Sunday, May 17, 2009

How Can You Even Argue with This?

Cool, I've still got five minutes til my next bad decision

Once again Sports Illustrated has rated the NFL owners, giving us their opinion on the top five and the bottom five, would you be surprised to learn that Dan Snyder is a bottom five owner according to this study?  The SI drop on Dan:

Snyder is a good businessman and spares no expense with one of the most profitable franchises in sports. But maybe that's the problem: The young billionaire runs the team more like a first-time fantasy-football manager. Among the most expensive outlays: nearly $225 million committed to LaVar Arrington, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Laveranues Coles and Adam Archuleta. Though those mistakes were at beginning of Snyder's tenure, Washington still hasn't come anywhere near the Super Bowl and has had five head coaches during his decade of ownership. Think Snyder learned his lesson? This past offseason, he locked up three players -- Albert Haynesworth, DeAngelo Hall and Derrick Dockery -- for a combined $162M.

I guess I sort of take it as an article of faith that Dan Snyder is a bad NFL owner; the team has shown little in the way of true stability and strategy ever seems to be ad hoc, barely looking past the hood ornament, unable to look down the road.

So I was surprised to see Kevin Ewoldt at Hogs Haven take such exception to the notion of Dan Snyder as bad owner.  Kevin attacks the SI piece with such gusto, so many caveats and such thin persuasion that I first thought the piece was comedy, a dark joke on the exact sunshine fanboys that came out in the nearly 90 comments to rally around the regime, to hope against hope that things will turn out right this year and to trash anyone that disagrees.

The intro to the SI piece lists some of the evaluation criteria:

...the willingness to spend money to improve the team; the stability and capabilities of the front office and management; the amenities at the team's venue; and the club's culture and interactivity with fans. Of course, weighing heavily in the decision was the team's success or failure on the field.

I will rebut the core theses of Kevin's piece at Hogs Haven, in his order:

Team's success on the field:  Kevin leads with the fattest possible stat:  two playoff appearances in four years and makes the comparative argument against associating the Redskins with the other four bottom feeders, Lions, Bengals, 49ers and Raiders.  I would agree with the arguability of Washington's having remained competitive.

Let us look at the overall and division records in Dan Snyder's conveniently even ten years as Redskins owner:

Overall record regular season:  76-84, or 47.5% with three winning seasons.  Equivalent to a 7.6-8.4 record a year but since you cannot win a partial game just like you cannot have a partial child let us obey the rules of elementary school math and round up to 8-8 which happens to be the most common season ending record under Dan Synder, having happened three of ten times.  As a football fan I do not feel satisfied with an expectation of seven or eight wins a year.

Overall division record:  27-39, or 40.9% with one first place finish, two second place finishes, four third place finishes and three fourth place finishes.  So the team is doing even worse against division rivals than against the league at large.  If you are not building a team to win your division then you are hoping for a wild card which is like not even bothering to ogle hot chicks at the party, just going ugly early and calling it a night.

So fine, these records are probably not the bottom five in the league, in the context of what Dan Snyder spends and how much control he exerts directly they are consistently and predictably bad.  These criteria overlap.

Owner's willingness to spend money to improve the team:  Kevin howls, and rightly in a literal sense, that this criteria is in Dan Snyder's wheelhouse, that spending money is what this guy does.  Which is true.

And he does it badly with tons of bad money going out the door.  Clearly Sports Illustrated is not simply rating the dollars spent, but also the quality of the dollars spent and the results garnered from expenditures.

The vetting process for new free agent contract offers appears to be a giant circle jerk at times, a negative feedback loop where everyone is trying to divine what the owner wants, not necessarily what the team needs, and make the owner think it was his idea.  The Washington Post's Lost Season series on the 2006 season debacle goes into some detail on the self reinforcing decisions made in offering contracts to Brandon Lloyd and Adam Archuleta; in the moment and in the aftermath there was always Joe Gibbs to stand up and take responsibility, but under the covers are players not properly vetted and not properly evaluated against poorly defined team needs.

Go back if you want and walk the line on players that got paid:  Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeremiah Trotter, Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington, Adam Archuleta, Brandon Lloyd.  Not all were total failures and at least two had some good times here, just look at what the team needed at the time and what they got and tell me if it was money well spent.

Stability and capabilities of the front office and management:  Kevin believes that the team has made large strides in this area and that Dan Snyder has not been a part of the player selection or roster moves since Joe Gibbs arrived in 2004, that Dan Snyder has owned up to his mistakes from the quote early 2000s unquote and that despite all the coaching turnover the team is progressing into the top half in terms of stability with all the guys they have now.  At the end he grudingly agrees with a bottom five ranking.

In terms of stability in the front office the Redskins have been very stable but then again so has the government of North Korea and how is that working out for the citizens of that country?  With the exception of 2001 when Marty Schottenheimer fired him immediately upon taking the job, Vinny Cerrato has been at Dan Snyder's side and will continue to be as long as Vinny can stay in favor.

And let me tell you:  Dan Snyder is involved in every major player move this team makes.  Even the great Joe Gibbs admitted everything had to run by owner, even just for reference and rubber stamp.  If there is even the perception internally that the owner is watching things then kiss football independence goodbye and kiss worrying about your job hello.  See also Gregg Williams and Marty Schottenheimer.

The team's cronyistic stability limits the team's options for change as well.  Redskins fans hear an uber name associated with the Redskins every so often as potential coach and or general manager, Bill Cowher, Mike Holmgren, Bruce Allen, Mike Shanahan.  The reality is as long as Vinny Cerrato can keep Dan Snyder's attention focused on the shiny bauble and away from a real football mind then we will never see one of those guys in Washington.  Do you think a Bill Cowher or a Bruce Allen negotiates with some search committee?  Hells no, these are direct, personal conversations over fat steaks and good Scotch, the elite have no need for Vinny Cerrato and he would be out of a job literally of  not figuratively if the Redskins were to make a really radical move to change things in the front office.

Repeat:  as long as Vinny Cerrato is here we will never see a real football guy in Washington because that would threaten Vinny's empire and he will do anything honorable or dishonorable to defend his turf.

As far as capabilities I think the results speak for themselves.  Two first round quarterbacks, one of whom is long gone, the other the team tried mightily to get rid of.  One offensive lineman picked since both incumbent tackles turned 30, and he could not get on the field last season.  Letting Super Bowl Champion Ryan Clark go to pay five times more for Adam Archuleta.  Signing not one, not two but three receivers identical in profile to Santana Moss while ignoring anyone looking more like Randy Moss.  Letting Derrick Dockery go in free agency and not even making a serious move to replace him until training camp when it cost a fourth round pick to get a 34 year old.  Nabbing Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly but missing both Eddie Royal and DeSean Jackson.

I could go on.  Do not confuse longevity with capability.  Even if Kevin is correct, that the team is making strides in this area, which I do not believe to be the case, would you get ten years to figure out how to do your job?

Amenities at the team's venue:  here we learn that Kevin has club level seats at which point I must digress and hope Kevin does not get mad about this piece and that perhaps if we took in a game together we would certainly discover we shared a passion for good football in Washington.  :)

Kevin's only complaint in this area is the lack of high definition jumbo screens at Redskins Stadium and while I agree that is only part of the real problems.

First, the stadium location is terrible.  Placing Redskins Stadium in Landover was a spite move to begin with and not about the fans, the Redskins belong where they played for 36 years from 1961 through 1996, in the District of Columbia.  Getting in and out of games is a misery in every mode of transportation.  With such a poor location the lack of a convenience shuttle from Metro to the games is shameful.

Second, the stadium itself is bordering on an embarrassment.  Like the Pentagon, Redskins Stadium was slapped together in eighteen months under duress, more or less a copy of Giants Stadium, itself a better memory than experience.  Redskins Stadium is decaying before our eyes, there appear to be no new monies invested in improvements, only in basic maintenance.  The first thing meeting game attendees is rusty stair rails, the burgundy pads surrounding the field for player safety, crowd delineation and television images are faded to a washed out pink.  The public address system may or may not be adequate, I cannot tell with so much crap blaring from the speakers, loud music at inappropriate times, and did I mention that the team plays crowd noise through the PA for poor acoustics and lack of a truly throaty home audience?

Look around at who's got new stadiums in the NFC Beast:  Eagles (2003), Cowboys (2009), Giants (2010), Redskins (1997 but feels ten years older).  Time for a change.

Club's culture and interactivty with fans:  Kevin rehashes the charging for training camp debacle in 2000 then goes on to talk about the Draft Day party at the stadium and all the charity work Daniel Snyder does that we never hear about before closing in disappointment over the implied poor methods used by Sports Illustrated to research these rankings then commits the logical fallacy of describing how he might conduct some portion of the research for this piece if he were SI; such generalizations intentionally or unintentionally attempt to lead the user to believe that such methods were of necessity excluded in the original work when there is no evidence to this end.

Since Dan Snyder took over the Redskins in 1999 the club's culture has been a owner thinks he knows football and doesn't and won't hire anyone who does and keeps making simple mistakes and getting out maneuvered by division rivals and misunderstanding foundational basics of long term football team building and continually favoring players from outside the roster over players on the roster as though there is some magical performance level that Redskins players can never attain and giving Marty Schottenheimer total control then firing him when he takes it then wasting two years on Steve Spurrier and nickel and diming fans to death without putting a premium product on display and following Joe Gibbs 32 days later with a guy not even hired as head coach a week earlier who then improves the incumbent quarterback's play and then tries to get rid of him not once but twice kind of culture.

Dan Snyder does not give a shit what Redskins fans want.  We have one thing that matters to him:  dollars to give.

In terms of interactivity with fans, I will say the team must be above average.  The website has good information if you can figure out how to navigate it, the team has its own blogger which is not at all like a team writer, fans can attend training camp and things like Draft Day and produces radio and TV content for the truly insatiable.

However, interactivty is a factor of openness, and the Redskins are not an open organization.

I do not assume the Sports Illustrated report that started this thread is the result of lazy reporting; to the contrary I think they have maybe more institutional and objective knowledge about the league and associated owners as a whole than any other one outlet.

If there are any prejudices, and laziness is a form of prejudice, they would stem from the frosty relations the Redskins organization has had with national media for so long, Dan Snyder burst onto the scene a decade ago, spent scads of money, flailed worse than a giant grouper on a hot deck, got some bad press and retreated from the media more or less altogether, it has only been in the last two years that Dan and the team have begun to open up and a major component of that opening up has been the radio and TV media empire Dan has cobbled together and converted into the proverbial choir that gets preached to.

Yes for Redskins fans it is jarring to see Dan Snyder grouped with Denise DeBartolo York, Mike Brown, William Clay Ford and Al Davis, not because the Redskins are that kind of bad, Dan is a totally different kind of bad.

And damn, is there not a better picture of Denise DeBartolo somewhere they could have used?

Dan Snyder:  uncredited image from here.