The Redskins, Bruce Allen, and Mike Shanahan…


It was late in 2009 and early in 2010 when the Washington Redskins made the announcements that Bruce Allen would take over as General Manager of the Redskins and Mike Shanahan would become the Head Coach/VP of Football Operations. Essentially this was a co-GM position in which Allen would handle the contracts and Shanahan would have final say on football matters. At a time when most teams were moving away from giving head coaches this kind of power the Redskins opted into such an arrangement because the team had struggled to a 4-12 season and had gone through numerous coaches with little success in the prior 17 years since Joe Gibbs stepped down for the first time in 1992.

The Redskins were an organization looking for credibility when they made the hires. Gibbs brought them that credibility on the field when he was re-hired but the Redskins were long considered a bit of a mess when it came to front office decisions on player contracts. Allen, who came from a legendary family, had a strong negotiating background of reigning in Raiders owner Al Davis during the Raiders final glory run, and somewhat tearing down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while still being competitive in the mid 00’s. Shanahan’s success in Denver as a head coach was incredibly impressive. In 14 seasons Shanahan had won two Super Bowls, finished with double digit wins on seven occasions, and only twice had a losing record. He was considered a genius with the QB position with an eye for offensive talent.

However, just four years into their run with the Redskins, it appears like things should be over for both men. The Redskins are struggling through a 3-10 season, their 3rd losing season under the Allen/Shanahan team. The success of the two is pretty much the distant past. Shanahan is now 48-61 in his last 7 seasons as a head coach. Allen is 59-71 for his career since being given the General Manager position in Tampa Bay. The team has been nothing short of a disaster for four years and the front office track record is close to the bottom of the NFL.

Their first major personnel decision was to trade for a 34 year old, washed up Donovan McNabb to be Shanahan’s QB in 2010. The Redskins surrendered a 2nd round draft pick and a 4th round pick in 2011 for McNabb. McNabb had been paid a $6.2 million roster bonus  and was set to earn another $5.5 million in compensation for the year. McNabb struggled so the team signed him to a contract extension giving him another $3.5 million thinking it would get him to play better. Just four weeks after the extension was signed McNabb was benched by the head coach. The season was uncapped so the salary cap consequences were not as dire as normal,  but they still wasted a large sum of money and two draft picks on McNabb. They would recover some 6th round picks when they traded McNabb in 2011 to the Vikings.

Allen would also make a decision that would end up haunting the Redskins organization for two full years. During his time in Tampa, Allen would insert voidable clauses into contracts that would cause their bonus money to all accelerate into the current league year. Allen called this the “I-4 Off Ramp” and was a creative method to use up cap space in a time when salary cap spending was a CBA requirement plus make it easy to release or trade a player later in his career. The League had “advised” all franchises to not explicitly use the 2010 uncapped season as a method to create cap room in the future when the salary cap returned. Allen and Shanahan failed to heed the warnings of the league and used the “I-4 off Ramp” on two overpaid players signed by the former regime.

The Redskins would go on to take a $21 million salary cap charge and $15 million salary cap charge all at once for DT Albert Haynesworth and CB DeAngelo Hall by using this clause to modify their contracts.   in addition the team accelerated $3.9 million of old bonus money for the two players by utilizing these clauses. Because the year was uncapped future prorations of $8.5 million per year were avoided for the Redskins. Furthermore the move allowed them to trade Haynesworth in 2011, since his dead money had been reduced to $0 with the clauses. Had they picked up his option as intended the dead money charge on that trade would have amounted to $19.8 million.

Though the NFL allowed these restructures to take place they internally noted how they violated the spirit of the uncapped season to create an unfair advantage in future years. Washington would suffer a $36 million dollar salary cap penalty split between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. It was a devastating blow to the Redskins who had begun planning in 2011 as if their contracts put them free and clear and sent their salary cap back on a downward spiral. While some can argue the merits of the penalty, it is a situation that 30 other GM’s were able to avoid and many of them had bad contracts on their teams as well.

The Redskins continued to go the trade route moving pieces for DE Adam Carriker of the Rams and LT Jammal Brown of the Saints. The trade for Brown was complex with compensation being tied to both McNabb’s and Brown’s performance. Brown was coming off hip and hernia surgery and had missed all of 2009.  Brown played in 15 games in 2010 but battled hip problems all season. For whatever reason the Redskins decided to extend him anyway in 2011 to a 5 year $20.25 million dollar contract with $5.5 million guaranteed and just $250,000 per year in compensation tied to being active. Brown would only play 12 games in 2011 and none in 2012 before seeing his contract void.

Some of the intriguing signings would continue over the next three years. The Redskins signed WR Josh Morgan, who had never had 700 receiving yards in a season and was injured all of 2010, to a lucrative contract in 2011 worth $5.75 million a season for two years. This contract was close to the top of the number 2 receiver market and began the use of the voidable year provision for cap purposes. This type of contract would be the exact opposite of the “I-4 Off Ramp” with large sums of dead money existing in fake contract years in order to lower the cap charges at the front end of the contract. Per my records,  the Redskins currently have four such voidable contracts on their books. In two years Morgan has not produced 700 yards combined.

The team re-signed 27 year old LB London Fletcher to a two year contract with three voidable years worth over $5 million a season. Fletcher consistently grades as one of the worst linebackers in the NFL. The team signed DE Stephen Bowen formerly of the Cowboys to a high end contract for the position despite a career as an average player.  Perhaps the strangest of all was the decision to re-sign TE Fred Davis to a $2.5 million dollar contract filled with added incentives and by week two of the season demoting him to the bench.

That doesn’t mean all the signings have been bad.  They signed Pierre Garcon of the Colts to a number 1 type contract worth $8.5 million a season.  Though the Redskins likely overpaid, Garcon already broke the 1,000 yard mark this season and has developed into a valuable receiver. The team also paid a hefty price for former Giants DT Barry Cofield and he has been one of the most consistent players on their team.  Still the misses seem to far outweigh the hits.

The biggest decision the regime made came in 2012 when they negotiated a trade with the St Louis Rams to trade up to draft Robert Griffin III to be the teams franchise QB. It was one of the most lopsided, in terms of picks, trades in NFL history. The Redskins agreed to trade the 6th and 39th overall pick in 2012 and their first rounders in both 2013 and 2014. The pick in 2013 was the 22nd and the 2014 pick currently looks to be the 2nd overall pick.

In 2001 the Falcons traded the 5th and 48th overall picks plus WR Tim Dwight to acquire the 1st overall pick in the draft, which turned out to be Mike Vick. In 2004 the Giants traded the 4th and 65th overall pick plus a 1st and 5th rounder the following year for the rights to Eli Manning, the number one selection in the draft. Just one slot behind the RGIII pick the Browns only gave up the 4th, 118th, 139th, and 211th picks to select Trent Richardson.  The Redskins addition of a 2nd round pick and a 3rd first round pick was almost unheard of, especially for a player not considered the best QB in the draft.

Griffin played extremely well in 2012 and my own opinion is if you truly believe in a player at that position than no price is too high, but it is hard to believe that the Redskins were unable to get a better deal than the one that was accepted. By 2013 RGIII was injured, far less effective, and no longer got along with Shanahan. Griffin, who reportedly has a very close relationship with owner Daniel Snyder, has gone around the coach to voice his displeasure with the staff. Griffin was pulled from a blowout loss this week and may be benched for backup Kirk Cousins, a move made as much in spite by Shanahan as it will be about the future of the organization.

When Allen accepted the job the assumption was that he would utilize a strategy similar to the one in Tampa Bay where he tried to accumulate salary cap space and draft picks. From 2004 to 2008 his Buccaneers averaged nearly 9.5 picks a draft. Perhaps that is part of a disconnect between Shanahan and Allen. Shanahan, interested in winning now and holding football power, maybe was the voice behind using so many draft selections for veteran players. In Washington the Redskins have averaged just over 8 picks a draft with only 2 picks a draft coming in the first 3 rounds.  In the 2005 to 2008 part of his tenure in Tampa, 3.5 picks a draft came in first 3 rounds. Needless to say cap space has remained at a premium in Washington.

The draft process has met with mixed results at best. Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris, and RGIII are keepers that would start anywhere.  Morris is clearly the teams’ best value pick coming in the 6th round of the draft. Beyond those 4 their drafts have produced just 4 starters for the Redskins- WR Leonard Hankerson, LB Perry Riley, CB David Amerson, and S Baccari Rambo, none of whom would likely start on most clubs in the NFL.

The bottom line is that after four seasons the Redskins are right back to square one. They still lose far more often than they win. They have continual contract problems and salary cap issues. They have failed to replenish the team with quality starters in the draft. The owner still more or less meddles in football affairs and is the sounding board for his star players.

Neither Allen nor Shanahan should emerge from this season as employees of the Redskins. Considering how poorly the two have fared for years the only reason they will be employed in the NFL in the future is because they have great name value, unfortunately its name value with continually diminishing returns.Another team would be crazy to give Shanhan the type of power he had in Denver and Washington. The Broncos defense had similar deficiencies to the ones in Washington and both are more or less Shanahan visions. At this point he should never be more than a coach.

Unfortunately for Redskins fans the hope that their owner was going to back off the Jerry Jones model seems to be dwindling as well. It’s likely going to be a long offseason in Washington, one in which they watch the Rams take a potential impact player while the Redskins patiently wait until numerous players have been selected before they get to the podium to make a selection.