ASHBURN, Virginia -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden will follow the same routine as past offseasons. He and owner Dan Snyder will get together a few days after the season ends to discuss the future.
The question this time will be: How much will Gruden’s future be part of the discussion? The Redskins could still finish .500 despite a major rash of injuries and he has three years left on his contract. But Snyder’s history is well-known; and the NFL often contains surprises.
Gruden said he hasn’t yet been told anything.
“My brother got fired after going 9-7,” Gruden said of Jon. “Nothing surprises me.’
Gruden will complete his fourth season as the Redskins’ head coach against the New York Giants on Sunday. He would become the first coach under Snyder to return for a fifth season. Of the coaches hired during his tenure, three -- Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan -- were fired. Two others -- Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs -- resigned.
Gruden, who grew up with a dad who was a longtime assistant and also a scout, understands this life.
“You know what the business is all about,” Gruden said. “It’s about winning, winning Super Bowls, and anything short of that you have to expect that they may want to change. That’s the standard set here many years by Joe Gibbs… You have to live up to that, otherwise, they’ll look for something else.”
Here’s why it makes sense that he would be safe:
Injuries: The Redskins have 20 players on injured reserve -- 13 entered the season as been starters or key backups. They will have played a combined 22 games without three of their top offensive players -- tight end Jordan Reed, running back Chris Thompson and tackle Trent Williams. They lost standout rookie Jonathan Allen for the last 11 games. Three-fifths of their original starting line ended the season on injured reserve, and injuries up front forced them to use at least 26 line combinations. They’ve had nine different running backs on the roster.
It adds up. Injuries don’t excuse everything; They still lost a 15-point lead vs. New Orleans; they had key starters play poorly vs. the Los Angeles Chargers (quarterback Kirk Cousins and members of the secondary) and against the Dallas Cowboys (receiver Jamison Crowder). But it’s also impossible to say injuries had no impact; this was about more than just, “Next man up.” Had this scenario presented itself to most prognosticators before the season, it's hard to imagine anyone predicting a possible .500 record. Or much above five wins.
If the Redskins get to 8-8 with these injuries and against this schedule, no banners will be hung, but it does say something. The Giants witnessed a collapse with a coach (Ben McAdoo) who shouldn’t have been in that position and, eventually, wasn’t. That speaks to the players the Redskins have in the locker room and the coaching staff, which had to keep changing game plans to suit the talent.
Money: This relates to the item above, too, but if the Redskins had not extended Gruden last offseason, then perhaps they could simply walk away and say he wasn’t the right guy. They could feel he wouldn’t take them where they want to ultimately go.
But they did extend him another two years so it would be difficult to say less than a year later he’s not their guy, given how this season unfolded. What would have changed? Coaches are measured like quarterbacks: It’s ultimately what they do in the postseason that matters. And the Redskins are 0-1 in the playoffs under Gruden. That must change.
Also, the guy who pushed hard for him, Bruce Allen, remains the team president.
From a bottom-line standpoint, there’s this: Gruden’s final three years include all guaranteed money so he would be owed $15 million. And if you get rid of the coach, you change most of the staff. That likely would push the total over $20 million. That’s a lot of cash to put out. It’s hard to do that without a damn good reason -- or without a complete collapse -- so soon after an extension.
Snyder’s history: For the most part, Snyder has fired coaches when a situation became clear they were in over their heads (Zorn) or there was a complete collapse (Shanahan’s 3-13 final season/issues with quarterback Robert Griffin III). Snyder did fire Schottenheimer after an 8-8 mark, with eight wins in the final 11 games, and that was a massive mistake. But he did so because Spurrier had become available -- and that was a guy he had wanted. There was also a clash of power.
Spurrier resigned before he could get fired, but it was clear that he, too, was in over his head in the NFL. And, as with Zorn, his team had also collapsed.
Gruden is not in over his head; there wasn’t a complete collapse and, as of now, there’s no one else to pursue, nor is there any power struggle.
Gruden’s offensive scheme is a good one (it takes more than that to be a good head coach, mind you). His demeanor might isn't that of a hard-nosed guy like Mike Zimmer, but it fits at Redskins Park. Despite the injuries, the defense finally has a young base upon which to build. It’s worth seeing whether or not it can do so in 2018. It's hard to view this season and say the Redskins are headed in the wrong direction; now they must prove they can take that next step.
Gruden enters the finale with 24 wins the past three seasons combined, tying the best showing by a Redskins’ coach since Gibbs from 2005-07 (that included two playoff appearances and one postseason win). But know this: More will be expected next season and more must be delivered.