Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins: Chasing Moby Dick

Aidan Reynolds@@aidanreynoldsContributor IIIFebruary 7, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01:  Rex Grossman #8 of the Washington Redskins talks with head coach Mike Shanahan during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Mike Shanahan hasn’t won a Super Bowl in 13 years. He hasn’t had a playoff win, or a winning season since 2006. His Redskins team posted a worse record in 2011 than in 2010.

These are not the statistics of a man who is supposed to be rebuilding a franchise.

He traded draft picks for Donovan McNabb. He staked his reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck getting results—on television.

These are not the actions of a man to whom you would hand over complete control of player personnel.

But yet he remains both—tasked with rebuilding the franchise and having complete control over player personnel. Washington is his Pequod, and he forces it further out to sea in the hope of catching the elusive creature that has injured him and in doing so bringing glory to him upon his return.

The franchise quarterback: Washington’s Moby Dick.

In the last 20 years the Redskins have had a troubled relationship with the game’s most prominent position and have not started anyone worthy of leading the team since Mark Rypien took them to Super Bowl XXVI, winning the MVP in the process. A straw-clutching approach of draft picks, free agents and veterans has been the routine, with any hope of a postseason appearance usually dashed by inconsistency within the first six games.

2 Oct 1994: Defensive lineman Charles Haley of the Dallas Cowboys tackles Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler during a game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D. C. The Cowboys won the game, 34-7.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Heath Shuler has been a regular fixture in Washington for the last five years—but not in the NFL. He was elected to the House of Representatives and served three terms before announcing his retirement this month. In the House of the Redskins, he would serve in just 19 games. In 2008 ESPN voted him the fourth biggest draft bust of all-time.

The Redskins harpooned Gus Frerotte from the same draft class as Shuler, and he replaced him until his career literally hit a wall via his head and an unfathomable post-touchdown celebration decision.

Since Shanahan assumed the role of Ahab in this tale, he has talked of reducing the age of his roster and building a younger team through free agency, trades and the draft. For the quarterback position he has tried two of those three—with disastrous results. Donovan McNabb was never going to recapture his glory years, whilst Grossman and Beck are simply not up to the task.

Shanahan now finds himself burdened with the dubious honour of the being the first Redskins coach since Norv Turner to post back-to-back seasons with double-digit losses. Those two Shuler-Frerotte years are a mark on the history of the Washington Redskins and were caused by the draft. Now the draft is Shanahan’s only unexplored route down which to find his prize, and he has no choice but to pursue it. His offseason decisions will decide if it drags him down into the depths.


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