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Is Bruce Allen Really Smart?

January 29, 2018
Bruce Allen is the most polarizing figure in the Washington Redskins organization. Not Dan Snyder, even though he is ultimately more powerful and Allen’s boss.

Bruce Allen is widely loathed by Redskins fans for eight years of largely inept performance in the standings, along with the utter chaos that has run supreme at times over those eight seasons in charge of the Redskins.

Yet he still reigns as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the organization, a title belt that has a ton of tarnish on it and a broken strap to boot.

It’s no secret that Bruce Allen has an adversarial relationship with the media and is not held in high regard by most local pundits. He chooses to align himself with individuals that he feels gives him the platform to voice his spin, without criticism or questioning in return.

That’s fine. He can do whatever he wants as he has for so long. Here’s the thing. He can spin progress or whatever message he wants. The only thing that ultimately matters is 28 – 35 -1 with Jay Gruden as head coach and 24 – 40 under Mike Shanahan.

Eight seasons. 52 wins. 75 losses. 1 tie. And if you want to be totally accurate, Allen took over with three games left in 2009 under Jim Zorn and of course, the Redskins lost all three of those games, so the complete totals are (52 – 78 – 1, .396).

Think about that: Bruce Allen’s Redskins have won less than 40% of their games over an eight-plus year sample size. In a league designed for ultimate parity, that's brutal. Unacceptable really. 

Yet he’s still in charge. And he probably has more power ultimately today than he ever has, despite that beyond sub-par product. The organization continues to print cash despite a lousy stadium, a mediocre at best on-field product and a large number of poor decisions. Where do I sign up for that kind of success rate?

Nobody knows for sure how much money Allen is essentially stealing from Snyder, but it’s likely that Allen is bringing in somewhere around $10 million per year. To do what? Well…he does a lot. Does he do it well? The proof is in the pudding on that.

That’s why it was a bit surprising to hear the preeminent NFL insider in the business, Adam Schefter of ESPN, tell 104.3 The FAN in Denver this past week that Allen is “one of the smartest people in the NFL.”  

Of course, Allen is smart. Not many would dispute that. He has made Dan Snyder a lot of money while captaining the ship over troubled waters. He’s made some awful decisions in Washington along with some good things, but I would say there’s a huge difference between being “book smart” or highly intelligent and then “common sense” smart or practical, and Allen is clearly more of the former than the latter.

Here’s the thing: You can be smart and fail or not be successful enough in a bottom-line industry like the NFL is.  He’s shrewd and a politician to boot. As has been proven in other areas of society, it''s easy to  fool and mislead enough people into thinking you are better than you really are. .

The main problem in my eyes? Allen doesn’t use good common-sense and has rarely done so. He’s not practical. He’s not realistic and well he’s a lot of other things than that.

If Allen’s enormous ego and body was filled with more of this kind of smart, as opposed to the “Houdini, pull the wool over your eyes” nonsense that he’s tricked a lot of people with over the years, the Redskins would be in better shape.

This may seem personal. It’s not. There are plenty of people with power that have arrogance and a monster ego. Plenty. But if you win or if you are successful, nobody cares.

Think Bob Kraft. A nice guy? It seems that way. A cold-blooded executive when he needs to be? Hell yeah. Everybody loves him in the New England area and respects/patronizes him nationally. Why? Because all he does is “win-win-win, no matter what!”  and his hands stay there.

Has Kraft made a bunch of mistakes? Yup. However, he’s done a LOT of things right over the years and that has helped the Patriots win five Super Bowl titles and possibly a sixth less than a week from now.

So why do I say Allen is smart (I don’t know if I agree with the ‘one of the smartest people in the NFL' but that's OK) and sophisticated, but completely lacking in common sense?

Let me count thy ways!

1.  Hiring Scot McCloughan: Ultimately, McCloughan’s presence was both good and bad for the Redskins, but the hiring was a major, enormous risk and it came back to hurt Allen and the Redskins in a big way.

McCloughan obviously gave the Redskins something they sorely lacked. A sharp eye that could help run the pro and college scouting department, and while he was far from perfect in evaluation, the operation seemed more professional and reasonable for the most part.

However, behind the scenes and really with the exception of the first few months – the situation was a complete disaster involving politics, inappropriate behavior and just about everything you could fathom.

Eventually, Allen fired McCloughan, a very unpopular decision with fans, long after Dan Snyder apparently wanted to and others suggested. There were some NFL people, close to Allen that thought McCloughan should have been fired within months of taking the job.

It doesn’t matter now, outside of the pending legal situation, but the bottom-line was this: Allen knew he was playing with fire, hiring McCloughan who had been let go from two prior teams because of personal issues, and bringing him into a building that embraces alcohol and social behavior that is at times not conducive to being a strong, professional organization.

This is NOT Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Many in the media, who were not fooled by the nonsense, knew that the Redskins were begging for trouble (at the start) and boy did they ever find it.

McCloughan’s hire appeared to be smart, but it lacked common sense. The Redskins needed somebody like McCloughan but somebody who was better equipped to deal with the very real challenges of working in that building, when you already have a legitimate issue to deal with. 

2.  Kirk's double Franchise Tag: What else can I say that I haven’t already said over the last few years. The way the Redskins have managed this situation is simply embarrassing. No, Kirk Cousins is not worth 26 + million on average in the bottom line reality but the Redskins not only drew a hard line with their negotiating stance, but they also blew up the market for quarterbacks. By placing two franchise tags on Cousins, the annual value of contracts for quarterbacks like Matt Stafford and Derek Carr far exceeded what they would have been if the Redskins set the market at a reasonable rate.

The Redskins created and set the market in early 2016 and again in 2017 and they have NOBODY to blame but themselves. They were warned repeatedly, but they felt they knew what they were doing more than everyone else and they were completely wrong.

A sensible approach would have been to slightly overpay for Cousins after 2015 and take the chance that you were going to be right. Instead, a hard-line stance was drawn, embarrassing offers were made and a lot of damage to the relationship and the league-wide market was done. Again, there's risk with everything. The common sense approach would have been to take a reasonable leap of faith at a fair number after 2015. 

3.  2012 & 2013 Salary Cap Penalty  – The Redskins tried to circumvent the spirit of the rules set forth because of the uncapped year in 2010 by creatively attempting to limit the damage of Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall’s contract.

The orders by the NFL were silly and really not right, but they were told not to do what they did and chose to do it anyway. They never thought the NFL and NFLPA would collectively sacrifice the Redskins and to a much smaller degree, the Cowboys, in exchange for other gains. They were wrong, as usual.

The only way the Redskins should have done what they did is if they had 100% approval from the NFL. They clearly did not. They thought they were “winning off the field” and, they screwed themselves. Fair or unfair.

4.   Trade for  Robert Griffin III – Trading what they did for Griffin when their head coach Mike Shanahan repeatedly told them the price was too high for a quarterback that would take a long time to fully develop as a true pocket passer was egregious then and still rings hollow, all these years later. Nobody wanted to believe me when I was screaming this message on twitter and ESPN 980 at the time, and well - I was right and it wasn't that hard. 

The Redskins knew they were going to get some sort of disciplinary punishment for the salary cap violation. They repeatedly have said that they had no idea the extent of the penalty. I’m not sure I believe that, but whatever.

The compensation for Griffin combined with the penalty in cap space was an absolute dagger. Despite the first-year success of Griffin and the Redskins, everyone knew it was going to be a huge mountain to climb to justify the deal and there was a small chance of it working.

The Redskins largely made the trade because they needed something to rejuvenate the fan base and juice up the business operation of the organization, hoping they were right and would catch lightning in a bottle.

Once again, that sounds smart, but it lacked complete common sense.

5. Trade for Donovan McNabb – I thought this was a good, risky deal when they made it and it turned out to be an awful deal, costing a couple of draft picks. Even though the trade turned out to be bad, what was worse was the mockery the Redskins made of themselves, by doing a contract extension mere hours before a home Monday Night Football game and two weeks after Shanahan had benched McNabb late in a loss before the team’s bye.

I mean, seriously, who the (bleep) would think this was a good idea? Bruce Allen did. The contract turned out to be mostly favorable to the Redskins and they were able to get out of it with only a small cap dead hit in 2011, but still. What the hell were they thinking? Again, they weren’t.

6.   Moving  Training Camp to Richmond – Yes, the Redskins got a brand new training facility and a largely sweet deal  from the city of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia, which funded massive upgrades at Redskins Park but the Skins moved training camp and therefore a connection to 90% of their fan base multiple hours away.

They thought it would be great for all the fans in North Carolina and the other areas of Virginia for them to experience training camp. The problem? The heart of their customer base would be willing to make a trip to see them, but wouldn’t come enough through god-awful traffic there and back, to make up for the small part of the fan base that now had great access and proximity.

7.   Press Conference to hammer Kirk Cousins with chosen reporters: This was laughable. On July 17 of last year, Bruce Allen conducted a sham of a press conference at Redskins Park, inviting hand-selected members of the media instead of allowing everyone who covers the team to attend. The gathering was to explain why Kirk Cousins was at fault for a long-term deal not being struck.

The last offer that the Redskins made was in early May and it went unanswered because it wasn’t good enough to counter. At some point, you might have figured that out and offered a better deal?. The point? You would have looked a lot better than you did if you would have offered a better deal and didn’t invite cronies to your office party. Or you could have done the classy thing, used some common sense and not tried to win a public war that you didn’t have a chance at winning. Not because Kirk is overly popular with the fans, but because his play and your mishandling of the situation, deserved better. 

8.  2014 Press Conference – “Winning Off the Field” – Allen felt humiliated and embarrassed at many tough questions asked by reporters, so he hired McCloughan to shut everybody up. We already broke down that decision but how Allen handled that press gathering was typical. Instead of understanding the frustration of the fans and media, Allen was on the defensive and uttered a phrase associates of his still say he has never lived down, when he praised the Redskins for “Winning Off The Field” despite also mentioning that the Redskins needed to win on the gridiron.

There were other moments of that press conference that were laughable and mystifying but it lives in Redskins lore for the circus it became. The common sense thing to do was to take the blame for what had gone wrong, not deflect blame and come up with ridiculous proclamations and if they were going to hire a “pure football” executive (a good idea), they shouldn’t have taken the chance they did. It is largely believed that the press conference drove the Redskins to quickly hire McCloughan without thinking of the downside and taking a bad, calculated risk.

Does that sound like a good common sense decision? 

A caller, Andy in Sterling, on my 106.7 The FAN show Sunday summed up Bruce Allen’s reign this way: “He’s been able to manipulate Snyder to the point where he’s (Dan) Snyder’s ultimate ass-kisser.” I personally think he's pulling the wool over Snyder's eyes too, but that's a different story. 

However, if true, that might be the smartest and most sensible thing that Bruce Allen has ever done. 

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN