I have a confession to make. For the first time in ages I have watched at least a part of every Washington Football Team game this year. I am not certain for the reason of this, but I have a few ideas. Perhaps it is the fact that they are finally making an effort to change their name or it could be that the additions of Ron Rivera and Jason Wright feel different than past iterations of change of culture hires or it might be that the team has enough good young talent that for once I can envision a scenario where players on the current team are on a team that wins 12 or more games in a season and contends for a Super Bowl.
Let’s start with the name change. It is, in its nature, a silly thing. It is a name and only a name. Changing the name doesn’t erase the legacies of John Riggins, Sonny Jurgesen, Art Monk, Darrell Green, and others that have donned the burgundy and gold or maroon and black as Jim Zorn would say. Still the debate was tiring. Every season there was more focus on changing the name and protests at the stadium than there was on the team. A lot of that had to do with the team not being any good and sports radio talk show hosts knowing that a discussion of the name was bound to drum up ratings. There is also the undeniable fact that Washington’s former name is a racial slur, and we live in a time when we are finally learning as humans that we should consider how our words impact others. In other words the changing of the name lifted a cloud that hung over the team and made rooting for them, by itself, a position that needed to be defended.
The removal of one cloud, however, did not remove another. Dan Snyder still owns the team, and is still a loathsome human being. Add to his already long list of terrible and inhuman actions the sexual assault allegations against the team and it is a bit strange that Dan Snyder feels more distant than ever from the team. Ron Rivera has been the public face of the team in 2020 and with Jason Wright it feels like an adult is finally in charge. This could also be a symptom of the pandemic as media isn’t gathering and being locked inside Washington’s facility in Ashburn this year. Whatever it is Dan Snyder’s losing off the field is not a daily and nagging presence over the team.
When it comes to play on the field Washington’s 6-9 record doesn’t tell the whole story. The team isn’t horrible. Washington’s nine loses have been by an average of nine points and their last five loses have been by seven points or less with three of them being by three points or less. Washington is not getting drubbed in the games they are losing and have pulled out enough victories to make the 2020 season moderately exciting, and this has nothing to do with the fact that they could win the division and head to the playoffs with a losing record.
What I believe is the biggest factor in my enjoyment of this team is the fact that they have good young talent. 2020 first round draft pick, Chase Young, is everything he was promised to be. He is a game changer on defense and has not only elevated the play of his defensive line mates but has made the entire defense more impactful. Linebackers have more time to get to the quarterback and with the quarterback having less time to through the secondary has been able to overcome some of their shortfalls as well. That’s not to diminish the play of Kendall Fuller, Kamren Curl, and Jimmy Moreland, who have all played above expectations this season, but it is to point out that the linebacking core and the secondary could still use an influx of talent.
There are pieces here and pieces that could be part of a Super Bowl contending team, and this is the first time that has been a reality in Washington in a long, long time. This is no longer a team that needs to blow everything up and start over. The defense is a linebacker and cornerback away from being elite and while the offense has numerous issues there are pieces there as well. Rookie running back, Antonio Gibson, has been a pleasant surprise and Terry McLaurin looks to be one of the better wide receivers in the league going over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
The biggest hole on Washington’s offense is at quarterback. A position Washington has been trying to fill since Mark Rypien left after the 1993 season. There have been a few bright spots in that time, but no one you’d call a franchise quarterback and definitely no one that could overcome the talent deficit elsewhere on the offense. Washington’s offense still needs a talent infusion on the offensive line, in the receiving core, and at tight end but it doesn’t feel like a newly drafted rookie quarterback will be dropped into a hopeless situation like so many before with an offensive line made up of players signed out of retirement or a receiving core with all hopes pinned on a second round pick recovering from injury. Add just another receiving threat to take pressure off McLaurin, strengthen the left side of the offensive line, and then add in a quarterback hand picked by Ron Rivera and Scott Turner to run their offense and maybe, just maybe, it could be the start of something.
Who knows, perhaps we don’t even have to wait that long. Taylor Heinicke, who looked good in limited time against Carolina last week, could pull a Kurt Warner and lead Washington on the most unpredictable march through the post-season in recent memory, but let’s not count on that. Instead lets look at a Washington roster that has a slew of good young talent, and recognize that a team that has pretended for nearly 30 years to be a piece or two away from getting back to the Super Bowl might, actually, be a piece or two away from getting back to the Super Bowl. And that is why I think on Sundays in 2020 I have found myself not just watching the Washington Football Team, but enjoying doing so, and looking forward to doing so again.