Game #1, Opening Day: A New Beginning

Sammy Baugh joined Washington in 1937. In his first year he led the team to the League Championship.

Change always comes with promise. Sometimes the promise is realized. Often it is not. Back in the author’s submarine days the word started circulating that a new Commanding Officer was coming. It was energizing. The previous Captain wasn’t bad. But, a new CO afforded the thought that the grind of going to sea for long periods coupled with hard work in port would be somehow less onerous. The grizzled Korean War Veteran Master Chief would have none of it. “Everyone thinks that change will make things better. Sometimes that happens. Most times things just get different.”

This is, hopefully, one time when things will actually improve. Dan Snyder established such a debilitating stench over his two-plus decades that his departure surely brings improvement, if only via addition by subtraction. If Josh Harris and his posse turn out to be merely “bad owners” the improvement would be enormous. There is the chance they turn out to be “good owners” or better. That opens possibilities that are difficult to process after years of dejection.

Those dreadful years have created a toxicity within the fanbase that is simply breathtaking. Peter Senge in his book, “The Fifth Discipline” describes what he labelled, “The Ladder of Inference.” The Reader’s Digest version is that we form opinions based on input. Over time the opinion becomes the filter through which we observe data and behaviors. If you decide Johnny is a good employee the only raw data processed is that which reinforces the opinion. If you decide Billy is a goof, he’ll do little to nothing correctly in your opinion. Snyder was able to establish a fanbase-wide orientation that nothing the franchise could do was of any positive value. Everything stunk to high heaven. So, it’s not surprising that much of the commentariat wanted Harris to sack everyone in the building on Day One, Hour One.

Thankfully Josh has shown just the right amount of restraint. He was open and honest enough to say that he, “…doesn’t know football.” The French aphorist Nicolas Chamfort said that man begins each phase of his life as a neophyte. Success at one level of life does not necessarily transfer to the next. Harris has shown awareness of his own limitations…so far.  When the season is over a sterner test of patience will begin. Perhaps Harris will channel the rise from the ashes that is the current iteration of, “Restore the Roar” in Detroit.  After decades of nonchalance and disengagement by the Ford family a new leader emerged in Sheila Ford Hamp.  Her GM and Coach hires started 0-10-1, then followed it by starting 1-5 the second year.  Her response was to call a presser where she told the soon-to-be-disappointed reporters that; “No” she was not firing anyone.  Josh may want to secure that move in his back pocket.

A sentinel moment was when Co-Owner Magic Johnson came to the practice facility so he could address the players.   Players ‘Don’t have to worry about problems’ from the new ownership group.  If that bears out, things will indeed be better not just different.

The old saw when a new leader comes along is that, “A new broom sweeps clean.”  Clearly in the middle of the floor is Head Coach Ron Rivera.  Say what you will.  But, that’s a good man right there.  Few in their right mind would have voluntarily jumped into the open sewer that was Snyder’s world.  He did.  He stood tall.  And, he survived what had to be a ghastly experience, oh, and a bout with cancer.  In the process he’s built an intriguing team.  There are strengths, weaknesses, and unknowns. 

After years of what some call, “Unicorn Hunting” to get a stud quarterback Riverboat decided to try something different.  In a year where his future with the organization is in doubt he’s rolling out essentially a rookie to be the QB1.  The military term for this strategy is, “Going Long.”  This is big-time risk on display. “Riverboat”, indeed.  The formula for long-term success in the NFL (long-term being relative) has been laid out by NFL Analyst Pat Kirwan: “Draft a QB that turns out to be good. While he’s on his rookie contract surround him with pieces. Then plan for life after his rookie deal expires.” 

Joe Burrow’s mammoth contract signed this week shines a light on Kirwan’s adage.  Sam Howell will have a salary of $870,000 for the season. Joe Burrow will make ~$3 Million PER GAME! In a hard-capped payroll system this means the Commanders will have $49 Million more to spread around on other players than Cincinnati will have this season. That carries into next year, and the year after. The competitive advantage is huge. Often this is the engine that propels teams up to competitiveness in a hurry. The hinge to the equation is Howell. If he can develop into a top-quartile QB, Ron is sitting pretty.  If not, he probably gets shown the door.  It’s not much more complicated than that.  Young QBs have three best friends; a solid Offensive Line, productive Running Backs, and a sure-handed Tight End. In Howell’s case the Tight End room is a bit of an enigma. The Running Back room was rated top-5 by NFL Analyst Jim Miller. Alas, the O-Line room is not a pretty sight. Why Ron did not significantly fortify a shaky Offensive Line in front of the kid, especially given this backdrop, remains a mystery.

Week One brings in the Cardinals.  They are operating on the “Dan Snyder Lite” set of protocols.  When the team moved to the desert in 1987 the owner was affable Bill Bidwell. His son Mike owns the team now having inherited little of the old man’s gentility. The owner is under investigation for using a set of burner phones with his suspended GM. The team went all-in on quarterback Kyler Murray to the point they hired his college coach to run things. They made it to one playoff game. Then the wheels came off. Murray got a monstrous contract before getting injured. His return this season is questionable. In the meantime his afterguard was fired. The new crew has decided the best path forward is to tank the season. They’ve jettisoned a number of starters including the presumed starter QB veteran Colt McCoy. Joshua Dobbs, a seven-year backup was traded to Arizona from Cleveland barely two weeks ago. He’s the starter this week. This is the equivalent of baseball’s proverbial “AAAA” team. With a full house at Fed Ex Field ready to let loose a cathartic cheer the situation could not be more clear: Washington simply must win this game. A loss would open lots of doors that just were slammed shut.

The schedule stiffens quickly after this inaugural weekend. All six division games are against playoff teams from last year. Add Buffalo, Seattle, San Francisco, and Miami to the pile of playoff teams on the queue. Pulling a winning record out of that fire will take some doing. First things first; get a “W” today.

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