A few days before the start of the NFL scouting combine, a league source sat at a table discussing free agency and leaned in with a pointed question.
“Have you talked to Scot McCloughan lately?”
The source in question hadn’t. The voicemail for the Washington Redskins general manager was full. He wasn’t returning many calls. He wasn’t returning many text messages. Everything was eerily quiet.
“You should talk to the Redskins,” the source said. “Something is going on there.”
Two weeks later, I’m convinced we should stitch something akin to that statement onto a flag and run it up a pole at the team’s facility. Let it drag into the Virginia breeze like a line of smoke from a garbage fire:
The Washington Redskins. Something is going on here.
If anyone in the NFL doesn’t know what the “something” is by now, they need only point their nose in the air and breathe deeply. Everything within a thousand-mile radius of the Redskins smells bad. Not because they fired general manager Scot McCloughan on Thursday. But because they did it with anonymous malice. Because they planted the bombshell so deviously. Because they refused to walk away with some grace and actually follow through with two unbelievable lines in a press release from team president Bruce Allen:
“We wish [Scot] success in his future endeavors. The team will have no further comment on his departure.”
Personally, I don’t believe the past few hours, days or weeks illustrate that Allen wishes McCloughan success in his future endeavors. And I certainly don’t believe Allen’s press release was the team’s last comment on McCloughan’s departure. Last public comment? Maybe. But if you’ve read the anonymous acid being spewed by at least one team official to the Washington Post, it’s highly doubtful that Allen’s press release is the last word out of the organization.
That’s what is resonating around the NFL right now when it comes to this franchise. Not just that the Redskins fired McCloughan, but that they are seemingly going to great lengths to ruthlessly bury hatchets into his back. Most notably, the anonymous quotes to The Post that McCloughan is a “functioning alcoholic” and that he’s “been drunk at work” and “been drunk at games.” Those accusations come out of one side of a Redskins official’s mouth … and out of the other, Allen wishes McCloughan “success” in future endeavors? And all of this after former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who is on the team’s payroll as an analyst, floated McCloughan’s drinking as a potential problem on a radio show on Feb. 14 – with no known repercussions. How do the Redskins explain these conflicting messages?
The answer? They can’t. They just come out of it looking awful.
That’s how the Redskins appear in many NFL circles today. Awful. Like a place you would never want to work. Like their internal problems are worse than ever. Which is hard to do considering the 18-year résumé of team owner Dan Snyder: Eight head coaches, four (and soon-to-be five) general managers and 16 (!) quarterbacks who have started largely by some form of coaching design.
Is it a wonder why Kirk Cousins is extremely well compensated but still doesn’t seem on board with this franchise? Or why Jay Gruden gets a two-year contract extension in the middle of a terrible combine news cycle? Or why the first GM candidate to emerge since McCloughan’s firing – NFL Network’s Mike Mayock – has a long résumé that is primarily steeped in football broadcasting?
Again: These are the Washington Redskins. Something is going on.
All of that said, this shouldn’t read as a love letter penned in favor of McCloughan. Two sides of responsibility can be seen from this implosion. On one hand, grown men went into a business relationship with their eyes wide shut, all selfishly needing each other to accomplish different tasks – rebuilding a team, repairing a reputation, cementing positions of power, etc. On the other hand, I see a collection of grown adolescents with titanic egos who believe they can manage any room or situation. Guys who fit into the historic NFL personnel cliché of working relentlessly and then blowing off steam by racing to the bottom of a bar glass. All of those dynamics are in play for both sides.
Don’t gloss over McCloughan’s responsibility for himself – whether it’s the personal decisions he made or the people he chose to trust with his career reclamation. The truth is, McCloughan’s friends say he was warned about this job. They say he was aware the Redskins were not a safe environment for someone battling ongoing struggles with alcoholism. And that McCloughan also knew some opinions of Allen skewed into extremely negative, power-hungry territory.
But McCloughan needed the Redskins. He needed this GM job and there were no other opportunities like it on the horizon. Maybe there never would be. So he took it, believing he could beat the odds. This, despite knowing he wasn’t going to be allowed to shape the scouting staff around himself. This despite knowing that any control he had was most likely an illusion – subject to change whenever Allen wanted to alter it. In truth, this always felt like McCloughan was being hired by Allen and Snyder to be controlled and eventually fired. And in between, hopefully he would stock the roster with enough talent to make the inevitable crash worth it.
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom why anyone would take a job like that, even if they had no other options on the table. But McCloughan’s friends across the NFL – known to be a fiercely loyal fraternity – paint him as a brilliantly arrogant man. Some will even describe him as a flawed genius: equal parts smart, blunt and driven … but also painfully human in his failures. They will say all of those components are a big part of what makes him so good at what he does. They talk about how he truly loves football and can deftly appraise any player or situation.
In the end, that may have been a big part of McCloughan’s undoing in Washington. He believed he could navigate it all – his shortcomings … his surroundings … and his NFL cohabitation with others threatened by him. For someone who made his career as a brilliant evaluator, the Redskins never should have passed his eyeball test.
It’s the Washington Redskins. Something is going on there. And McCloughan should have known that from the start.
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