- - Monday, September 9, 2019

After showing contempt for Adrian Peterson before Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia, Redskins coach Jay Gruden doubled down on the disrespect afterward, claiming that having the future Hall of Famer in uniform will be a “week-to-week” decision.

That was the insult on top of the indignity, the putdown on top of the affront. Peterson was fit but declared inactive against the Eagles, making him a healthy scratch for the first time in his 13-year career.

Week to week?

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With players’ availability being so fickle in the NFL — where a change of plans is always one play away — Peterson’s odds of suiting up for the home opener improved exponentially by Monday. Turns out that starting halfback Derrius Guice has a right knee injury that could keep him out for multiple games.

But Guice’s misfortune doesn’t let Gruden off the hook for flagrant malpractice against Peterson.    

That’s not how you treat the eighth-leading rusher in NFL history. That’s not how you handle a player who rushed for 1,042 yards last season and was the team’s offensive MVP.  That’s not how you manage a position where the alternatives are unproven and/or injury-prone and/or pedestrian.

Gruden’s three chosen halfbacks for the Eagles game were Guice, making his NFL debut; Chris Thompson, a fine third-down back; and Wendell Smallwood, a Sept. 1 pickup who also plays special teams. No offense to those gentlemen, but they didn’t provide sufficient reason to keep Peterson in street clothes.

Prior to Monday’s news, Washington didn’t have sufficient reason to keep Peterson on the roster, either, not if he presented the coach with a weekly struggle. Active or inactive? Judging by a derisive joke in the postgame news conference, Gruden’s mind was set.

“If we have a game where we think can run the ball 55 times in an I formation,” Gruden said, “then sure, I’ll get him up.”

For the record, Gruden has coached Washington for 82 games. The team has topped 37 rushing attempts just four times; their high is 42 carries (accomplished twice). Gruden knows he’ll never call 55 run plays, regardless of formation, essentially declaring that Peterson isn’t needed.

That was then; this is awkward.

It seems clear which side Gruden took last week in the reported organizational debate on cutting Peterson. Having lost that argument, Gruden did the next-best thing to strike back against upper management: He made AP inactive.

But the coach failed to realize how much the move would sting players in the locker room, not just Peterson.

“Any time you’ve got a Hall of Fame guy that doesn’t dress, man, it’s a slap in the face,” offensive tackle Morgan Moses said Monday on 106.7 The Fan.

The coach had his reasons and they make sense in a vacuum. Guice is a better fit for Gruden’s proclivities. Even with last season’s success, Peterson’s style as a north-south runner with limited pass-catching impact doesn’t mesh well with the playbook. It’s just that Guice’s preseason injury last year created a forced marriage for Gruden and Peterson, and they made it work for the most part.

Against the Eagles, Gruden opted for Smallwood’s contributions on special teams over Peterson’s potential contributions in the backfield. The latter was viewed as a redundancy. “He’s a first/second-down back,” Gruden said. “And so is Derrius.”

No matter what we think of Guice’s upside, it’s a leap to equate him with Peterson. And it was foolhardy to give Guice the feature role right away, especially without a safety net. Since leaving college two years ago, he had only 17 carries in two exhibition games.    

Everyone — including Peterson — foresaw Guice taking over. The process could’ve been gradual, with Guice’s workload growing steadily, beginning games on the sideline until eventually taking the field for the first possession. Having Peterson in uniform shouldn’t be diametrically opposed to Washington’s special teams needs. Figure it out.

Peterson has earned the right to be a foundational piece, not a needless luxury.

On Monday, Gruden said he expects Peterson to “play and play well when he does play,” noting that 15 games remain. He assured listeners that Peterson would be ready when called upon. Asked point-blank if he wants the halfback on the team, Gruden issued the only acceptable answer under the circumstances.

“Oh yeah, yeah, for sure,” Gruden said, though with little conviction. “Who wouldn’t want Adrian?”

I don’t know.

I’m thinking maybe a coach who isn’t missing his starter and wouldn’t call 55 runs in the I formation?

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

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