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An Ongoing Process Or Is There A Conspiracy Brewing In Washington?

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Did RGIII overstate his health? Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Did RGIII overstate his health? Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

As I type, it’s Sept. 18, and I’m dragging a heavy heart over to the computer keys. When I woke up yesterday morning, the disastrous state of the Washington Redskins weighed on my mind. By lunch I had far deeper and more legitimate concerns.

As a life-long resident of the DMV — D.C., Maryland and Virginia, for the uninitiated — region and a guy with deep professional connections to the Navy community, the victims of the Navy Yard shooting are at the forefront of my thoughts. In its worst moments, real life can simultaneously trivialize sports and remind us of why we need our silly, fun and, in this case, distracting games.

As uninspired for sports writing as I felt by the end of the day, Steve Czaban, a local sports radio personality, renewed my passion when he kicked off his segment by paying tribute to the Navy Yard victims and continuing with work simply because that’s what he does. Well, I love writing about sports and you do what you do — we’ll push on together.

So you may have noticed that Washington’s defense is, ummm, struggling in a 2008 financial sector sort of way. The return of Brian Orakpo and a rebuilt secondary has produced a unit yielding 511 yards per game — dead last in the NFL (as if you needed the clarification). The No. 1 commandment of fantasy football currently is, “start all players facing the ‘Skins.” Hall of Fame LB Sam Huff quit calling games just in the nick of time. This past Sunday I caught myself butchering Shakespeare while mumbling, “O Madieu, Madieu, wherefore art thou Madieu Williams?

That’s enough about the defense, though. True, it’s probably the worst of Washington’s many ills, but the trials and tribulations of the team’s offense and Robert Griffin III are, while equally obvious and well covered, so much more compelling. I’ve written, read and listened to aplenty about the athletically neutered quarterback: He is not well, he is not running the read-option, and the offense lacks pop and resembles the (gasp) Rex Grossman led unit, circa 2011.

RGIII grossly overstated his health or, at least, his willingness to return to form. Mike Shanahan, after declaring this a Super Bowl-caliber team, oversold his quarterback’s readiness (and perhaps his and his son’s ability to scheme around RGIII’s limitations). They think we’re fooled by the Super PAC quality propaganda; in reality, we’re just peeved (I hope you sense my fragile politeness) by the entire act.

The multi-faceted question being screamed from every corner of the District is why? Why are the words so disconnected from the actions? Why is the offense unrecognizable? Why is the quarterback so reluctant not just to run but also to extend plays? Why do the franchise player and the head coach whose legacy is on the line seem so casual about the cataclysmic start? And, fundamentally, why is this team so far removed — physically and emotionally — from where they left off in January?

I’m glad you asked. I have two theories: one for the faint of heart optimists and one for the grizzled conspiracy theorists who have endured the Daniel Snyder regime.

Breathe, People — It’s A Process

The popular expectation was that post-knee destruction 2.0, RGIII would run less and have limited mobility. Think about it. If the ‘Skins were 2-0 and RGIII had rushed 20 times for 150 yards and a couple of scores, we’d be shaking our heads lamenting the lack of discretion and predicting another gruesome physical breakdown. That rightfully didn’t happen. The ‘Skins simple couldn’t use him in the same manner — at least not early in the season. That said, the yawn-inducing offensive scheme and RGIII assuming the role of a pocket passer were predictable. A return to the dynamic offense of last season, albeit with a little less RGIII all along the way, would be (and should be) a long but identifiable process.

And if “the process” cost the team a few games early, so be it. The grand plan is to get RGIII comfortable, healthy and ready for a stretch run. It calls for using him judiciously early in the season and deploying him as necessary down the stretch. In other words, flip the script on last season. Besides, what’s the rush? Politically, no one in the equation can afford another mistake and the division can be had with nine wins anyway. A measly nine wins is all it would take to get back to good. The milestone would likely secure another division title, a home playoff game, a contract extension for the coach and his son, and inspire an “RGIII, RGIII, RGIII” chant throughout the cavernous FedEx Field. 

It’s a theory, and a logical one at that. Shanahan’s unlikable, but he’s not an idiot. RGIII is completely likable, and he’s brilliant. Maybe this is all part of an unpublished script: the quarterback and his coaches are on the same page and they’re having a good laugh from our latest fit of emotional instability.   

Condition Critical

Or, there’s something sinister at work.  Maybe you caught the Quiet Riot reference in the subheading, maybe you didn’t. Or maybe you did but are too embarrassed to admit it? Regardless, this theory assumes something sinister is at work. And really, why wouldn’t there be with the Daniel Snyder led Sons of Washington?

The franchise quarterback, head coach and owner comprise the holy power-trinity within most NFL organizations. Sometimes there’s another personnel man involved, sometimes not. Whatever, you get the point. The power within the organization is largely split in some unknown but almost certainly unequal percentage between Shanahan, Snyder and RGIII.

Here’s how the paranoid slice the pie: Daniel Snyder is on a lifetime contract; RGIII, a 23-year-old, one-man hope-force, ensures sell-outs, jersey sales and national sizzle; Mike Shanahan coaches and turns in a few cards with the names of college kids to the Commissioner every April. The owner (unfortunately) can’t be replaced, and the quarterback represents the most precious assets in major American sports. In other words, the coach is … vulnerable.

I am not going to go as far as to say there is clear intent to undermine Shanahan’s authority and get on with life after the current, somewhat clothes-less emperor, but there’s no question that RGIII understands his power within the organization’s holy power-trinity. He also understands his influence on Snyder’s sacred bottom line and that the owner has a history of cozying up to star players and letting them influence major organizational decisions.

Snyder knows, too, that he’s longer for the ‘Skins organization than either his current quarterback or coach and that the former is far more difficult to replace than the latter. Snyder also likely has eyes on a beautiful new downtown palace capable of securing Super Bowls and maybe even the Olympics for Washington, D.C. He knows that consistent success behind a transcendent talent like RGIII makes that financial windfall more possible — be that with Shanahan or a coach to be named later. And wouldn’t the quarterback’s sponsors be thrilled to ride that wave of NFL victories and marketing genius? A lot of subs and athletic shoes could be sold in such a scenario.

Is that what is going on in D.C.? Like I said, I’m not ready to say yes, but like “The Process” theory, it has merit. Tension exists between “Team RGIII” and the Shanahans. The quarterback said he was going to start in Week 1 and did. RGIII also expressed skepticism with the read-option being in his long-term best interest, and at least for the time being, it’s mysteriously absent from the offense. Furthermore, RGIII wouldn’t be human if he trusted the Shanahans after January’s great wrong.

Before you feel sorry for the potentially alienated Shanahans, think about this: papa Mike would prefer to win his way, but if he has to win RGIII’s way, he’d probably choke down his pride and pacify the quarterback’s desire. If papa Mike does win big in D.C. — be it running his offense or RGIII’s manipulated version — he could punch a ticket to the Hall of Fame (with another Super Bowl win) and secure a life-long place in the NFL for his son. Sounds swell, but I’m wondering whether RGIII and Snyder see Shanahan as a key cog in the machine or like The Beatles viewed Ringo. 

This theory won’t be validated or dispelled next week or the week after. By the end of the year, though, a clear (and altered) path forward may be blazed; one that includes a different man at the so-called “helm.” Or maybe, as Quiet Riot declared to the lady that brought them into the world, “Mama, weer all crazee now.”

Stay tuned.