People’s actions in the past dictate the amount of credit they get in the future, which is why we’re all sitting here today applauding Washington owner Daniel Snyder for doing the first sensible thing for his organization in a decade.
Letting go of Bruce Allen, who presided over a chaotic stretch of football in Washington, was the kind of thing someone not interested in fortifying their own stubbornness would have done years ago. But the fact that it was done at all is notable. Bringing in Ron Rivera, a highly-regarded head coach with a 76-63 career record, a Super Bowl appearance and four postseason appearances in seven years, just as the dust began to settle on the NFL’s Black Monday, was also the kind of move that a capable and decisive franchise might make. The team appeared to take advantage of the head start they got firing Jay Gruden mid-season and made their decision—reportedly giving Rivera a five-year contract—before they found themselves in the unenviable position of lonely and dateless, with the rest of the candidates paired off.
Hiring Rivera carries no guarantee for success. He will not have an in-prime quarterback like Cam Newton, who, history will show, was more of a matchup nightmare than he was ever given credit for. He will not have a cadre of established defensive talent from which to craft his scheme. He will not have the (relative) anonymity of a smaller market franchise that sometimes allows for a first-time head coach to get away with mistakes he would not have elsewhere.
We also do not know who, if anyone, will be making the personnel decisions. The last time Washington brought in a competent general manager—Scot McCloughan—he was smeared, cast aside, stuffed in a corner and fired after two seasons. Will they now be alright with someone making independent football decisions? Will Rivera get to help dictate who he’d like to work with?
Those are questions for another time. So much of days like today are about the optics. Owners like the idea of winning the moment and using an extremely public hire—like that of a head coach—to erase some inescapably bad part of their narrative. Snyder has too much to scrub, but the acquisition of Rivera goes a long way toward putting the franchise on its figurative tracks.
People who spend their hard-earned money and time following this team will have to decide if Snyder’s dive into relative pragmatism is simply a show or if it is evidence that he has learned something from the repeated tumult that has befallen the franchise of late. Perhaps it was a shift in fan behavior, from actively disagreeing with him, in person, at the stadium, to passively leaving the team behind to play their meaningless end-of-season games in an empty concrete auditorium.
In the moment, Rivera can change that. Washington has a high draft pick in 2020 they can tout as well to bring people back to the ticket counter. But the question will always be whether Snyder stays on the course he has set out for himself; whether his actions over the next few years can dictate a brighter future for us to consider.
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