FENNO: No obvious answer for Redskins in determining Mike Shanahan’s fate

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The choice that confronts the Redskins in the coming weeks is as unpleasant as the dumpster fire that consumes their season.

Will Mike Shanahan be asked to return for the fifth and final year of his $35 million contact in an attempt to complete the organization’s overhaul?

Or does Daniel Snyder shrug off the lack of success by every type of coach in Washington — the Super Bowl winner, the legend, the college standout, the top assistant — and bring in the franchise’s eighth head coach since 2000?

Restraint isn’t the natural reaction when surveying the 3-9 fiasco. Not when the Redskins’ first back-to-back postseason trips since 1991-92 appeared as certain as Shanahan’s scowl, only to disintegrate in a flurry of football so head-scratchingly bad as to cast doubt on the coach’s continued employment.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder walks off the field before an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder walks off the field before an NFL ... more >

A month remains in the season, but opponents already have outscored the Redskins by 93 points. That’s the franchise’s third-worst point differential since the 1960s. The crooked numbers point to the sprawling troubles, from the continued soap opera that follows Robert Griffin III on and off the field to the not-so-special teams unit that can’t do much of anything right to a 53-man roster littered with holes too numerous to address in one offseason.

Shanahan’s tenure in Washington has amounted to a 24-36 regular-season record. That .400 winning percentage is just a notch better than the .375 percentage by Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn in their four  forgettable seasons coaching the Redskins.

Wins and losses are the ultimate measure of NFL coaching success and by that standard, progress under Shanahan has been illusory.

Should the Redskins surrender to the dropped passes and empty seats of bad football and gamble on starting over with another regime?

Or face the unenviable task of selling Shanahan’s return to a weary fanbase? This year’s unfortunate slogan of “Live it” would become “Trust us again … please.”

No straightforward, painless option exists.

Inextricably tangled up in the discussion is the $36 million salary cap penalty the NFL imposed on the Redskins in 2012 that hamstrung the organization in unprecedented fashion. As the losses pile up, the penalty is trotted out as an explanation, if not an excuse, for the sorry state of the NFL’s second-oldest roster. It didn’t inhibit the optimism that soaked the offseason, of course, but obscures a true evaluation of Shanahan’s work in Washington.

The cap space returns to the Redskins this offseason. Their Costco-sized list of needs would daunt the hardiest Black Friday shopper but, finally, the team will have the financial flexibility to do more than scrounge through minimum-salaried veterans on the clearance rack.

Fairness would dictate the coach have at least one season with his franchise quarterback fully healthy and a full allotment of cap space to provide the supporting pieces to assist in keeping that quarterback from being pounded into the turf on a regular basis.

But money, much as few dollars could have addressed problems on this year’s roster, isn’t a panacea. The Redskins’ sordid history in the free-agent market is filled with example after example of buyer’s remorse. Shanahan, for instance, invested big dollars in free agents like O.J. Atogwe and Josh Morgan with little return.

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