth quarter, disaster struck as he grusomely tore his LCL and ACL when his leg buckled during a low snap.
The finger pointing of who let him continue on continues to this day. While most agree Griffin III wanted to continue playing and was allowed to by Shanahan, the blame seems to be dispersed based on who you ask. Many even point to the awful field conditions as a big reason for his injury.
Regardless, RGIII was never the same. His time in Washington only got worse from there, with Griffin III rushing his return for the 2013 season only to struggle mightily adapting to a more pro-style quarterback system. Even worse, Griffin III’s inability to slide or throw the ball away when the play wasn’t there was becoming a concern. His ego and close relationship with owner Dan Snyder also rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way.
Once Gruden replaced Shanahan as head coach in 2014, he decided before the 2015 season to roll with backup Kirk Cousins, effectively ending Griffin III’s time as the starting quarterback for the Redskins, and deeming the entire experiment a massive failure.
The blame for this entire situation can be spread to a lot of different places, but in the end, it was the fan base so desperate for a savior that was the real loser of it all.
7) The Albert Haynesworth Debacle
Albert Haynesworth’s seven-year, $100 million contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money and incentives will go down as the worst contract in NFL history. It’s hard to find a free agent bust bigger than Haynesworth because there isn’t a free agent bust bigger than Haynesworth.
By now his tenure in Washington could be considered common knowledge by even the most casual of football fans. From the poor in-game effort (in the “Monday Night Massacre” of course) to the controversial offseason fitness tests, Haynesworth’s time with the Redskins was nothing but a massive media distraction that saw a player unwilling to adapt to a new defensive scheme and unable to buy into what head coach Mike Shanahan was selling.
After two seasons, Haynesworth finished with 6.5 sacks in 20 games after recording 8.5 sacks in his last season in Tennessee before leaving for Washington. His tenure would end with a four-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the club” and he was later traded to the Patriots for a fifth-round draft selection.
The saddest part about it all? Haynesworth would end up losing millions of dollars from that contract and would later sue his financial advisor for mismanaging his money. Haynesworth would ask for $30 million in damages when the case went to arbitration; he received just $390,000.
6) Kirk Cousins’ contract history
I’ve gone into detail about this particular topic before (which you can find here) so I won’t beat a dead horse on the specifics of this sad moment in Redskins history.
I will however go into why this is arguably one of the biggest examples of full-on incompetence since Bruce Allen joined the Washington Redskins.
Allen had a chance to lock Cousins into a reasonable contract for a starting quarterback after a 2015 season that saw Cousins come into his own and deliver one of the best statistical seasons in Redskins history for a quarterback. This seemed too easy a solution for Allen, who instead decided a dragged out, seasons-long debacle of front office mindlessness was in actuality the correct way to go about this contract situation.
The man Allen refers to as “Kurt Cousins” can thank Allen for this type of incompetence since it effectively earned him a three-year, $84 million contract that was fully guaranteed. While Cousins is still essentially the same quarterback he was in Washington except with a better team, the decision not to lock him up sooner forced Washington into a frenzy for a new quarterback which has now led to Dwayne Haskins.
So in a way this sort of worked out for Washington, but the front office’s inability to lock up what was pretty much Washington’s best quarterback in the last 20 years is a sad and embarrassing moment for Allen in his 10 years with the Redskins.
5) The loss of the fanbase/The lack of game attendance
This one is a reflection of the previous ranked moments of dysfunction as well as the moments yet to even be discussed.
You can point at the team’s lackluster success over the decade as a reason for a loss in fan interest, but even at their most average, it doesn’t feel like that’s the main reason anymore. It’s the constant mediocrity grouped up with the terrible stadium experience, the terrible front office decision-making and of course the terrible treatment of the team’s own players. It’s everything.
This once great franchise, headlined by an equally strong fanbase, has hit the cellar of NFL team interest. The team has seen a 31.1% decline in average attendance over the last decade which is closest to the 21.4% decline for the CIncinnati Bengals. These two happen to own the first two selections in this year’s NFL Draft funny enough.
The team even admitted to lying about the length of the season ticket waiting list for years (Note: There was no waiting list). Now you’d find it hard to even see more Redskins fans than fans from the opposing team at FedEx Field.
The last few seasons at FedEx Field have made it look more like a road game for Washington than a home game.
Hope for a revitalized fanbase may not be too far away though.
As I’m writing this, Bruce Allen’s reign is officially over and Ron Rivera appears to be the main candidate for the head coaching job. These two moves seem to be exactly what this fanbase needs, and maybe, just maybe, this signals an end to the game attendance woes that have hindered this franchise over the last decade.
4) The Shattered coaching tree of the Shanahan era
This one’s pretty simple.
If you’re ever looking for evidence of “players/coaches flourish once they leave the Redskins” then this is exactly what you’re looking for.
When Mike Shanahan was head coach from 2010-2013, he had three guys on his staff that have been particularly fantastic since leaving the team.
There’s his son Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington when his dad worked there. He’s now the head coach of the 49ers after a successful stint as offensive coordinator with the Falcons.
The 49ers are currently the best team in the NFC after a two-year rebuild. They are a favorite to make a run to the Super Bowl this season, and Shanahan has continued to prove he’s one of the best offensive minds in the league.
There’s also Sean McVay, who was at the time of Shanahan’s tenure the tight ends coach. He eventually became the team’s offensive coordinator under coach Gruden, and became a hot commodity after Kirk Cousins’ breakout 2015 season.
McVay is now the head coach of the Rams, where he’s had a winning record in all three seasons as head coach and even led the team to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2018-19 season. He too is considered one of the best offensive coaches in the game today.
And finally, there’s Matt LaFleur, who was the Redskins quarterback coach. He’s still in the midst of his first year as head coach with the Packers, who won the NFC North, clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC and are also a favorite to make a run at the Super Bowl this season. It sounds like a pretty promising start to a coaching career if you ask me.
All three were on the same staff, all three left for greener pastures.
It’s mind-boggling to say the least. How does a team have so many bright minds on one staff, yet do so little? Those Redskins teams had three 10-loss seasons and zero playoff wins under Shanahan.
Even with Shanahan gone, Gruden didn’t fare much better. Sure he won the division in 2015, but his accomplishments pale so far in comparison to the success of those three aforementioned coaches that it’s useless to even make the argument for Gruden.
This is the classic example of this organization not knowing talent when they see it, and when they do have it, they simply let it walk away. The amount of “what if” statements that could be made from this form of dysfunction is absolutely incredible.
3) The defamatory send off of Scot McCloughan
No matter what your opinion is on Scot McCloughan, you can’t deny how truly disgusting his exit from the team was.
While McCloughan certainly had his fans (myself included) he also had many that were not. I mean you look at his drafts and they certainly aren’t as promising as expected, but the team looked better overall and the fanbase responded appropriately.
This is where we see a classic Bruce Allen moment take fold. Alleged jealousy took fold from Allen, who despised the credit the fanbase was giving to McCloughan for the team’s success.
What ended up happening as the Redskins moved McCloughan out and brought Allen back up into football operations was pure Shakespearian backstabbing.
Allen not only was the one to release a statement about McCloughan being fired, but was perhaps the primary reason unnamed team officials were telling media members that McCloughan’s alcoholism was becoming a problem in the organization.
McCloughan, who did have issues with alcoholism in his previous general manager stint with the 49ers, denied ever having issues in Washington, but by then the smear campaign had reached a point of no return. McCloughan was ousted with a tarnished reputation for something that perhaps never even happened; players even said they’d never seen him drink in the locker room as was reported by the Washington Post.
If you ever wonder why top coaching candidates never considered coming to Washington during Allen’s tenure, look to the awful case of McCloughan’s dismissal as a primary reason.
2) Bruce Allen’s culture speech
Coming in at No. 2 is a fairly recent entry into this list, but it’s impact and the uproar that came with it are a symbol of what this team has represented this decade.
In the midst of a historically bad 0-5 start to the season, the team decided to part ways with head coach Jay Gruden and go with offensive line coach Bill Callahan as the interim head coach.
During that time, Bruce Allen decided to have a press conference that would allow him to address the state of the franchise during this lowly start to the season. What came from the man was pure delusion in its most concentrated state.
Never has the fanbase reacted so strongly to a press conference, but it made sense. Allen didn’t seem to have a grasp of the magnitude of dysfunction surrounding the team, and worse yet, he failed to take any responsibility for the team he helped build.
The most infamous line from him was of course when he was asked about the team’s culture.
“The culture is actually damn good,” he said.
Little did he realize, it really wasn’t. In fact it was far from good.
The team on the field was a disaster, one of the team’s captains and star players refused to play and the head coach seemingly did not want the team’s rookie quarterback who had the expectation of being the team’s future at the position.
It was lunacy, and the perfect encapsulation of all that has gone wrong in Allen’s tenure.
1) Trent Williams: the People’s Martyr
What tops the list is a situation so vile, so insanely misguided and so Redskins that I immediately knew as soon as I started this list that it would be at the top.
Yeah everything else mentioned was bad, but this was really bad.
This would be a bad situation if it happened to any player on the team, but the fact that Trent Williams, a staple on the line since 2009, a seven-time Pro Bowler and arguably the most consistent player the organization has had this decade refused to ever play football for the Washington Redskins ever again was just unreal.
That is dysfunction if I’ve ever seen it.
The fact that the team’s medical staff misdiagnosed a growth on Williams’ head in 2013 that would be determined to be dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare cancerous tumor, in 2019 is insane. Williams had every reason not to show up for this team after such careless treatment.
And how it was handled once he said he wouldn’t return was equally atrocious.
Williams largely had it out for Allen after this incident and for good reason. Allen’s delusion that Williams would just come back and play after something like this was totally misguided and made him seem like he really didn’t have much concern for the health of one of the organization’s most important athletes.
This may be very recent example, but I have never seen anything like this from this team which says a lot considering what else this organization has done.
While Allen may be gone, and Williams may entertain the idea of returning to the organization, this is still one of the most embarrassing displays of organizational care for one of its players that I have ever seen, and it’s safe to say it’s very much worthy of the No. 1 spot for Redskins dysfunction in this decade.