The Danny Deception

One of the loudest arguments against the Redskins signing perennially short-term quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term, big-money deal is that, despite passing stats that look rather gaudy on the surface, a deeper dive into his play and his performances in big moments reveals a QB that isn’t as good as those numbers suggest.  Or, in layman’s terms, Kirk doesn’t produce when it matters most.

I’m not here to argue for that.  Or against it.  In fact, this article isn’t about Kirk at all.  
I do, however, want the argument itself to be kept in mind while reading the rest of this article.

The trail that led me down this awful rabbit hole actually started as I contemplated a troubling pattern that I’m noticing among our players in terms of how injuries are dealt with and treated.  

ACLs and torn muscles happen.  Realistically, football is a sport in which players’ bodies are pushed during conditioning and training to their peak condition.  Once the adrenaline of competition kicks in, then the built-in limiters the brain puts on a body’s physiology in order to avoid sustaining or aggravating injuries - like good, old-fashioned pain, for example - are suddenly lifted.   Combine that with the inherent danger of progressively bigger, faster players banging into each other at high speed, and it’s not hard to see why the NFL is often called a ‘one hundred percent injury league.’  It’s not really a matter of if, but when, where, and how badly, that determines if a player will be able to suit up.  An offensive lineman can play with a broken thumb, for example.  Just ask longtime Skins tackle Jon Jansen, who famously broke both thumbs within weeks of each other and kept playing.  If you’re playing receiver or running back, though, good luck.  It’s hard to grip a ball – or anything else, for that matter – with no thumbs.

But torn ligaments, torn muscles, broken bones – those aren’t the type of injuries I’m talking about.  I’m talking about a lower degree of injury, not typically severe enough to end a season or require surgery but also not minor enough that a player could play completely unaffected.  Sprains, strains, muscle pulls, and the like typically require rest and proper management.  But in this era of modern medicine many football franchises have researched and employed methods, both mechanical and lifestyle-related, of preventing these sorts of injuries (as much as is possible in a full-contact sport) and reducing recovery time.

Most teams, that is.  If you look back with some thought, it seems the Redskins have always had a problem with this.

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Particularly revealing most recently was a series of tweets from former Skins LB Robert Henson that mentioned, among other things, that the Skins training staff back in 2009-10 (and he named several names that, according to him, are still with the team) mismanaged his recovery from a severe knee injury.  And everyone familiar with the team’s recent history is aware of how Robert Griffin III aggravated a knee injury at the end of the 2012 season in an incident that may or may not have sent his own career and the franchise’s fortunes into a downward spiral.

But even besides those rather extreme examples, it has always seemed that ‘minor’ injuries on our squad never quite get right.  When DeSean Jackson hurt his hamstring in early 2015, it nagged at him for the remainder of the season and diminished his effectiveness.  (Something similar seems to be happening with Josh Doctson, although an increased snap count in Week 2 implies he may be on an upward trend, albeit a slow one.)  Ryan Kerrigan hasn’t missed a start since coming into the league – an impressive feat – although there have been stretches in each of those seasons where it’s been fairly obvious that he’s fighting through physical ailments.  

There have been countless other players – usually guys that have signed here on short-term deals to add depth – where they sustained a minor injury early in the season and never recovered enough to get their feet under them.  Speaking of feet, the management – or at least the seemingly late diagnosis – of Jordan Reed’s toe fracture this year was… odd, to say the least.

To put it bluntly, the Redskins don’t seem to be on top of managing injuries unless it’s something severe and immediately apparent like a blown-out knee.  But in the spots where renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews can’t help them, they come off as woefully incompetent.

But owners with a more modern approach to team wellness (and spending habits that reflect as much) somehow don’t seem to lose as many man-games as the Redskins do.

Yet Dan is consistently late – late in bettering team facilities, late in replacing the questionable (and frankly dangerous) surface at FedEx Field, late in purchasing things like practice bubbles for our players to actually practice and get better when the weather is less than perfect outdoors.  You know you’re stuck in a bygone era when part of how good your team can be is dependent on the whims of Mother Nature.  That’s a problem.  Yet, the Redskins only built their first indoor practice bubble a mere five years ago – and when a snowstorm destroyed it, the franchise braintrust was caught with their collective pants down, had no contingency plan, and took an alarmingly long time to get the facility replaced.  There was a point not too long ago where our facilities were said to lag behind even a lot of Division I college programs.  If you’re an expansion team or a fresh relocation like the Los Angeles Rams (whose current home, the Coliseum, gets passed around almost as many times a week as an average NFL football), it’s understandable.

For a franchise with an estimated net worth of nearly $4 billion, it’s inexcusable.

And that is what should disturb Redskins fans.  Dan Snyder is known around the league as one of football’s richest owners.  He has his hands in a number of different pots, and most of those pots are pots of gold.  Yet our facilities continue, nearly two decades after he purchased the team, to be, quite frankly, awful.  The stadium thing isn’t completely his fault, but he hasn’t made much effort to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation, either, charging premium stadium experience prices for a stadium experience that seems by most metrics to be stuck in a time warp from the early 2000s.  When the front office was realigned this year (how much is Doug Williams making?  Did the Skins not give him the General Manager title as a way of saving on salary?  It’s a question worth asking) the scouting roster for the team suddenly expanded, which was probably not so much an improvement as an admission that the department had been understaffed all along.  And one must wonder what, if any, effect that might have had on the tenure of Scot McCloughan, who notably wasn’t allowed to bring in anyone he knew to help him with personnel acquisition.

But Snyder spends money on players.  Selectively.  Perhaps, in the Bruce Allen era, a bit too selectively.  Some positions, it seems, have so little inherent value to him that he settles for ‘guys’ at those positions than making any real attempt to sign any impact players.  Although to be absolutely fair, we’re getting good bang for our buck on defense right now with the most recent crop.  D.J. Swearinger looks like a legit starter at safety for a bit over $3M, and the $2.3 million man Zach Brown is currently third in the entire NFL in tackles through two weeks of play and seems to be on pace to continue his Pro Bowl form from last season.  If he gets an extension, though, Snyder will have to open the checkbook up significantly.  And if he fails to do so and we’re left searching for help at linebacker again, it’ll do more to prove this point.

For most of his time here, Dan Snyder has marketed himself as a fan just like the rest of us – just with deeper pockets.  But how much does he really want the team to be successful?  Is he really an owner willing to spend to create an atmosphere here that is conducive to building a championship contender?  Not just players – coaches, trainers, scouts, the whole deal?

Or is he stuffing his stat sheet with player signings and splash moves every so often just so people can overlook his tightfistedness in areas that really matter?

This, and more, are all questions worth asking.