- Happy belated President’s Day, y’all! I hope you celebrated to the fullest, as I did. How does one celebrate President’s Day, you might ask? Every year is different, but this year, I powered my way through most of HBO’s miniseries, John Adams. I have seen it before, which allowed me to be doing about six other things at the same time as it was on in the background throughout the muggy, rainy day. Inevitably, I would be sucked back into the story of our Founding Fathers and their struggle to unite a fledgling nation. If you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out (the series is seven episodes long). Paul Giamatti is amazing as he always is (I have always been partial to his Bob Zmuda role in “Man on the Moon”). Regardless of your political leaning (irregardless, even), it is near impossible to watch a show depicting the experiences and wisdom of true patriots like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abigail Adams and Benjamin Franklin without at least wondering how they would handle the problems facing today’s iteration of the nation they helped create. The stories of these early Americans remind us that a true love of country and an honest willingness to sacrifice and work hard toward a shared goal can lead to success beyond imagination. More than just a welcome reminder, it is a necessary reminder.
- I figured I would spin that thought into a discussion on the leadership we would point to if we were gathered around a table talking about the Washington Redskins. There never seems to be a dull moment with this franchise, with more than our fair share of self-inflicted pain. Let’s just get the obvious point made and done with: Dan Snyder’ leadership has been a problem for the Washington Redskins for the last...uhhhh...20 years or so. While many of you have given up thinking that this will change, I cling to the hope that watching the SAME ORGANIZATIONS do it the SAME WAY with HIGH DEGREES of success (Patriots, Steelers, Packers) over EXTENDED PERIODS of time will cause Snyder to...maybe...try some of those time-tested strategies. A fool’s hope perhaps...but I’m a Redskins fan, and this steward is only 53 years old, which means that without the hope of reform in the Steward’s Suite, life in burgundy and gold would become rather pointless.
- We have all taken turns directing shots at Bruce Allen in recent years—most memorably after the organization parted ways with Scot “McLovin” McCloughan. Please don’t read this as a glowing endorsement of Allen’s leadership abilities, but his tenure as Chief Bullet-Taker for Dan Snyder has had at least some positive moments (too glowing for you?). As “President” of the Redskins franchise (I am sure he celebrated yesterday), Allen has not inspired us all to believe our best days have arrived, though he has treated us to a number of slogans suggesting it. I am kind of torn on Bruce Allen in this way: despite the Mister Magoo-style management of the Redskins, he actually does have significant experience in the league at the executive level, which should benefit the team. He has significant ties to the organization stemming from the George Allen era, and he was definitely successful initially when he traded a little bit on that with us. We can all debate whether any draft pick who succeeds going forward is a result of Allen “knowing” or the “blind squirrel/nut” phenomenon. We can all debate whether any impact free agent adds credibility to the Allen-led front office. It’s just such a...depressing debate. I suppose my greatest hope—given our experience in the Bruce Era—is that he won’t be the reason why we fail going forward. If Allen can lead from the middle or the side for a season or two, he could very well gain the footing he needs to evolve into a far more successful executive. Conversely, if he doesn’t, I would suspect we could see Snyder move on in that time frame.
- When the franchise said goodbye to McLovin, I argued that it wasn’t Snyder or Allen who would benefit the most in that power vacuum, but Jay Gruden. Here is the FIRST coach that Dan Snyder has EVER given a second contract to, and one whose roots also trace back into Bruce Allen’s past. After all, many have suggested that it was Jon Gruden who made some key decisions instead of Bruce in Tampa Bay all those years ago. Listening to a Gruden is in Allen’s DNA. If you want further proof of the leadership/power that Jay ultimately wields these days, look at the Kirk Cousins situation. Of course Jay liked Kirk, and of course he felt comfortable having #8 run his offense, BUT Jay sees it as JAY’S offense. He has made plenty of remarks about his offense being successful with or without Kirk, and this is very consistent with the sense we got from McLovin when we interviewed him on The Audible not too long ago. In short, Jay Gruden thinks his scheme and coaching is more responsible for offensive production than Kirk’s abilities. I am certain Jay is excited about the notion of having an experienced pro like Alex Smith on the field running his plays. I feel equally certain that if Jay had told Snyder and Allen that the franchise should pay top dollar to keep Kirk here for his whole career, we might have seen a different outcome. You are free to call that crazy, of course, because it suggests that Dan would have listened and allowed the coach’s position to outweigh any pettiness or bad blood between the team and the quarterback. In short, between Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden, I think Jay’s leadership off the field is the absolute key to our chances of winning in 2018 and in the short term beyond. I hope it will come down to more than just luck that this is both correct and meaningful.
- On the offensive side of the field, I think Alex Smith comes in immediately with some leadership cred. I think we all agree that it isn’t as if the Redskins signed Brett Favre or Peyton Manning here, in terms of locker room leader and on-field general. Still, it seems most players he has suited up with have been willing to ride-or-die with him, and the longer his career goes, the more players have been outspoken about his toughness and dedication to the game. It is a great situation for the Redskins, as I have said before—which isn’t to say Alex is great, mind you. It would be hard to talk about leadership on the field on offense without saying the name of the best football player on the field—Trent Williams. I know folks have called into question his leadership ability/potential due to his off-the-field transgressions. I get it. Those takes aren’t “wrong” per se, but I also think people forget something about football that hasn’t changed since the game came into existence: the best guy on the field has a hell of a lot of say. While suspended, his voice may have been muted, but on any day #71 suits up for the Redskins, trust me when I tell you he is the unquestioned leader. Teams can do a lot worse than having tenured guys like Trent and Alex leading the way on offense. The combination of Jay, Trent and Alex means—to me—that our offense should be under solid leadership next season.
- On defense, it becomes slightly trickier, because one of the unquestioned leaders of the defense is new to the scene and the other is rumored to be possibly on the way out. DJ Swearinger grabbed the horns of leadership last season and ran. I thought he set a great example for the entire unit, and I would argue that his leadership transcended just his role on defense. For a team that has not been particularly strong on defense, it was surprising that a defensive player would be such a prominent leader of the entire locker room. Many would look at Ryan Kerrigan as a possible guy to be at the head of the table, yet he has just never shown that he is that kind of guy. That doesn’t mean Kerrigan lacks leadership ability. His example between the whistles and all year round is as good as you could ask for in a franchise player. His production has been consistent and his availability has been sky high. (His sack dance is also firmly on the NFL map of sack dances.) No, for a more vocal presence (whether it be for leadership purposes or not), one needs only look at the island that Josh Norman lives on every Sunday. His play and his demeanor (on and off the field) are certainly things that his teammates feed off of and follow. We can quibble about whether he is hurting or hindering our chances sometimes, but he tends to fall under the “Trent Williams” rule, due to Josh Norman being the best player on the field for our defense (I wonder if Jonathan Allen will surpass him in that this season). Between Swearinger, Norman, Kerrigan and Jonathan Allen (I include Allen because of his unreal skill level and position at the point of attack), the Redskins do possess the kind of leadership that would enhance our abilities to win. In the past, the leaders of the defense have lacked the elite skills these four have, which as I say above, feeds directly into a football player’s ability to lead. By no means is this an exhaustive list of where leadership can and will come from in 2018, and I invite you to increase our hopes in the success of the Redskins this season by making the case for some other players (I have left a couple obvious choices sitting right there...).
President’s Day is always a great time to reexamine the kind of leadership that exists inside the halls and locker room of the Washington Redskins.