We have all been clamoring for the Redskins to put a "football guy" in charge of football decisions. Bruce Allen has many strengths, but being a topnotch personnel man is not among the many credits to his name. That is fine--after all, the business of running an NFL team requires having guys like Bruce Allen, who is capable of adding value to the organization. As you all know, I am not one to just bitch and moan (bitching and moaning is only PART of what I do). Alongside any complaint will come a discussion of possible solutions or alternatives to the current scenario. So since I complain about the lack of a legit football guy in charge of picking players, here is a possible avenue forward.
In March of 2013, the Washington Redskins signed AJ Smith as a senior executive. What brought him to Washington? Along with being friends with Bruce Allen, AJ's son Kyle was a scout for the Redskins at the time of his hire. Let me say up front, as far as people that Dan Snyder has hired since he became the owner, AJ Smith has to rank as one of the best. In an organization bereft of legitimate scouting prowess at the executive level, AJ Smith brings a resume full of it. Sure, he was run out of San Diego, but in an industry where you are generally hired to be fired, that is hardly a knock on a man. Further, if our battle cry is, "Put a football man in charge of picking players," we could do FAR worse than AJ Smith. I only say that because...we have done, uhhhhhh, far worse.
The former executive vice president and general manager of the San Diego Chargers has likely provided Bruce Allen with valuable advice since his arrival. You may laugh either out loud or just to yourself after reading that, but consider this: when AJ Smith took over the Chargers front office in 2003 after John Butler passed away, he found himself at the helm of a team that was a perennial loser without a playoff appearance in almost ten years. I understand that there is only so much credit you can give a guy in a suit, but the Chargers first losing season under AJ Smith was 2012. Between 2003 and 2012, the Chargers won their division five times and went eight consecutive seasons without a losing record.
Listen, there are other reasons why AJ Smith makes sense as a Dan Snyder hire, and they involve his reputation as a guy who is at least a little bit arrogant. His moves over the years could also be classified as "risky"--he has swung for the fences on multiple occasions with some of his moves, and Snyder has shown a penchant for similar kinds of moves.
The standoff with Eli Manning that led to the arrival of Philip Rivers was a noteworthy deal. While Eli has gone on to win Super Bowl MVP trophies, you can't say that San Diego didn't get a hell of a quarterback. They also added the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year when they used the first rounder from New York the following year (Shawne Merriman).
Then again, you could also say that Smith is the GM who chose Philip Rivers over TWO Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks, since he also let Drew Brees walk as a free agent (Brees was coming off a nasty torn labrum injury). Still, I would be hard-pressed to suggest that the Chargers were not set at quarterback with Rivers. He is a stud.
What about the addition of Antonio Gates? The former basketball standout at Kent State went undrafted in 2003 and made the Pro Bowl in 2004--AJ Smith has to get a ton of credit for seeing the upside of putting a strong power forward kind of athlete at the tight end position. The resulting trend didn't just transform the tight end position--it transformed the linebacker position as well as pass defensive philosophy. No, he doesn't get all the credit for innovating at tight end, but he was the only one who saw Antonio Gates as a transcendent kind of player, and that has to mean something.
You can't talk about AJ Smith and his tenure as general manager in San Diego without mentioning Marty Schottenheimer. How many times do coaches who go 14-2 get fired? If you want to find the silver lining in a situation that was a big story all the way over here on the east coast, it is that the parting of ways was handled with as much class as you could want. You would expect nothing less from Marty, of course.
Am I the world's biggest AJ Smith fan? Hardly, but he has worked as a full-time scout, he has run scouting departments and he has been responsible for picking players that have enjoyed a great deal of success in this league and led his teams to winning seasons. AJ Smith has now had almost a year to assess the situation in Washington. He has been up close and personal with Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, and given his past record of stubbornness/arrogance/decision-making, I am confident he would not be a yes man.
I would have zero problem if the Redskins promoted AJ Smith to head up the personnel side of the house, if they were ever going to make such a move. It is an easy lift for Dan Snyder, because it involves promoting someone already in house, and it keeps Bruce Allen in the fold doing what he does best--not to mention Bruce and AJ are very close and could work together.
Finally, in the precedent-setting case of "Beggars vs. Choosers," it was made very clear that if we ask for something and we get it, we have to at least give it a chance. AJ Smith is a football guy. We have been begging for a football guy. I expect people to not like the decision, but I won't be part of that group.