There are a lot of bad teams in professional sports. The New York Knicks have been a laughingstock for most of this century, and the New York Jets haven’t been to the Super Bowl since their historic Super Bowl III win almost 49 years ago.
The Cleveland Browns — incarnation 1 or incarnation 2 — last won a playoff game on New Year’s Day 1995. The Detroit Lions have been eligible for every Super Bowl and have never appeared in one. The Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey’s Original Six, last won a Stanley Cup the last year there were only six NHL teams – 1967.
The list goes on. But the franchise that was once one of the best and proudest in the NFL now has a unique niche: That would be the team I am now going to call The Washington Kirts.
I do this for two reasons: 1) I find the nickname Redskins offensive. So does, for the record, the dictionary, which calls the term, ‘pejorative.’ I don’t care what polling among American Indians says or what Dan Snyder says or what the blindly loyal fans say about tradition. Slavery and segregation were traditions too. The use of the words negro and colored were once acceptable. Now, they’re not.
So, I don’t use the term Redskins when referring to Snyder’s team. If you or anyone else wants to use it, fine. That’s your choice.
But I come here today not to re-open the old argument about the team name. I come here to talk about Snyder, his No. 1 henchman, and their quarterback – the man that henchman, Bruce Allen, calls ‘Kirt.’
The quarterback’s name is KIRK Cousins. So, in his honor, I will call the team, the Kirts going forward. I’m not sure what’s funnier: Allen’s refusal to call him by his correct name or the apologists claiming Allen can’t say it correctly because of his accent.
A brief synopsis of the latest Snyder soap opera:
In 2012, when Washington traded up in order to take Robert Griffin III with the second pick in the draft, Coach Mike Shanahan, who was in charge of the draft room at the time, also drafted Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. For the record, I supported the trade to get Griffin because I thought he had Hall of Fame potential. I also couldn’t understand why Shanahan would use a fourth round pick on another quarterback when he had just drafted the future of the franchise – barring injury. So, I was wrong on both counts.
The last two words – barring injury – as everyone now knows, turned out to be critical. Griffin was brilliant his rookie year and outplaying Andrew Luck – the No. 1 pick in the draft – even though Luck also had an excellent rookie year.
Then came the fateful evening of January 5, 2013, when Shanahan and the Washington team doctors allowed Griffin to keep playing on an awful playing surface in Snyder’s awful stadium. The team lost the playoff game to Seattle that day, and Griffin finally came off the field for good in the fourth quarter with a damaged knee.
That was the last time he was an effective quarterback.
Enter Cousins, who eventually became the starting quarterback for good at the start of the 2015 season after the Kirts went back-and-forth with Griffin on the field and off the field for two seasons. One could understand why Snyder and Shanahan didn’t want to give up on Griffin given what they’d invested in him and the potential he’d shown when healthy.
What’s more, Snyder likes shiny objects – like the Heisman Trophy – and wanted Griffin to be his marketing star. It was the team of Coach Jay Gruden and general manager Scot McCloughan who finally said, “Enough, Cousins is the quarterback.”
Cousins proceeded to play very well in 2015 and led Washington to a rare playoff berth, albeit in a remarkably weak NFC East. It was after that season that the team of Snyder and Allen began undermining the team’s relationship with their starter at the most important position in team sports.
McCloughan, who had brought an adult presence to the front office, wanted to sign Cousins to a long-term deal, something in the range of five years with about $40 to $45 million guaranteed. In today’s quarterback market, this would have been a team-friendly deal, locking up a solid 26-year-old QB for five years in the prime of his career without eating up an inordinate amount of cap money.
Snyder and Allen, whose combined knowledge of football could fit in a thimble, balked. They wanted to see Cousins do it again before making any long-term commitment.
So, Cousins did it again. He had a better season in 2016 than in 2015, but the rise of the Cowboys – and a choke job by the entire team, Cousins included – on the final day of the season kept Washington out of postseason. Still, Cousins had responded to the demand to do it again.
Washington had already spent almost $20 million to franchise tag him last season. Surely the team wouldn’t spend another $24 million to tag him again.
Even before the Cousins “negotiations” — if you can call them that — spiraled, the team fired McCloughan in a typical Snyder-Allen way: with mystery and malice. First, McCloughan no-showed at the NFL combine, putting forth a weak excuse about a grandmother who had died a MONTH earlier – which the team picked up and ran with. Soon after, he was fired, with Snyder-Allen and their minions whispering to the media that McCloughan, an alcoholic, had been drinking again.
The cowardice in making these comments – anonymously, of course – is almost beyond comprehension. If McCloughan was drinking again, it was up to him and ONLY him to talk about it publicly. But Snyder-Allen have to justify everything they do — it’s never THEIR fault – so they humiliated a man who had done very solid work for them AND had urged them to sign Cousins when he was gettable at a reasonable price.
From there, Washington tagged Cousins again, guaranteeing they would pay him $44 million for two seasons rather than the $45 million guaranteed they could have paid to lock him up for five seasons a year earlier.
Then the team kept putting out fake news that negotiations were cordial and going well leading up to the July 17th deadline to get Cousins signed. Here’s the thing: there was NO WAY Cousins was going to sign, especially when Washington offered LESS guaranteed money the next two seasons than Cousins would get by not signing.
According to Allen, the offer made to “Kirt” was for $24 million guaranteed this season, which he was already guaranteed this season, and $29 million guaranteed next season. That’s $5 million less than it will cost Washington to tag Cousins a third (and final) time if it wants to be certain he’ll play for it in 2018. In addition, Cousins would get about $65 million more NOT guaranteed beginning in 2019 — a paycut.
Allen’s attempt to spin this as a generous offer was completely ridiculous and was — as usual with this team — filled with malice. He (and nothing that comes out of Allen’s mouth does so without approval from Snyder) was trying to make Cousins the bad guy for refusing to consider the low-ball/offensive offer. He added to it by calling him “Kirt,” which was either stupid or malicious, take your pick.
The difference between Snyder and other incompetent owners is that Snyder is a very mean little man. That’s not a reference to his height. He goes out of his way to treat people badly and honestly thinks that people will buy what he’s selling. He IS the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” He keeps insisting his clothes are beautiful when everyone can see he’s buck naked.
The first time I ever spoke to him was early in his tenure as owner. I’d been critical of him on a number of issues and he called me. This was his opening comment:
“Do you have something against Children’s Hospital?”
“What?” I asked.
“Well, you know I give a LOT of money to Children’s Hospital. I thought maybe you had something against the hospital so you’re attacking me.”
Think, for a moment, about how blatantly obnoxious and stupid that comment was. I told Snyder that not only did I not have anything against the hospital, but my son had recently had hernia surgery there and I LOVED the hospital.
Then I said, “Dan, I hope you’re not trying to say I shouldn’t criticize what you do as an owner because you give money to Children’s Hospital.”
“Well,” he said, “I thought you should at least be aware…”
“No, I shouldn’t. You’re a very rich man; you should give money to charity and NOT brag about it. A lot of us give money to charity. We don’t use it as an excuse for behaving badly.”
That conversation is Dan Snyder in a nutshell. No matter what he does, he’s never wrong and he’s entitled. Boy, is he entitled.
Just ask Kirt.
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,” spent eight months on the New York Times bestseller lists in hardcover and paperback. His new book, “The First Major—The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,” will be published in October. The first pre-publication review of the book can be accessed at @JFeinsteinbooks on twitter.