As of the opening kickoff of his team’s game Sunday against the Eagles, Jay Gruden will have officially begun his sixth season as the Washington Redskins’ head coach. His tenure is the longest of any Redskins coach since Daniel Snyder bought the franchise in 1999, and one has to wonder if Gruden regards that milestone as a genuine achievement or as a penance for some sin, deep in his past, for which he was not contrite. Gruden’s brother Jon is having his own problems these days in Oakland with a mercurial player. Well, imagine that Antonio Brown owned the Redskins, and you begin to understand what Jay Gruden has been dealing with since 2014.
“My standing with the franchise, I think, is solid because I’m still here,” he said during a conference call Wednesday, and after he said it, he chuckled. “I think the one thing you have to understand as a pro football coach, an NFL coach, is this is a year-to-year business, man.”
For the Redskins under Snyder, each of those years has been stacked on top of the next, forming a two-decade-high pile of cow chips. In the Snyder era, Washington has compiled just five winning seasons, has reached the postseason just five times, and hasn’t won a playoff game since January of 2006. And the bumbling and bad decision-making have extended beyond the on-field results, to Snyder’s fondness for giving exorbitant contracts to past-their-prime stars to a hastily built stadium that offers perhaps the worst fan experience in the NFL to a conga line of executives, coaches, and quarterbacks who have bopped in and bopped out of the organization – including a recent firing of a marketing exec who dared to acknowledge that there’s no longer a waiting list for tickets to see pro football’s answer to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
It is hardly breaking news to say that the Redskins aren’t in good shape, of course. But this is a particularly good moment to note it, because the gap between them and the Eagles is as great, in the latter’s favor, as it has been since at least the meat of Andy Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia, maybe ever.
It wasn’t always like this. (Gather ‘round the campfire here, kids, and listen to this story of a world gone by …) From 1982 to 1992, when Joe Gibbs was winning three Super Bowls – each with a different quarterback – and Eagles fans clung to the infamous “Body Bag Game” for meager bragging rights, it would have been ludicrous to suggest the Eagles were comparable to the Redskins, let alone might surpass them, in their measures of success and respect around the league.
Look now. The Eagles followed up a Super Bowl victory with a late-season rally that carried them into the divisional round of the playoffs – and they accomplished both of those feats without the franchise quarterback whom they traded up twice to draft and recently signed to a contract extension. They are a favorite to reach the Super Bowl again.
The Redskins, as Gruden laid out during that conference call, are in a different place, to put it mildly. On Sunday, they will start a left tackle (Donald Penn), a left guard (Erick Flowers), and a quarterback (Case Keenum) who have never played for them before – and none of whom would be regarded as elite at his respective position. They will start a running back (Derrius Guise) who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, and they could be without their starting tight end (Jordan Reed). Of the five Washington wide receivers who, according to Gruden, will be active for the game, the most experienced is Paul Richardson, who had just 20 catches last season. It would be a shock if the Eagles did not win Sunday’s game handily and if Washington hadn’t played itself into another high first-round draft pick by season’s end.
The Redskins’ hope is that Dwayne Haskins, whom they selected with the 15th pick in this year’s draft, will eventually become their version of Carson Wentz. That has to be Gruden’s hope, too, if he wants to remain their head coach. “We just took the best player on the board at that time. We thought it was Dwayne,” he said. “Has nothing to do with my future, really.”