The Washington Commanders are going through a rough patch. That’s coach-speak. Fan-speak would say the Washington Commanders are the worst team since the Prairie View Panthers of the 1990s. (Look it up.)
How did we get here? A lot goes into that answer. Here are five decisions made by the franchise in the past 25 years that have played a major part in the misery that we are all living through now.
5 crucial decisions that set the Commanders franchise back
1. The Jack Kent Cooke succession plan
Jack Kent Cooke, who had presided over the glory days of Washington’s football ascendency in the 1980s, died on April 6, 1997. Most casual observers assumed he would leave his beloved franchise to some family grouping with his son John Kent Cooke at the helm. John had been the mostly inconspicuous team president under his father.
But Jack did not leave the football team to his son. Instead, he left the team, along with much of the rest of his estate, to a foundation with the intention of selling the team to the highest bidder and using the proceeds for educational scholarships. Even after details of the will became known, most of us still assumed John Kent Cooke would be the one to put together the ownership group that could make the winning bid.
As we all know now, that isn’t what happened. The Milstein brothers from New York and their wealthy young partner Daniel Snyder outbid Cooke and all others. When the Milsteins were rejected by the NFL owners, Dan Snyder was left to take over.
We don’t know what kind of owner the younger Cooke would have been. He was far less of a public figure than his flamboyant father. But we do know he had experience at the highest levels of running a successful franchise, and that presumably, he had learned a thing or two from dad. It’s hard to imagine him presiding over a team that would lose 58% of its games over a 24-year period, as Washington has done under Snyder’s ownership.
2. Choosing Jeff George over Brad Johnson
With the ownership situation in flux before Snyder took over, general manager Charlie Casserly was unable to re-sign young quarterback Trent Green before the 1999 season. So he traded with Minnesota to get veteran Brad Johnson. Johnson took Washington to the playoffs in ’99, went to the Pro Bowl, and over his two seasons in DC, posted a 17-10 record as a starter.
Not good enough for the aggressive new owner. I will not fault Daniel Snyder for his exuberance in spending big for the likes of Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders in those early days. I was excited just like everyone else. At least we had an owner willing to write big checks to acquire talent. The fact that he and his team misjudged that talent is unfortunate. But hey, that happens to a new guy. Typically, he learns from the early mistakes.
But the George/Johnson thing was different and it pointed to a serious flaw in Snyder’s ability to head a franchise. He already had a good quarterback in Johnson. But he didn’t have what he considered to be an exciting quarterback. He wanted the golden-armed number one draft pick. No matter that George had underperformed and alienated teammates everywhere he had been. He still had cache.
This isn’t about an individual player decision. Every team makes some mistakes there. This is systematic. Snyder’s penchant for … how can I say this and not get edited? … jock-sniffing … is that OK? Well, whatever that penchant is, Snyder’s choosing flash over substance would cost this team dearly.
After a couple of poor seasons in Washington, George, signed for almost $15 million back when that was a lot of money, was out of football. Brad Johnson – he led Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl championship two years later.