We were told things had changed. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder – the Dan Snyder of seven head coaches and 14 quarterbacks in just 13 seasons – had mellowed out. Even Dave McKenna, the former Washington City Paper writer who penned the invaluable Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder – the Dan Snyder who subsequently sued the Washington City Paper over the article (yes, that really happened; yes, he eventually dropped the lawsuit) – became a fan.
This season, the Redskins went 10-6 and won their first NFC East title since 1999, behind star quarterback Robert Griffin III. They even pulled ahead 14-0 in the first quarter of their playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. But then, well, you know what happened. A few ineffective Griffin quarters and one gruesome fall later, the Redskins fell to Seattle, 24-14, and Griffin damaged his ACL and LCL, requiring offseason surgery.
A few points to consider here: Griffin had already sprained his LCL in a December game against the Baltimore Ravens; Griffin clearly tweaked his knee shortly before the Redskins’ second touchdown, in the first quarter, and ran gingerly afterward; Griffin is possibly the most valuable commodity in the entire NFL. Yet Redskins coach Mike Shanahan – the man to whom Snyder has turned over nearly every important football decision – left Griffin in the game until midway through the fourth quarter, when his knee gave out as he chased a snap.
The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder for the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, which they used to take Griffin. “For the Redskins to get the equivalent value from RGIII as they spent acquiring him,” the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective wrote, “he must produce at least as much as Tom Brady.” Griffin’s health (and performance, but if he’s hurt, he certainly can’t perform) will be quite highly correlated with the long-term success of the franchise. Griffin’s even more important to the Redskins than Stephen Strasburg is to another local team, the Nationals.
The Nats caused some local consternation when they shut Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft who injured his elbow and missed the entire 2011 season, down for the season in early September, despite the team having the best record in the National League. Griffin’s injury doesn’t prove Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo correct – I, at least, think the Nationals overreacted to pitcher overuse in earlier eras and didn’t necessarily save Strasburg from further injury – but it illustrates a crucial difference between franchises: the Nationals had a clear plan for handling their young star – cut him off at about 160 innings – while the Redskins evidently let their 22-year-old phenom, bred in a culture of macho toughness, make his own health decisions, parsing “injured” and “hurt.”
Redskins team doctor James Andrews told USA Today he didn’t even get to examine Griffin before he re-entered the Ravens game. Andrews’ sideline interaction with Shanahan was later termed a miscommunication, but there shouldn’t be any miscommunications among Redskins management about Robert Griffin III. And if there are – if the team’s “handling” of Griffin only involves shuttling him into a small red shed on the Fedex Field sideline before sending the gimpy No. 2 overall pick back onto the field to run dangerous quarterback options – that ultimately falls on Snyder. Just because he’s less visibly involved doesn’t mean he’s less to blame; merely handing control over to another short-sighted megalomaniac doesn’t mean he’s changed at all.