- - Sunday, December 30, 2018

The end. Let’s start there.

Washington’s NFL franchise fulfilled its contractual obligation Sunday and played the season finale. However, nothing about the 24-0 loss to Philadelphia felt like a conclusion.

Yes, this particular campaign is done. But it’s just another sorry chapter in the depressing tale that has unfolded since new ownership took over 20 years ago.

Only a handful have included moments like Eagles fans enjoyed, turning DeadEx Field into a southern version of “The Linc.”

They whooped and cheered. They chanted and danced. They epitomized a fan base that was thirsty for another swig after guzzling a Super Bowl last season. For them, hope abounds, and anticipation runs rampant.

Many patrons in burgundy-and-gold need a refresher course on enjoying those feelings. Hope and anticipation look different for Washington’s supporters, based more on what they want instead of what they have.

The predominant emotional current running through Washington is futility.

Anything good or positive about the franchise is shut out, like the goose egg produced against Philadelphia.

This isn’t about the players on the field or the coaches on the sidelines. They come and go, and nameplates are swapped out regularly … sometimes just several months after being created.

Four quarterbacks and a dozen offensive linemen and can rotate through Ashburn’s revolving door. Personnel in business operations as well as the football side can unpack and pack their belongings. Still, nothing changes.

There’s no sense that the franchise is in better shape now than it was last December, and nothing suggests that a step forward awaits next year. Putting a wager on 7-9 victories for Washington would’ve been a winning bet the last four seasons.

The smart money says 2019 will be more of the same, at best.

Futility isn’t out front alone. Resignation is right there, too, close enough to require a photo finish. The pair are inextricable in a sense: Folks are resigned to the fact that everything is futile as long as the current regime remains intact.

Coach Jay Gruden can be replaced or retained. Quarterback Alex Smith can heal or retire. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can be fired or not. Any number of holes on the roster, or in the marketing plan, can be addressed, by any number of staffers from inside or outside the building.

But none of those moves or non-moves can remove the darkness hovering over the franchise, the cloud that blights hope and chokes dreams.

As long as owner Dan Snyder lets team president Bruce Allen keep the keys, there’s nothing to look forward to. Except more of the same.

Can’t blame the players and coaches for having conviction. Reaching their positions would be impossible without extreme confidence and supreme belief in their abilities. “I know we’re close,” Gruden said. “We’re as good as any team we’ve played this year, in my opinion.”

Somewhere, Bill Parcells just shouted “you are what your record says!”

The bleakness shrouding this franchise reflects those numbers — 59-84-1 in Allen’s tenure — and the prospect of him remaining cements the dire outlook. It doesn’t help to know that Snyder isn’t going anywhere. His inability to hire good people and/or let them do their jobs is a constant threat to sustained improvement.

“We put a lot of work in and we hate to see it end like this,” Gruden said. “Twelve teams advance, 20 go home and we’re one of the 20. In order to get past the hump, we have to do a lot of things better.”

Gruden and everyone else are in a hamster wheel. If he keeps his job, he needs to clean up the penalties and run a tighter ship. Players who stick around need to work on their own areas of improvement. Personnel staffers need to strengthen the roster. Business executives need to repair the team’s fractured relationship with fans.

But there’s an overriding sense that all of the above is pointless. Somehow, someway, the efforts and hard work of many will be canceled out by Snyder and Allen.

They’re why Washington fans can’t have nice things and enjoy themselves like Sunday’s marauding invaders in green-and-black.

“It’s disappointing for sure because it’s my job to make sure the fans come here and put a product on the field,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, we’ll regain that support sometime soon, very, very soon.”

All of them can put up a good front and say the right things.

But I wonder if, deep down, they’re thinking what the rest of us are thinking — including prospective players and officials who might consider joining the organization: It’s a futile situation.

Sunday didn’t mark the end.

We’re all just waiting for a new beginning.

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

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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