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It’s not working: Commanders fans don’t believe in the direction of the team

Washington Commanders Introduce Carson Wentz Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It’s hard to pin down to a single factor, but one thing is clear: just days before the draft, Washington fans who answered a recent survey question don’t believe in the direction of the franchise.

Let’s discuss a few of the possible reasons why.

The owner

A lot of fans in a lot of cities think that they’re saddled with the worst owner in sports. If they’re not fans of the Washington NFL team, then they’re wrong.

Dan Snyder is a complete failure as an NFL owner. Around the turn of the century, he bought one of the most successful franchises in all of sports, and it took him less than two decades to turn it into an organization that is described by one word more often than any other: dysfunctional.

NFL: Washington Football Team-Press Conference Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Snyder’s list of sins since taking over as owner has become too lengthy to chronicle anymore. All anyone writes these days is, “Among his most recent embarrassments, Dan Snyder has now....”

There’s no need to reach back more than ten years. Heck, there’s no need to reach back as far as 2019 when the team was still known as the Redskins. Dan Snyder piles up egregious transgressions faster than the snow piles up in Buffalo.

How can anyone believe in the direction of a team that is so screwed up that an investigation by a Congressional Oversight Committee accidentally uncovers allegations of financial malfeasance that need to be referred to the Federal Trade Commission at the same time that the NFL is carrying out its second investigation into the team’s toxic workplace since Ron Rivera was hired to kick off the 2020 new year?

The coach

Speaking of head coach Ron “I don’t have the patience for a 5-year rebuild” Rivera, after back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, fans seem to be getting restless with the current guy in charge. Ron was given total control of the football operations when he was hired, which means that he is responsible for everything from rosters to the training & conditioning staff to the equipment room.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to separate whatever success Ron Rivera has had as a head coach from his incredibly gifted quarterback, Cam Newton.

With Newton healthy and playing well, Rivera’s Panther’s put up 12, 15, and 11 wins in 2013, ‘15, and ‘17 respectively. Those are his only three winning seasons as a head coach; in his other 7 campaigns, his teams have won 5, 6 or 7 games per season.

Heading into his 11th season as head coach, and his 3rd in Washington, Rivera seems to have tied his future to a quarterback who is much different than Cam Newton.

The quarterback

Catson Wentz was nobody’s first choice at starting quarterback for the Commanders. A year ago, Ron Rivera tried and failed to lure Matt Stafford to Washington. This year, he tried and failed to lure Russell Wilson to Washington. In a move of seeming desperation, he pulled the trigger on a trade for Carson Wentz, giving up what is likely to be a 2022 3rd round pick, a 2023 2nd round pick and swap of 2nd round spots in this year’s draft in return for Wentz and a 7th rounder.

Of course, Wentz was considered by many to be the leading MVP candidate in 2017 before tearing his ACL, but he simply hasn’t been the same quarterback since returning from his surgery. In 2020, he was benched as the Eagles’ starter in favor of an unproven Jaylen Hurts. At the time of his benching, he led the league in interceptions thrown (15), total turnovers (19), and sacks taken (50). In fact, he ended up leading the league in all of those categories at the end of the season despite only playing in 12 games.

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason, where he would be tutored by his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich. That didn’t work out, however, and the wounds from his 2021 season are still fresh. The season ended with Colts owner Jim Irsay standing in front of his private jet shouting above the noise of the engines that (in effect) he would personally see to it that Wentz never played another down in a Colts uniform.

Carson Wentz is the man that Ron Rivera and Dan Snyder have agreed should lead the Commanders in their inaugural season, setting the tone for the next century of Commanders football.

The rebrand

If anything typifies the loss of confidence of Washington fans more than the 19-month rebrand, which culminated with 3 mannequins in Commanders uniforms displayed on a lonely and icy outdoor stage on an early February morning as Doug Williams, sitting on a folding chair alongside Jason Wright and Jonathan Allen in an empty stadium, forlornly declared, “We are...the Commanders”, then I don’t know what it is.

Washington Football Team Announces Name Change to Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Owner Dan Snyder, Team President Jason Wright, and Head of Everything Football Related Ron Rivera squandered an opportunity to reignite passion with a new brand that the fan base could embrace, and ignored every opportunity to reach out to a new generation of potential Washington fans by turning away from new approaches and a fan-centered approach to freshening the brand. The eventual low-key “aw shucks” announcement of the Commanders name on the Today Show show because, in the words of Jason Wright, it is a “global brand”, speaks volumes for their collective understanding of what a global brand is, how it is built, and how it is maintained.

Incredibly, with literally every single possible avenue available to pursue when the name change was announced in mid-2020, the Washington brains trust chose the least imaginative and least effective path possible.

Free agency

There are typically two big opportunities to excite the fan base between the end of the season and the start of training camp. One of those opportunities is the draft, and the other is veteran free agency.

With only 6 draft picks overall, and just 3 picks in the first 5 rounds, it will be hard for the Commanders to do much to improve the roster in next week’s draft.

The acquisitions in free agency haven’t been bad — the team signed LG Andrew Norwell and DE Efe Obada to very thrifty contracts — but there was a lot more talent going out than coming in. RG Brandon Scherff, the team’s only All-Pro in years, left in free agency, along with the popular DT Tim Settle and backup QB Kyle Allen. The team added to the talent outflow by cutting DT Matt Ioannidis, S/LB Landon Collins, and LG Ereck Flowers, all of whom were on fairly pricey contracts.

As an effort in cap management, these can be seen as prudent moves, but in terms of roster enhancement and fan excitement, it’s hard to see how the combination of Wentz, Norwell and Obada is enough to offset the loss of the talented and popular players who walked or were pushed out the door.

For anyone looking at Ron Rivera’s tenure in Washington as a 5-year rebuild, the current roster in Year 3 might seem like a reasonable place to be, but Ron promised us on his first day on the job that we weren’t getting a 5-year rebuild. At this point, it’s easy to believe that the 2022 iteration of the Washington roster will be the weakest of Ron’s 3-year tenure just as we’re hitting the point where he should be delivering on his early promises.

The result

In a survey of Hogs Haven readers carried out this week, only 47% of those surveyed expressed confidence that the team is headed in the right direction. This is not the result you want just two month after launching a major rebrand.

This should be a time of great excitement. The team has a new name, logo, uniforms and identity. Free agency is behind us and the draft is just days away. As far as offseason excitement goes, it shouldn’t get much better than that for fans.

But clearly things aren’t as they should be. The team has posted 5 consecutive losing seasons; the owner is an embarrassment; the quarterback comes with questions about leadership, injuries, and confidence; the roster seems to be moving in the wrong direction, and increasingly, fans are questioning the man who was hired to make it all better, head coach Ron Rivera.

The 2022 season will be pivotal for many people in Washington, but, at the moment, the fans seem to be betting against them.

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Each week we ask questions of the most plugged-in Washington Commanders fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.