handful of N.F.L. teams went into this season with some very high hopes. Yes, every team comes into a season with hopes of being the greatest, but only a handful of teams, on paper at least, really have a chance at greatness. As with many expectations, there is often disappointment. Some of those teams didn’t wind up being as good as they should have been - this year, the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins come to mind. Both teams were supposed to be the cream of the crop this year, and both are horrible.
Houston, after an embarrassing loss to the Jaguars on Dec. 5, fired head coach Gary Kubiak and was the first team to behead its leadership in search of a positive direction after going 2-11. There will be more beheadings soon, and many suspect they will occur in Tampa Bay, the New York Jets organization and in Tennessee. The coaching change everyone’s eager to hear about is, obviously, is Mike Shanahan in Washington. Will he stay or will he go?
If you’ve read this column long enough, you know I am one who loves a good soap opera in the N.F.L. Right now, it’s the Washington Redskins organization that’s providing us all a hell of a dose of entertainment. Going into this season, the Redskins were probably the one team many had picked to not only be at the top of the N.F.C. East Division, but at the top of the entire N.F.C. With Robert Griffin III back for his second season under Shanahan, it was anybody’s guess on how high he could fly this year.
Of course, RG III was coming off a serious injury last season and many questioned whether or not the former Heisman Trophy winner would regain his physical prowess on the field. In short, all eyes were on coach Mike Shanahan and RG III this year to see if the magic would return to the Redskins. Besides Peyton Manning’s return in Denver, RG III is probably the biggest story in the N.F.L., and what a downer that story has become. With just two games left, Washington’s record of 3-11 is probably the most disappointing in the league. Washington’s season of promise has been flushed down the toilet.
To add some more drama, Shanahan decided before last week’s game against Atlanta that it was time to bench RG III for the rest of the season, out of concern for his health. It was a move that many in Washington, many within the team and many around the country just couldn’t believe. Why would you bench your best player? Perhaps the one player fans are still willing to pay to see? For Shanahan, on the surface at least, his decision was intended to save the young player for next year. After all, RG III has been sacked 24 times in his last five games.
There seemed to be more to it than that, though.
There are many who believe Shanahan is ready to move on from the Redskins organization because of his strained relationship with team owner Daniel Snyder, and that benching RG III would be a way out. If Shanahan, out of the blue, benches RG III for the rest of the season, Snyder would get so pissed off he would fire Shanahan on the spot. With one year and $7 million left on his contract, Shanahan could take his money and hit the couch for a year. Get paid to do nothing. No stress. No press conferences. Just get paid.
If this is true, and Shanahan wants out, so far Snyder hasn’t taken the bait. (I’ve read some reports that Snyder was hoppin’ mad at Shanahan’s decision to sit RG III.) After some awkward press conferences with Shanahan at the mic over the last two weeks, Shanahan says he’s staying put and he’ll worry about his future at the end of the season.
The question the Redskins face right now is this: is Shanahan being a good coach and looking to a positive future with the team? Is benching RG III the best for the team right now? Can he be saved for next year?
Or is Shanahan finished with the Redskins organization and he’s simply trying to torch the entire place before he goes out in a blaze of glory? I tend to think he’s being a good coach. RG III wasn’t playing well before he was benched, and it looked like he was going to get hurt at some point. Why hurt your organization’s future on the last few games of season? I say get RG III at a full 100 percent for next year – not at 78 percent, like he’s been all this year.
I also think Shanahan is also working another angle here for a better season next year, as well. By benching RG III, Shanahan is able to highlight the qualities of former backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins didn’t play too bad0 against Atlanta and some think Shanahan is taking the opportunity to market Cousins for a draft pick next year.
“If he lights it up, hey, maybe we can bring a first-round draft choice back to this organization…” Shanahan said of Cousins to The Washington Post. “And I think by him playing and Robert not playing, it gives us a chance to have a few options for our organization that we wouldn’t normally have, and the safety of our quarterback going into the offseason is preserved….And we’re still getting a chance to see a guy that we’ve got a lot of confidence in go out there and play. And his value can only go up. It cannot go down. It can only go up.”
When Shanahan was let go by the Denver Broncos organization years ago, I was all for the decision. It wasn’t so much that I mistrusted Shanahan or that I didn’t like his coaching style. I thought he was getting stale in Denver. It was time for something new. I still believe Shanahan is one of the best offensive coaching minds in the N.F.L. At the same time, he seems spiteful. He has a chip on his shoulder. I want to believe that he’s benching RG III because he believes its best for the quarterback and best for the team.
Is it true? Who knows. I guess it’s a decision that Snyder is going to have to answer for himself. If I were Snyder, I would let Shanahan do what Shanahan wants for just one more season. The guy can still coach, despite the soap opera he finds himself in.