Josh Norman walked into the Redskins’ locker room and did a double take.
Surrounding his locker were dozens of reporters who wanted to get his view on Monday morning’s firing of team president Bruce Allen. Norman, who has barely taken a snap for weeks, frozen out by a coaching staff that will soon join Allen on the unemployment line, just laughed, put some music on the speaker in his locker stall – Khalid’s “Better” was the choice – and walked away.
These are the scenes of almost every NFL breakdown day across the league. But mundane tasks become fraught with significance when big changes sweep through an organization the way they have in Ashburn. Allen is gone, his reign over after a turbulent decade. Norman has no idea if he will be back for the final year of his contract – even if his former coach in Carolina, Ron Rivera, is hired, as expected.
Breakdown day is perfect for people watching. It’s where Robert Griffin III left a prayer card and an inspirational poem hanging in his empty locker after his final exit from Redskins Park after the 2016 season, where Alfred Morris once told two reporters in an otherwise empty room that he had to “see about this Chick-Fil-A breakfast” that was ending in 20 minutes rather than talk about Mike Shanahan’s 2013 firing. He tossed his gear in a garbage bag and was off. That the comment made it onto Twitter did not amuse Morris much.
That was the same day an enterprising reporter was watching the parking lot from the media trailer to spy any ex-employees leaving the premises for good only to be foiled when team employees taped up the windows and glass door to block the view.
Monday was one of those “big” days where an organization, after a 3-13 season, could not lie to itself anymore and big moves were made. Allen almost certainly is not the last.
The ping pong table was still in use. Long snapper Nick Sundberg was teaching running back Derrius Guice how to play with limited success. Guice needs to work on his technique. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins came into a hushed room, a handful of players tossing their gear into garbage bags or packing boxes, saw the throng and just continued walking right out a side entrance. He later came back for an interview.
So did Norman, who claimed he didn’t know Allen had even been fired that morning. That seemed dubious. But Norman finally opened up about his tenure in Washington, how he signed on the dotted line and took the big money and can’t complain now about how things turned out. He has one year left on his contract, but can be cut for just $3 million of dead money.
Players left the locker room about five minutes before 10 a.m. for a meeting with interim coach Bill Callahan, who still had not been informed of his own future. They were filtering back in by 10:04. It was a brief chat.
The epitome of breakdown day is 30 reporters surrounding Pro Bowl punter Tress Way for his take on the disastrous season. Way happily obliged, but…he’s the punter. There’s only so much he’s responsible for. Way was, however, looking forward to the solitude of a 19-hour car ride back to his native Oklahoma with only his two dogs as company. A parent of 18-month-old twins takes what he can get.
Offensive guard Brandon Scherff, the No. 5 pick in the draft in 2015 and a pending free agent, will do the same. It’s a 20-hour car ride back to Iowa, he said. There’s no guarantee he will ever set foot in Redskins Park again.
Ryan Kerrigan was cornered at his locker. A stalwart for the Redskins for almost the entire decade, Kerrigan landed on IR late in the season with a calf injury and faces questions about his future with the team. Given the little on-field success Washington has had during Kerrigan’s tenure you couldn’t blame him if the whole exercise felt like Ground Hog Day: Allen. Jay Gruden. The Shanahans. Scot McCloughan. Multiple defensive coordinators. All those firings and restructurings. The RG3 drama. The Kirk Cousins saga. He’s seen it all. It’s hard to find words for it anymore.
Running back Adrian Peterson and injured quarterback Alex Smith drew big crowds and big-picture questions about the future – the team’s and their own. Wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, who flashed some promise in his rookie season, drew one reporter to his locker to ask about his first year. It was a quick talk.
For players like defensive end Jonathan Allen, who played and won so much at Alabama, days like this seem like a nightmare. Haskins feels the same way. They come to the NFL from elite college programs and get an immediate lesson in the bitter side of pro sports.
Offensive lineman Morgan Moses wanted no part of rehashing a miserable season. He, too, has been through so many awful ones save for the 2015 NFC East title team. It gets old. He’ll kick back Monday night and watch his Virginia Cavaliers play in the Orange Bowl against Florida and “get me something to drink.”
Hanging over all of this was the impending hire of Rivera, who coached his final game in Charlotte against the Redskins earlier this month. That loss got him fired after nine seasons and a Super Bowl appearance. Norman has first-hand knowledge of the man, but played coy for a while when asked repeatedly about Rivera. There was an awkwardness in the room talking about the future when the current employees were still going about their business.
“Who knows?” Kerrigan said. “I feel weird talking about that because nothing’s official. I just know defensively, we definitely dropped the ball this year.”
And so it went. While people way above their pay grade worked to revamp the front-office structure, the players were left with the detritus of another lost season. Few had any good answers for it.
Instead, the doors to the locker room swirled open as players came and went. Things got weird. At one point, offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom and another team employee came in carrying a big-screen television still in its cardboard box. They brought it over to the scale where players weigh themselves, dropped it on and, nodding their head in satisfaction with the number, carried it right back out again. You really never know what you’ll see.
Tight end Jordan Reed, out all year with another concussion, said hello to a few reporters, but otherwise wasn’t interested in talking. He and Norman caught up while sitting on the leather couches outside the locker room, though. Neither was in a hurry to go with the frenetic pace of the season done.
The NFL moves fast. Three years ago Reid was coming off his best year as a pro (87 catches, 952 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Norman was the Redskins’ prized free-agent signing on April 22, 2016 after Carolina unexpectedly rescinded his contract offer. Who knows if either one of them will play in the league again, let alone together.
“A lot of people say that,” Norman said. “People say a lot of things that they don’t know the answers to.”
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