Redskins Haunted by Decision

Three years ago, Redskins owner Dan Snyder helped pave the way for Tampa Bay to land a Super Bowl quarterback. It started when Snyder signed free agent quarterback Jeff George, shortly after Brad Johnson had guided Washington to its first playoff appearance since Joe Gibbs had retired.

Many in the organization, especially coach Norv Turner, tried to talk Snyder out of the move. Vinny Cerrato liked the move, having ripped Johnson from the time Washington got him (he was only a consultant to Snyder at the time; Charley Casserly was still the GM).

Here's what should have happened: the Redskins should have extended Johnson's contract. Instead, they pursued a big named QB in George, signed to be a backup. Johnson wasn't pleased when the Redskins signed him, no matter what he said publicly--players rarely reveal their true feelings on the record. The QBs actually got along well, given the circumstances.

But Johnson remained hopeful of a contract extension--and the Redskins told him they still wanted to sign him. They just never backed up their words. Finally, in the spring of 2000, Johnson went to Snyder, hoping to kick-start talks. The meeting ended in a shouting match, with Johnson barking at his owner.

It was then that Johnson knew his tenure in Washington would end after the 2000 season. And he's exactly what the Redskins could have used the past two seasons. They haven't had terrific offensive talent, but a seasoned quarterback could have resulted in more playoff seasons--and not more rebuilding.

Johnson wasn't terrific in his last season in Washington, his passes lacked the zip of 1999. And he wasn't great for Tampa Bay last year. But his mediocre performances surpassed anything Washington had.  He's also rebounded well under an offensive-minded coach in Jon Gruden.

His Redskins' teammates loved his toughness and competitiveness. Johnson is a quiet assassin, remembering slights and hating to lose. He was always prepared and receivers loved playing for him because he spread the ball around. He kept them interested by telling a guy who was to be a third option on the play that he might come his way. Imagine how much Patrick Ramsey could have learned from Johnson. If Ramsey succeeds--and he provides reason for optimism--then the Redskins will be set at this spot for years.

But they could have been set in the interim, too. And Steve Spurrier would love to have had a quarterback such as Johnson, whose precision is exactly what his offense needs.

Everyone is entitled to mistakes and every owner makes them--how else do you learn?. But the one Snyder made three years ago continues to haunt the Redskins. And it's a huge reason why Tampa Bay is in the Super Bowl while the Redskins have missed the past three postseasons.

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