1. If Navin Johnson were here today, he would say, " EVALUATION TIME IS HERE! EVALUATION TIME IS HERE!" Ahhhhhhhh...that familiar place we Redskins fans recognize as well and as quickly as any sports fan. The competitive portion of our season is over. It can be a tumultuous time for most fanbases, but we have trampled this turf before. Let's go over the ground rules, shall we?
2. You are not a bad Redskins fan for openly identifying (before week 17) the end of the road for yet another Redskins season. Among my friends, I tend to hold on the longest to any shred of hope that may or may not exist for a season, but that doesn't make me incapable of seeing what is plainly in front of all of us. Mathematical elimination is the true and final sayonara, but when writing appears on a wall in great big spray-painted lettering, it is foolish to completely dismiss it.
3. We don't root for losses to improve draft position. EVER. Ironically, we are actually rooting for wins so as not to hand over a draft pick to St. Louis that is so good it causes us all to wince and cover our loins. On the other hand, if St. Louis receives a top first round pick, that means we will be making a top second round pick. In this draft, that should equal a starting offensive lineman or starting cornerback (though I will leave the who and the when to my good friend Steve Shoup). There is no honor in tanking, and there is no pleasure in rooting for tanking. We can be realistic about the end of this season, but that shouldn't stop us from attempting to enjoy another six games.
4. I know a big story today is the way that players--namely Robert Griffin III--seemed to throw the coaches under the bus in their post-game pressers. It is a big story, but I think we should refrain from reading anything too major into that. When a season is all but shut down thanks to a road loss to a bitter divisional rival on the road that came down to the very last seconds of the game, words are going to be terse. It is not lost on these players and coaches that all of their hard work for the last year or so will not be paid off with a second consecutive playoff appearance. They deserve to not be nailed to every possible adverse interpretation of their words in that moment. Still, it is also true what they say about what happens when the going gets tough. You want these guys to hold it together as best as they can for the next month and a half. This roster has a lot of young players on it. We have seen firsthand how seemingly promising careers disappear like a fart in the wind when the environment becomes overly toxic.
5. The question most asked to me over the last 24 hours is: "Will Mike Shanahan be fired?" I do not think Dan Snyder will fire Shanny. First of all, Snyder coveted Mike Shanahan for years before he was able to hire him. Dan Snyder told Kevin and I in an interview we did with him that he made overtures to Pat Bowlen shortly after he bought the team to try and trade for Shanahan. If you recall, when he did land Shanny, it was on the heels of not just the Zorn disaster, but a long streak of coaching failures broken up somewhat by the second tenure of Joe Gibbs. Five years is a VERY long-term relationship for Snyder, but he knew he was going to have to prove he was capable of keeping a guy for an entire contract. We may never know if, or to what extent, Mike Shanahan was involved in the salary cap penalty debacle, but in the end that is something that should be hung on Dan Snyder. If you believe that, than you have to be willing to also suggest that judging a coach poorly after two years without $18 million in cap space is perhaps unfair. Further, it gets even more complicated because of a certain someone's son on the coaching staff. What once looked like the grooming of our next head coach has now morphed into a desperate search for a face-saving exit strategy. It seems clear to me that change to our coaching staff is necessary. If I am right and Snyder is going to resist pushing the Shanahans to the curb, the obvious targets would be Jim Haslett and Keith Burns. This would be enough of a change for the team to look like it is going in a fresh new direction, but it would also allow Snyder to keep Shanahan, and it would allow Mike to keep Kyle. This does not neatly solve the appearance of trust issues between Griffin and the Shanahans, but both sides could seize the opportunity to work harder to bridge those gaps this offseason. Griffin should not be so desperate to start fresh with a new offense and the Shanahans should not be so naive as to think that they are not part of the problem. If the team gets serious about building an offensive line, you might see this unit evolve into something truly elite. I hear some of you asking, "Haven't we already given this coach enough time to get it figured out?" It seems to me that if the Redskins are going to stick it out with anyone, Mike Shanahan is as good a coach as any to finally apply that philosophy. Better to hang on an extra year or so with a coach who has won Super Bowls as opposed to getting back on the carousel that netted us Spurrier and Zorn. All of this comes with a wrinkle. One thing that Mike Shanahan has in spades is ego. Let's say that Snyder and/or Bruce Allen tells Mike Shanahan that he has to make these changes to his coaching staff and he resists. At that point, Snyder would be forced to completely blow up the entire coaching staff. There would be very little that could be salvaged from that wreckage. We would once again be looking at a new era of Redskins football with no clear idea of how long it would be until we could contend. Should the Redskins land a quality defensive guru capable of getting a full 60 minutes out of his squad, and a special teams coach that can lead that unit to greater competence in 2014, it is not hard to envision a different outcome in the first ten games of next season. I think it boils down to this: firing Mike Shanahan says way more than Dan Snyder can stomach at this point. It says that yet another Super Bowl-winning coach (Gibbs being the first) could not help his franchise return to prominence. It says that even with a transcendent athlete hand-picked at the top of the draft, the Washington Redskins aren't capable of hanging with teams that nobody is putting in the Super Bowl mix any time soon. It says that he continues to be the conductor of the Failure Train in Washington. I don't see Dan Snyder being ready to wear any of this right now. Because of all of this, I don't think Shanahan gets fired. Let's hold off on figuring out how important it is to Shanny and Snyder to avoid a lame-duck season.
6. There are some big questions that loom in the back of my mind as the season plays itself out. In no particular order:
* Will the Redskins look for ways to get Kirk Cousins on the field at some point? Whether it is to save Griffin for the 2014 season or to showcase a player they may feel they can get something valuable for, this notion is not as outlandish as it sounds. I will continue to hope that Cousins remains on our roster, as I believe we are better with him, but what if we were able to net a starting offensive lineman in the draft by trading Cousins? I would have to think seriously about that. You can't bench Griffin at this point because it would make a bad situation worse, but I could see them "resting" him if he takes a few big hits.
* Will the team put Santana Moss back to return punts? His importance to our offense is not what it once was, and he would be a far more effective return man than guys freshly activated from the practice squad. This is likely it for him in burgundy and gold, and I for one would love the opportunity to cheer for him to make a few big plays on special teams in December. Santana Clause is always going to be one of my favorite players.
* How will the team balance the need to "find out" about some of their depth players without making it look like they are not as interested in winning or without putting our top players' health at risk? You have to be very careful when you put these guys on the field. It is imperative to gain as much insight into what we have on our hands as possible, but a misstep made by a youthful lineman could get a veteran destroyed.