Redskins GM Bruce Allen, the 2002 NFL Executive of the Year, ascended to his post with the Redskins in the wake of chaos.
That’s not entirely true. Allen was hired as the team’s GM in December of 2009. He was not granted control of the personnel department, and because of this, Allen stayed very much behind the scenese during the four year run by Mike Shanahan as head coach. Depending on who you believe, Shanahan had very limited contact with his front office at all during the season. On the football operations side, Allen seemed to have little involvement.
That all changed this January. Allen’s title remains “General Manager,” but he more or less promoted himself to top dog in the organizational power structure after Mike Shanahan was fired. As the General Manager, he could have hired someone to handle football operations, but Allen decided that he is the best guy to run football operations in Washington.
It is a position that Allen had before when he was with Jon Gruden in Tampa. Allen ran football operations from 2004 through 2008. He was fired with Gruden at the end of the 2008 season. Such a promotion was well earned for the former NFL Executive of the Year.
Bruce Allen is very good at keeping people in the building working together, but his refusal to rebuild any unit in Tampa led to a number of problems. First it was the offense, which struggled the first three years Allen was there. When the offense finally got enough talent to win in 2007, the run was short lived (one playoff appearence in 07, total team collapse in December of 2008) because the roster got old. Allen came in with great fanfare in 2004, but instead of executing a plan to build on what former Tampa GM Rich McKay had built, he tinkered with both sides of the ball.
Allen didn’t stay married to the stars of the 2002 Championship team. In his first year there, Jon Gruden ended up playing Denver Broncos castoff QB Brian Griese the majority of the season when incumbent started Brad Johnson was hurt. In 2005, Johnson got hurt again in September, and the Bucs patched together a playoff run with second year QB Chris Simms at QB. The problem with the 04-06 Bucs teams was that players who were reserves on the roster were often promoted into the starting lineup when the team couldn’t afford to pay free agents to fill those holes. Roster turnover remained high when those players saw their contracts run out, and were not retained.
Allen and Gruden struck gold in their fourth year together with the remains of the championship back seven on it’s very last legs — half a decade later, of course. They brought in Jeff Garcia to fix the QB hole, found two top line starters on the left side of the offensive line, and squeezed the last drops of productivity from the Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard stones.
Although everything came together that year, the 2008 season would extend the best things about the Gruden-Allen marriage while exposing the worst sin: there was no player development going on in Tampa. Even the talented youngsters regressed. The Bucs found 2007 success from unheralded talents such as Arron Sears at LG, Jeremy Trueblood at RT, Jovan Haye at DT, Barrett Ruud at LB, and Tanard Jackson at FS. Of those guys, only Tanard Jackson is an (in)active player, and he’s serving a suspension that will not ever end. The crash of the veteran talent was inevitable, but the crash of the young talent was entirely preventable.
At any point during the Allen tenure with the Bucs, a systematic rebuilding of one or more parts of the roster could have occured. Instead, they let Warren Sapp walk, eventually moved on from CB Brian Kelly and DE Simeon Rice, and kept the same schemes that would eventually become stale. The offensive roster management was strictly plug and play. It worked, kinda, but the crash of the Tampa roster in 08 sure resembled a little bit like the crash of the Oakland roster in 03 that caused Bruce Allen to jump to another ship.
It does make this writer a little bit nervous that after Allen promoted himself to the top of the player personnel department two months ago, tasked with turning around a 3-13 team, that Allen has managed to remain resistant to anything resembling rebuilding. About half of the coaching staff from last season remains intact, which you almost never see after a team falls to 3-13. The offensive and defensive termonology remains unchanged from the past administration. The offensive strategy will change, although the defense will not. Special teams, of course, will be pretty much new in 2014, but you don’t really rebuild on special teams given that roster turnover there is the norm, not the exception.
Bruce Allen hasn’t made any obvious wrongheaded moves since taking over, but my concern is that the new direction of the team is a lot like the old direction with the team , but with new faces on the coaching staff. Mike Shanahan and co. were actively harming the team and needed to go, and Jay Gruden comes in as a much more personable character who will install the kind of offense that Robert Griffin can win with. That was exactly what the Redskins needed to accomplish this winter by changing coaches.
But it isn’t like things were particularly great before Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen got here. The Redskins probably needed to be torn down and rebuilt, and not just from a salary cap perspective. They were in very bad shape after 2009. They are in wose shape right now. And the mantra does seem to be “business as usual.” Or if you prefer, “the future is now.”
The responsibility that Allen has consistently shirked in his career is the responsibility of knowing when his roster is just at a dead end, and needing to relocate the center of talent around someone else. Allen has always solved this problem by moving to another job. The Redskins were at that point in 2010 and again now in 2014. Just like the Bucs were in 2004, and the Raiders before that.
Mike Shnahan left a mess for Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden to clean up. But if both men are expecting the other to do the heavy lifting, I can tell you who is going to be responsible for bringing back the Redskins: nobody.