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A little over three months ago, Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan sat in his office in Ashburn, Va., and mused about meaningful change. He talked in transformative language about being bigger, quicker and tougher, all familiar buzzwords that ring out when an NFL personnel kingpin is in search of a rebooted identity. In the midst of all this, McCloughan tried to impress one point over all else: The Redskins needed to sink roots into a new belief system. Specifically, one that didn’t revolve around conniving, me-first players.
In the Robert Griffin III burnout, there was plenty of that. And the general manager was ready to shed all of it.
“The culture is what I want to build,” McCloughan said that early summer day. “If we win a championship, that would be awesome. But I want guys to understand the importance of being a team. It’s not about the individuals. It’s the sum of the parts. … We’re not close to where we need to be yet, but it’s going in the right direction. Definitely.”
I wonder how McCloughan feels about that this week, when someone in his locker room – likely one of the familiar grousing suspects – threw a dagger at quarterback Kirk Cousins only two games into the season. A sharp blade went flying, in the form of a cutting remark to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, framing Cousins in a failing light that surely delighted some of the critical fan base. Citing “a source with knowledge of the situation,” Florio said, “multiple offensive players have begun to complain about quarterback Kirk Cousins.”
And then there was this doozy of a direct quote: “At least [Colt McCoy would] play with some poise.”
I’ll get to that anonymous fastball thrown at Cousins’ head. But first, stop and consider McCloughan’s primary mission. A charter that is centered on building a culture of team over individuals and moving beyond the toxic locker room that was prevalent in the RG3 era. If change and harmony and new roots are the goal, it’s fair to question how far the Redskins have progressed. Wherever you stand with Cousins now, that remark sounds extremely familiar. In fact, it sounds like very little has changed. The Redskins have a new quarterback who is only two games into a “prove-it” season, and he already has someone – presumably inside the franchise – undercutting him.
If anything turns back the clock to the Griffin era, it’s this kind of thing coming out of the locker room this early into the season.
To be clear, let’s not bang the drum for Cousins. This is a pivotal season and through two games he has a touchdown-to-interception ration of 1 to 3 and a passer rating of 78.5. He has made several bad decisions and failed to look like a high quality starter. There’s also an elevated level of criticism that must be accepted when a player earns nearly $20 million under the franchise tag. Not to mention the pressing need to beat a team that finishes the season with a winning record. Thus far, Cousins still hasn’t accomplished that.
But that Colt McCoy jab came off as a familiar relic of a poisonous past. The kind of thing that made the Redskins’ locker room ugly. It’s also not original. Washington has seen the McCoy starting show. It was canceled. By three different NFL regimes no less – in Cleveland, San Francisco and even the current brain trust in Washington. McCoy is 30. If he was a quality starter, someone would have figured it out by now.
And the fact that someone tried to undercut Cousins with McCoy after only eight quarters says at least one of three things: They are a poor talent evaluator who isn’t very interested in the long-term outlook of the Redskins; they have a personal beef with Cousins; and they are overly emotional and shooting off at the mouth without considering the recent history of locker room toxicity.
Cousins is an easy target. The team’s front office entered the season ruffled over his refusal to take the long-term contract offer that was on the table. But here’s some context to that: If a player enters a season when he could prove himself as a franchise quarterback, he won’t trade $20 million in guaranteed franchise tag money for only $24 million in guaranteed money. That’s only a difference of $4 million – a deal almost no one in the NFL would have taken. Who surrenders massive leverage of a potential mega contract in 2017 for only $4 million in extra guaranteed money? It makes no sense.
The front office wanted Cousins to take that deal, so it put the locker room into a very specific realm of expectation. One that frames Cousins as a guy who turned his nose up at a long-term commitment and who had better live up to this $20 million season.
Right now, that’s not happening. And it’s bringing out some familiar echoes that aren’t good for this team. We’re two games into a season and Cousins has to go into his locker room wondering who has his back and who is stabbing it. That sure seems to be a familiar storyline with Redskins quarterbacks.
In June, it felt like McCloughan wanted to move the franchise out of these poisoned waters. Surely he wanted this to be a season that was about building – not tearing down. But here we are, having a familiar ugly conversation three months later.
McCloughan said it in June: when it came to buying the team-first culture, the Redskins weren’t close to where they needed to be. But it’s September now and elements of the locker room are reportedly undercutting the quarterback. So how far has Washington really come?
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