Jay Gruden set up to be the fall guy in much bigger Redskins mess

Kimberley A. MartinSenior NFL writer

Jay Gruden looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there, standing behind a podium, answering more questions about a quarterback situation that appears as bleak as his remaining days in Washington.

The playful humor that had become a recurring theme of his news conferences was conspicuously absent on Wednesday. His affable disposition was replaced by an undeniable edginess, a distinct snarkiness and a noticeable defiance in what feels like his final stand.

But can you blame him?

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Gruden has weathered six seasons with the Redskins — longer than any other Dan Snyder-hired head coach — and has somehow led a near-.500 team (or better) the past four seasons, despite ongoing organizational dysfunction and the absence of a healthy franchise quarterback he believes in. And now, Gruden finds himself forced to choose between a hobbled journeyman, who only yesterday was wearing a walking boot, a promising rookie who needs to be developed, and a veteran he has an affinity for, but who can’t stay healthy.

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There’s reason to be concerned about the growth of first-round pick, Dwayne Haskins. But there’s another sympathetic figure entangled in the Redskins’ QB carousel: Gruden.

“In my mind I have a pretty good plan, contrary to belief,” Gruden dryly said on Wednesday, when peppered by questions about who he plans to start Sunday against New England.

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches the game against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants defeated the Redskins 24-3. (AP)
Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches the game against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants defeated the Redskins 24-3. (AP)

The 2019 season is only weeks old and Washington’s season is essentially over. They’re 0-4. Gruden is on the hot seat. And the organization is no closer to knowing what it has in Haskins.

And, with a matchup against the Patriots on deck, Gruden is determined to exhaust every option (i.e., ensuring Colt McCoy is healthy enough to play) before he turns the offense over to the rookie again.

Gruden is determined to win his way, with the quarterback he feels gives them the best chance to win — not the one who was drafted 15th overall in April. It’s a stance that may ultimately backfire and expedite his undoing, but after six years of making do with an assortment of less-than-desirable options, can you blame him?

He inherited Robert Griffin III.

He never believed Kirk Cousins was capable of being The Guy.

He welcomed the arrival of veteran leader and beloved locker room guy, Alex Smith. Then watched helplessly as Smith’s leg was broken into pieces last season.

He was forced to contend with Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez after both Smith and McCoy were injured.

And then this past spring — entering a make-or-break sixth season on the job — he was handed Case Keenum and a rookie quarterback he knew would need ample time to adjust to calling plays in the huddle and adapting to the speed of the game.

“You would love to have some continuity there, some consistency there,” Gruden said Wednesday, referring to their quarterback situation. “Unfortunately, we have not had that luxury here in awhile. Until we get that luxury, until we start to have that, that’s probably when you’ll see some different results.

“I feel good about all three quarterbacks and they all bring something different to the table. We’ve just got to settle on one and get him ready to go. When that guy gets his opportunity they have to take advantage of it and dominate the position and never look back.”

On one hand, his head-coaching tenure (including his 35-48-1 regular-season record) doesn’t instill much faith that he’s capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl. Plus, Gruden’s less-than rigorous practices and lack of overall team discipline have been mentioned repeatedly by players, on- and off-the-record, over the years. But how many coaches could handle everything that comes with being the front man in Washington. Dysfunction at the highest level — Snyder’s sad attempts to rebrand the Redskins as a respectable franchise and Bruce Allen’s track record of mismanagement and free-agent miscalculations — have only helped to compound one of the Redskins’ most glaring issues: their never-ending search for a long-term quarterback.

By Thursday, Gruden still had not yet declared his Week 5 starter, although it’s widely assumed McCoy will face the Patriots, if healthy. A formal announcement isn’t needed to see that Gruden’s current focus — winning games — doesn’t align with the fan base’s desire to see what Haskins can do. Sticking with McCoy or reverting back to Keenum may also be an unpopular move in the eyes of his bosses, who were higher on Haskins than Gruden on draft night.

Well-run organizations arm their coaches with talent, as well as the freedom to deploy personnel and run their teams the way they see fit. In order for Washington to resemble the great teams of the past, management and its head coach must, at the very least, be on the same page and eyeing the same goals.

But as we’ve come to realize, the Redskins are anything but a well-run franchise.

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