It's time for Redskins to face hard reality

Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden leaves FedEx Field after falling to 0-5 on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton.

The Washington Redskins are masters at self-delusion, but even they must realize now what the remainder of this season is about. The fantasies they sold themselves this offseason had been exposed before Sunday afternoon, and the New England Patriots further laid bare the futile bleakness that shrouds the franchise.

Opposing fans invaded FedEx Field. Washington's quarterback performed like the journeyman the entire league knows he is. Its coach was vastly outmaneuvered after halftime. None of this is new or surprising or even interesting anymore, but the familiarity makes it no less embarrassing.

In the wake of a 33-7 trouncing by the Patriots, the Redskins had no choice to accept a reality they have ignored. They are awful on the field and directionless off it. No tinkering or tweaking will inch they them closer to respectability. They are starting a massive rebuild, and every choice - especially the only two that really matter, about beleaguered Coach Jay Gruden and rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins - must be made through that lens.

While fans chanted "Bra-dy!" and Patriots receivers roamed free and the Redskins' offensive line was manhandled, it was instructive to think back to what Bruce Allen, Washington's team president, said at the Senior Bowl last January. "We were two games out of the playoffs," Allen said then, in rare public comments. "No matter how you want to look at the season, we were two games out of it. The year before we were one game out of it, the year before we were one game out of it. We have to find the right ingredients to get over that hump."

The Redskins have no direction. They have a team president who understands how to placate an owner at the expense of progress. Allen overestimated the talent on the Redskins roster, letting last year's 6-3 start delude him into saying, and maybe even thinking, Washington was "close" to playoff contention. Those sentiments were false, but they could settle unease in the owner's box of Daniel Snyder. Don't worry, Dan, this is fine. The front seven is a beast, the last three teams who let Case Keenum go missed the boat and no, don't be silly, the building is not on fire.

They kept Gruden. They retained defensive coordinator Greg Manusky after speaking with several defensive coaches. They positioned Keenum as a caretaker capable of leading a playoff run. They drafted Haskins, apparently against the advice of their coaching staff. They didn't placate or trade Trent Williams, instead letting their best offensive player hold out. They thought they had a great defense and a coaching staff capable of coaxing points from career backups and an inexperienced receiving corps.

The season has unfolded in a manner predictable for everyone except Allen. Sunday's result felt inevitable, even after Steven Sims took a jet-motion sweep 65 yards and handed New England a 7-0 deficit, its first of the season. Washington was a 15 1/2-point underdog at home and didn't come within a touchdown of covering. The Patriots may have prioritized withholding strategy over dominating, and they dominated anyway.

"They showed a lot of exotic stuff on film," Redskins running back Adrian Peterson said. "But against us, they didn't really [do anything exotic]. You know? It was like, hey, we'll sit back here and see what you guys do, allow you guys to mess up."

Peterson also expressed the belief that "something has to change" in the same breath he challenged coaches to go back to the drawing board. The uneasy fate of Gruden hovers over the franchise. As of late Sunday afternoon, neither Snyder nor Allen had provided him clarity on his job status.

"If the key works Monday," Gruden said, "I'll keep working."

In deciding Gruden's fate, Washington needs to consider only future seasons. At 0-5, this one is lost, and if ownership views Gruden as an impediment to future considerations, it needs to move on now. Is up-and-coming offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell a play-caller you want to keep in house? Use the next 11 games to find out.

Washington also needs to gather information about Haskins, the quarterback it selected 15th overall. While Daniel Jones, Kyler Murray and Gardner Minshew build NFL résumés as rookies, Haskins is receiving only practice reps commanding the scout team, not even running his own team's offense.

Given Colt McCoy's performance and résumé before Sunday, Gruden does not believe Haskins is ready to play in the NFL. That is beside the point. Yes, there is risk that Haskins, a quarterback with just one season of starting experience in college, will be overwhelmed and shaken playing behind Washington's offensive line, throwing to untested wide receivers.

But Washington needs to give Haskins a chance to develop. Given restraints regarding practice time, the only way for him to receive ample practice reps is to name him the starter. It also needs to find out what it has in Haskins, because evaluating him may become essential to next year's draft. Haskins may not be ready. Let's find out, because the alternative - losing with Keenum or McCoy - accomplishes nothing.

Washington is so bad that once-unfathomable scenarios are on the table. It's grown clear the Redskins - one of two 0-5 teams in the NFL - are in the running for a top-two pick in a draft with two quarterbacks, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert, perceived as potential franchise changers. Washington's next coach may believe Haskins is a franchise quarterback. He may also favor Tagovailoa or Herbert.

The discussion may not be Keenum/McCoy or Haskins much longer. It could become Haskins or Tagovailoa/Herbert. Washington could face the option of adopting the radical template Arizona created when it traded Josh Rosen, a first-round quarterback the year before, and took its preferred quarterback, Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, with the first overall pick.

The theoretical raises plenty of questions. Snyder influenced the choice of Haskins, perhaps against the wishes of Gruden, and so would a coach who replaces Gruden be allowed to choose Tagovailoa or Herbert? Will Snyder make a preference for Haskins a prerequisite of his next coaching hire? The first step to answering them all should be figuring out just what Haskins is as an NFL starter, to give him a chance to make the conversation moot with his performance.

Washington should also look ahead to next year's draft in regard to Williams's holdout. It's well past time to end that nonsense. Williams took a principled stand based on well-founded concerns with Washington's training staff, and Allen responded with a noxious combination of clownish petulance and retrograde paternalism that hurts the on-field product and harms the future outlook.

Allen thinks he can bleed Williams dry by running up fines and missed paychecks, that he can force Williams back hat in hand. Last season, Williams underwent thumb surgery and tried to return two weeks into what is typically an eight-week recovery. Washington's season had yet to unravel, and Williams was asked whether their rare contention in the NFC East convinced him to return so quickly. Actually, Williams said, no.

"I just want to get back because I need the game," Williams said then. "I need the competition. I need to be there with my teammates. I need to be there with my brothers, playing on Sunday. That's where I'm at peace."

Does that sound like a man who treats football solely as a job? Who views his craft solely as a means to make money? Washington soured one of its best employees. The only solution is to let him play elsewhere and save face by turning a veteran into a draft pick. One rival executive thinks Williams could bring back a second-rounder. They should make the deal as soon as possible.

If Williams returned this season, to this mess, what would it matter, anyway? Maybe it would help Washington beat the Miami Dolphins next week, in a game of two teams failing in different ways. The Dolphins are awful on purpose, and whether that plan is sound or not, it is a plan. Washington has none, and the time for that to change is now. This season is over, and the next 11 weeks should be used to make next season something other than a humiliation, something other than the only thing Washington has consistently been under Snyder.

fbn-redskins

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