Washington Redskins: 10 Worst Personnel Disasters of Dan Snyder's Career
Three Super Bowls, two NFL Championships and a handful of Hall of Famers amassed over more than 70 years of existence can attest to their storied history. But something terrible has happened to the Redskins since the glory days of Super Bowls and success in the 80s and 90s.
Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999 and nothing has been the same since. His penchant for splurging on big names and disregard for the draft has given Snyder a reputation as one of the most meddlesome owners in the NFL.
From the beginning of Snyder's reign as owner, the Redskins dropped the habits of winning and competing for spending and floundering. Since 1999, Washington has produced just three winning seasons and three playoff appearances. In contrast, they are regularly embroiled in high-profile free agent signings and coaching carousels.
Here are some of the worst personnel disasters to occur during Dan Snyder's ownership.
1. The First Spending Spree
In his first years of ownership, Snyder established himself as an owner who would pay anyone and everyone for their services. He preferred players with big names and just happened to sign them when they had next to nothing left to give. It was the first of many spending sprees, but it is arguably one of the worst of Snyder's ownership.
He made the Redskins the first team to break $100 million in player salaries.
Jeff George was signed to four years and $18 million, despite Brad Johnson being more than adequate the year before. Johnson went on to win the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002, while George played just eight games for the Redskins over two years. George was long past his prime, and didn't deserve the contract he received, let alone the roster spot.
Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith were supposed to be veteran leaders for the Redskins, but turned out to be little more than disinterested individualistic players.
Smith was already a legend from his time with the Bills, but sought the NFL sack record more than victories. Sanders had plenty of ability, but lacked any drive to use it. He was already a two-time champion, and his pockets were lined many times over. The two combined for $89 million in contracts for the Redskins, and Sanders retired the prior to the 2001 season.
During a broadcast of a Redskins-Cowboys game in 2001, Sanders mentioned that he was still collecting salary from both teams.
Mark Carrier and Adrian Murrell lasted one season, and accounted for next to no statistical production. If the Redskins had signed the bunch a few years prior, perhaps things would have been different. As it stands, Snyder succeeded in starting a terrible trend for offseasons in Washington.
2. Trading for and Re-Signing Donovan McNabb
It was just one year ago that the news hit about the Eagles trading long-time quarterback Donovan McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins. The deal sent a second round pick in the 2010 draft and a conditional pick in the 2011 draft to Philadelphia. The Eagles turned the 2010 pick into Nate Allen, while the Redskins could have picked lineman Zane Beadles, among many others.
McNabb ended up benched for the final three games of the season, and may not be back for the next.
What is interesting about the move is that no one found the circumstances the least bit suspicious. Eagles coach Andy Reid had said a week prior that none of his three quarterbacks were going anywhere. Easter rolls around and McNabb is suddenly dealt to the Redskins for picks they desperately needed.
At various times during the season, McNabb looked great. Most of the time, he looked bewildered and out of his element.
Perhaps it was the combination of a new offense, new receivers and an offensive line fit for a pee wee league, but McNabb was never comfortable. He couldn't hit wide open receivers and would switch between balls thrown in the dirt or balls thrown out of reach ahead, behind and over top of receivers. He had trouble with routine screens that defined the offense he ran in Philadelphia.
Snyder and Co. decided McNabb's sub-par performance warranted a $70 million extension, and the Redskins finished 6-10 on the season.
For the first time in McNabb's career, he finished a season with more interceptions than touchdowns and was all but destined for the chopping block. Luckily, his contract came with outs that allowed the Redskins to save a bundle by cutting him after the season.
The season is over and he is still with the team, who are perhaps fishing for a trade partner for a post-lockout move for picks. Either way, McNabb's time in Washington was frustratingly unnecessary. Snyder got his cash cow, what with jerseys, posters, bobble heads and numerous other merchandise they could think to slap McNabb's mug onto.
3. Jim Zorn's Brief but Memorable Tenure as Head Coach
You know you've made a horrible mistake when the man you've hired as your head coach incorrectly names the team colors as "maroon and black... and yellow." Jim Zorn suffered from being the head coach by default, which is never a good circumstance. After Snyder and his pal Vinny had exhausted all other viable options, they had to promote Zorn from offensive coordinator to head coach.
Snyder and Cerrato were somehow able to disregard Zorn's lack of experience as either a coordinator or a head coach.
What can be said about a man who managed to create more excitement with his termination than at any point during his two-year tenure? Everything started out so well, with the Redskins going 6-2 in Zorn's first eight games. The team grabbed wins at Dallas, at Philadelphia, and even beat the eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.
Then they faced the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers and things started to get messy.
The offensive line broke down, the defense couldn't create turnovers or pressure, and Zorn's inexperience was on full display for the 2-6 record to close the season at 8-8. 2009 was an even worse year, that saw the Redskins win just four games and give the Detroit Lions their first win in 19 games. Zorn tried to get too cute with his offense too often, and led to the infamous Swinging Gate incident against the New York Giants.
Zorn's incompetency led the team to hire an offensive consultant to improve the team's gameplan and playcalling.
At one point, the offense was being handled by three coaches, Zorn, Sherman Lewis and Sherman Smith. This convoluted chain of communication led to more than a few delay of game penalties.
What stands out about Zorn's time with the Redskins was his ability to look and sound completely detached from the situation and handle press conferences with the most aloof attitude imaginable. In his own words, he would "Keep medium." Even in the one notable conference where he attempted to voice some level of frustration, he came off as slightly perturbed despite a less than emphatic pound on the podium.
Thankfully, Zorn is now gone, and we have only memories of the ineptitude he embodied as head coach of the Washington Redskins.
4. Norv Turner, Mike Nolan and Ice Cream
The years after Joe Gibbs retired the first time were not easy on the Redskins. They lost their leader and much of the talent in the front office and on the field that had led them to their success in the 80's and early 90's. Norv Turner was an up and coming coordinator put in a position that would be difficult for anyone to succeed in.
But after a 10-6 playoff season in 1999 and a 7-6 record in 2000, Snyder fired the coaching carryover from the previous ownership.
Turner may not have been the best coach in the world, but he deserved better than he got from Snyder. To date, Turner is the only coach in the post-merger era to have been fired midseason with a winning record. Turner's demise was due in part to the influx of useless veterans Snyder had imposed upon him in the offseason leading up to the 2000 season.
The lack of results didn't sit well with Snyder and he did away with Turner, leaving offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie to lead the team to a final record of 8-8.
The real intriguing story of the first years of Snyder's reign come in regards to former defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. During the 1999 season, Snyder was displeased with Nolan's vanilla playcalling. He allegedly left a gallon of 31 flavors ice cream with a note saying, "This is how I would like your playcalling to be like." Nolan apparently responded with a thank you note.
Following a loss to Dallas that year, Snyder left five gallons of ice cream to melt in Nolan's office.
Nolan was gone after that season, Turner the season after, and Snyder's ownership had only just begun.
5. Signing Albert Haynesworth
Dan Snyder has gone the record as saying Albert Haynesworth is the biggest waste of money he has ever spent. Haynesworth was billed as the most dominant defensive player in the NFL heading into the 2008 free agency period, and Snyder had to have him. Snyder forgot to read the fine print on that billing and shelled out a hefty chunk of money for what turned out to be a hefty chunk of garbage.
Snyder's $100 million man turned out to be an overgrown child with no mind for team football.
In his two years with the Redskins, Haynesworth has spent his time limping off the field, taking plays off, and indulging in siestas after exerting himself just the slightest bit. He complained about the scheme Greg Blache used as a hindrance to his own ability to produce statistically.
It didn't take long for everyone to get the picture that Haynesworth was not going to work for his many millions, and he would prove to be more pain than he was worth.
Mike Shanahan inherited the problem, and did his best to fix it short of putting the big baby in the corner. Haynesworth somehow came out to be the victim in the matter, despite accepting a $20 million bonus and reneging on his promise to attend offseason activities.
Haynesworth was suspended for the final games of the season for conduct detrimental to the team, but he is still a contracted player. Snyder dug himself a hole with Haynesworth and will have to hope Bruce Allen and Shanahan can get something out of it in terms of a trade once the lockout is over.
6. The 2006 Offseason
Much like the free agency class of 2000, the offseason additions of 2006 brought very little to the table besides large paychecks. In 2005, the Redskins avoided making any major splashes in the free agent market, opting for a quality center and some veterans on offense and defense. In 2006, the Redskins threw caution to the wind and bought everyone they wanted.
Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, Christian Fauria and Andre Carter became the latest and greatest of the worst free agent pools the Redskins have acquired.
To be fair, Carter was productive and hard-working enough to be accepted as a quality signing. He had 34 sacks in his five years with the team, but wasn't exactly worth the $30 million he was paid. Randle El was supposed to be the return specialist and offensive playmaker, but he managed just one return touchdown and eight receiving touchdowns in four seasons with the team. He was signed for $31 million over seven years to do much more than that.
Fauria appeared in only nine games and caught two passes for 17 yards. He was a mere waste of roster space.
Archuleta and Lloyd were the rotten eggs of the bunch. The team traded two picks to the 49ers for Lloyd, who was supposed to be a dynamic deep threat complete with acrobatic catches. He produced 25 catches and zero touchdowns in less than two seasons before being released. He regularly dropped balls and failed to get open on most occasions.
Archuleta was known as a tackling machine with the Rams, but the Redskins failed to account for the lack of an actual scheme in St. Louis and dropped $30 million to sign him. He went on to appear in just seven games, where he was consistently lost in coverage and failed at play recognition.
The Redskins relegated Archuleta to special teams duty, with Troy Vincent serving as his replacement at strong safety. They traded him to the Bears for a sixth round pick in the 2007 draft.
Snyder, once again infatuated by more names to put on the marquee, failed to bring any substance to a team needing a strong foundation.
The shame now is that Lloyd finished last season as the league's leading receiver for the Denver Broncos.
7. The Coaching Search of 2008
After Joe Gibbs retired for a second time, the Redskins set out to find their next head coach. Gregg Williams seemed to have the inside track, having been a head coach with Buffalo in the past and being the current defensive coordinator for the Redskins, having tenure with the team and prior head coaching experience. He already had the players' respect as a coordinator, and Al Saunders was already the offensive coordinator.
But nothing is ever that simple with Snyder, and Williams was fired after four interviews for the vacant position, while Saunders was just fired.
The list of names that interviewed or were rumored to have interest in the job or from the team was distinguished. Bill Cowher was the primary target, while the likes of Jim Mora, Jr., Ron Meeks, Jim Schwartz, Russ Grimm, Brian Billick, Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci, and Steve Spagnuolo were at various times interviewed or considered for the position. The situation leaves Washington a laughingstock, and highlights the lack of desirability to work under Snyder as head coach.
There was a plan to hire Fassel as the head coach, Zorn as the offensive coordinator and Rex Ryan as the defensive coordinator, which fell apart when Ryan stayed in Baltimore and Fassel withdrew from feelings of manipulation on the Redskins part.
Less than a month after Gibbs's departure, Zorn was hired as the offensive coordinator and promoted to head coach due to a complete lack of interest in the job. Zorn coached the Redskins for two seasons to the tune of a 12-20 record, and was fired after the final game of the 2009-2010 season.
8. Firing Marty Schottenheimer
Most coaches that start an NFL season 0-5 are going to face some scrutiny from fans and the owner. Marty Schottenheimer was no different in his lone season as head coach for the Redskins. He started 0-5, but went on to win eight of the team's final 11 games to finish 8-8. A turnaround like that shows progress, improvement, and even hope.
In spite of the positive change, Snyder promptly fired Schottenheimer following the season to make room for famed University of Florida head coach Steve Spurrier as the next head coach.
Few fans vividly remember Schottenheimer's tenure as head coach, mostly because so much else has gone wrong since. However, it was clear that his approach to football (see: experience) did not mesh well with Snyder's ownership style (see: money grubbing). Schottenheimer was a believer in the draft and saw it fit to do away with Snyder's pet Vinny Cerrato.
Snyder didn't care for the draft, and took offense to Schottenheimer's treatment of Vinny-Me to the point of firing the man. It didn't help that many of the veteran free agents didn't feel Schottenheimer's coaching methods respected their carrers (see: Bruce Smith).
Schottenheimer had a history of success as a head coach, having recorded nine winning seasons in his 11 year career with Kansas City. What's more, he went on to coach the Chargers to a 47-33 record from 2002-2006. He may not have had the greatest luck in playoff games for whatever reason, but he could build and work with winners.
The Redskins have not had that type of coaching since, and the jury is still out on Mike Shanahan.
9. Hiring Steve Spurrier
There is no purer contrast in coaching styles than going from the rigid structure of Marty Schottenheimer to the fast and loose style of Steve Spurrier. Spurrier, famed for his success with the Florida Gators, was immediately proven to be in over his head in the NFL. His Fun 'n' Gun offense was an abomination that featured multiple quarterbacks and next to no blocking for any of them.
What followed was an unadulterated nightmare for fans and players alike en route to a 12-20 two-season stint for Spurrier.
The team drafted quarterback Patrick Ramsey to be the leader of Spurrier's offense, though he often split time with Danny Weurffel and Shane Matthews, both of whom played under Spurrier at Florida. In Spurrier's second season, Ramsey took over as the full-time starter, but his increased playing time opened the door for more consistent and increasingly violent hits.
Ramsey started 11 games that year and was sacked 30 times, suffering the fifth highest sack percentage for the season despite missing five games.
Spurrier resigned in December of 2003 and finished his tenure with three losses, including a 27-0 shutout at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. Most football fans knew who Spurrier was before he arrived in Washington, but every Redskins fan developed a hatred from him by the time he left after the 2003 season.
10. Employing Vinny Cerrato
What could be worse for a struggling franchise than an incompetent yes-man in the pocket of the owner making most of the important decisions in terms of players, personnel, talent evaluation and the draft? Since being hired in 1999, then again in 2002, Cerrato has regularly topped Redskins fans' lists of things wrong with the team.
As Snyder's "bestest" friend, Cerrato made most of his decisions based on what Snyder wanted, which almost always involved spending ludicrous amounts of money on players near the end of their careers.
During his overstayed welcome with the Redskins, Cerrato was responsible for signing the likes of Adam Archuleta, Jeff George, Mike Barrow, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeremiah Trotter, and Albert Hayensworth. The list stretches much longer than this, but for time and space's sake it will be shortened.
That short list of names accounts for $268.6 million worth of contracts that netted zero Pro Bowl appearances for any players and roughly the same number of playoff appearances for the team.
On numerous occasions, he stated he had done everything in his power to improve the team and even went so far as to say he had improved the Redskins offensive line over the last two season. This, he says, about the unit that saw Jason Campbell sacked 81 times in just two seasons.
After the 2009-2010 season Snyder parted ways with Cerrato, simply saying it was, "time to move on."