- - Monday, March 6, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Fear of failure and fear of success are close cousins, equally devastating in their ability to paralyze individuals and institutions. Potential can’t be maximized when you’re afraid to try, afraid to extend your zone of comfort.

We can’t say for certain that Washington’s NFL team enjoys life in the rut it has occupied for two decades. However, the environment has become quite familiar and cozy, making it seem like the natural order of things.

For this franchise, it’s never “What would the Patriots do?” Or “How would the Steelers operate?” Instead, paths are picked according to “Which would the Browns take?”

Whenever a lucid, intelligent and well thought-out route is available, this team inevitably heads in the opposite direction.

Musicians on the piano, bass and drums can make an outstanding trio. In football, the equivalent is general manager, coach and quarterback. The strongest two can compensate for the weaker link, but none does the job well if the club owner provides a crazy and chaotic atmosphere.

There’s no melody and harmony, just a cacophony. No consistency and stability, just mass uncertainty.

Is general manager Scot McCloughan in charge for real? Or is he really a glorified scout? Are they truly sold on coach Jay Gruden? Or was extending his contract merely a public relations move? Is Kirk Cousins actually viewed as D.C.’s franchise quarterback? Or does the team see him as utterly replaceable and expendable?

So many unnecessary questions flying around can mean only one thing: The circus is back in town. And it turns out that the current rendition is zany enough to picture Tony Romo in burgundy and gold.

The dysfunction that has marked Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner seemed to grow dormant after McCloughan came aboard in 2015. He was the old-school football man — sound and solid — who would build the Skins into a respectable organization. His background with winning franchises in Seattle, San Francisco and Green Bay provided long-term hope that Washington hadn’t experienced in a quarter-century.

It was great while it lasted.

Based on recent reports, including McCloughan’s absence from the NFL Scouting Combine and the team’s evasiveness in discussing it, the GM’s status is tenuous. The development is unfortunate if it involves his personal battle with alcohol, speculation that was voiced on Snyder’s radio station and neither confirmed nor denied by the team.

But the rift is especially lamentable if McCloughan is the victim of a power struggle with team president Bruce Allen. Organizations accomplish much more when members don’t care who gets the credit. Otherwise, infighting, backstabbing and kneecapping can stifle progress, creating an unproductive culture that’s rife with jealousy, suspicion and antagonism.

Which might help explain setting an NFL precedent with the franchise tag.

There’s a reason no quarterback ever got the designation twice until Washington labeled Cousins in back-to-back seasons: It doesn’t make sense.

Yet, here we are, with Cousins as close to being elsewhere in 2018 (or sooner), as he is to being Washington’s QB of the future. Through epic mangling and mismanagement, the team has bestowed Cousins with the most leverage in NFL history.

If he’s determined to leave the mishmash behind, he’ll depart with a cool $44 million for two seasons of work. And if he prefers to play for San Francisco, under his former offensive coordinator and the 49ers new coach, Kyle Shanahan, the parties have little motivation for a trade.

For Cousins, after all, it’s probably better to let the Niners keep their draft picks and rebuild; that way Shanahan’s team would be better in 2018, when Cousins can flee D.C. as a free agent. It’s not like Cousins is the missing piece for a Super Bowl run this year.

Timing is everything and Washington has been right less often than a broken clock. First it failed to lock up Cousins after his breakout 2015 campaign. Then it gave Gruden an extension after the franchise already was damaged by doubts about its direction.

You can make a strong argument that the McCloughan-Gruden-Cousins trio deserves to stay together for another three or four sets. Each has missed notes at times, but they’ve produced the sweetest music in these parts since back-to-back playoff appearances after the 1991 and 1992 seasons.

A little continuity can go a long way when everyone finds their groove. McCloughan could secure more good players in the draft and free agency. Gruden could improve his clock management and preparing the team for big games. Cousins could grow as a leader and develop into a more-dynamic downfield passer.

But the way things look now, Gruden might be the only member in place when the 2018 season kicks off. It would be too comical if the first coach to sign an extension under Snyder also turned out to be the last man standing.

That’s no way to run a franchise if the goal is attractiveness, competitiveness and professionalism on an annual basis.

Washington seemed ready to take a step forward. But change can be scary.

So it’s back to the same-old, same-old.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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