The more the Commanders lose, the better their future can be

After Washington’s NFL team won on Sunday against the rancid New England Patriots and raised its record to 4-5, the local airwaves declared it a “Victory Monday.”

Which could not possibly be more wrong.

If the team now called the (yawn) Commanders loses in Seattle Sunday, the next day should be declared “Victory Monday.”

Why? Because if you ever want to see a championship NFL team in Washington, D.C. again, the more this team loses the better. Washington last won a Super Bowl in January 1992, during the Joe Gibbs 1.0 era. That was the team’s third championship in 10 years. It hasn’t been anywhere close to that level since.

There is no way to wipe out the stench of Daniel Snyder’s ownership overnight, or even over the course of a season. It is to new owner Josh Harris’s credit that he hasn’t succumbed to Snyderitis and made snap football decisions.

No one would have blamed Harris if he’d fired Coach Ron Rivera after the Thursday night Chicago Bears debacle. Rivera’s in his fourth season and it is pretty clear he is a decent man — and a mediocre coach. He’s not Jim Zorn by any stretch — he has coached in a Super Bowl — but he’s not Gibbs by any stretch, either.

Which is why every “Victory Monday” makes Harris’s job a little more difficult. Firing Rivera is almost certain to be easily justifiable at season’s end unless the team somehow slips into the playoffs, which is unlikely but not impossible in the paper-thin NFC, where Washington currently sits one game out of a wild-card spot. Throw in Washington somehow pulling out a first-round win, and Harris could have a problem on his hands.

That’s an unlikely scenario, but it isn’t the most important consideration. If you are ever going to win championships in the NFL, you must stockpile draft picks and then use them well. Washington currently has nine picks in the 2024 draft with the selections they added by trading Chase Young and Montez Sweat, and the front office needs to make good use of them. The higher Washington drafts in each round, the better off it will be.

Which brings us to the most important reason to avoid “Victory Mondays.” Who will be making those picks come April?

Rivera may well be remembered for one pick critical to the team’s future: Sam Howell. He isn’t Tom Brady, the greatest sixth-round pick in the history of sports, but he has the potential to be a very good fifth-round find. Most of the rest of Rivera’s picks — and he has had the final say on all football decisions since Snyder’s infamous “Happy Thanksgiving” appearance introducing his new coach — have been questionable at best.

It would be unfair, though, to put the blame for the team’s continuing mediocrity on Rivera. He took over as captain of the Titanic with the iceberg right in front of him. Like most coaches, he wanted a head job, and there are only 32 of those in the NFL. So he signed on, no doubt believing he could somehow steer clear of the fatal iceberg.

He couldn’t. Nobody could. The false hope of making the playoffs at 7-9 in 2020, and then running in mud the last three seasons, makes it clear just how badly Snyder damaged a once-glamorous franchise. The Eagles and Cowboys have sprinted past Washington, while even the woeful New York Giants were a playoff team a year ago — and with a winning record.

There’s no doubt that Harris knows he needs a clean sweep of the building in Ashburn. Team President Jason Wright was put in charge of the name change that Snyder was dragged into and came up with “Commanders” — arguably the most nondescript, meaningless team name in sports, with the possible exception of “Wizards.” Martin Mayhew has the title of general manager but little apparent power, since all final football decisions belong to Rivera. If Harris came through the building with a giant vacuum cleaner, that would be a good start.

The next coach should be the one person currently in authority who deserves to stay: offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

Early in the season, there was whining that Bieniemy was being too tough on the players after arriving from Kansas City in the offseason. If that wasn’t a sign of a too-soft locker room, I don’t know what is. Funny, Patrick Mahomes never whined about Bieniemy being too tough. What’s more, Howell has made excellent progress for a first-year starter playing behind a middling (at best) offensive line. Who is coaching him?

The tired argument that Bieniemy didn’t call plays under Andy Reid is completely ridiculous. You know who else didn’t call plays under Reid? Doug Pederson — who won a Super Bowl with the Eagles and turned the Jaguars around in the wake of the Urban Meyer debacle. Matt Nagy didn’t call plays either, then went 12-4 in Chicago before sliding in large part because he didn’t have a viable NFL quarterback.

Bieniemy is more than ready to be a head coach, and the transition would be made easier since he’s already worked with his quarterback for a year.

Harris, meanwhile, has already shown non-Snyder-like patience by not coming in and clearing the decks as soon as the paperwork was signed. Every reasonable person around Washington knew this would be a transition season, on and off the field. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the day after the season ends, Harris needs to get to work. Bieniemy should be the coach and he should have a role in selecting a general manager — one who has real authority and can bring in his own scouting staff, because the current staff has failed consistently.

Harris should lower ticket prices as a gesture to his fans, because ticket sales mean little to overall revenue for an NFL franchise. While he’s at it, cut the ludicrous parking prices in half.

And then he should get to work finding the right site for a new stadium.

First, though, comes the rest of the season. If there’s one truth in sports it is that mediocrity begets mediocrity. 7-9; 7-10; 8-8-1; 4-5. That is textbook mediocrity.

Step one in returning this team to its once-exalted place took place when Snyder mercifully handed the team to Harris. But he’s got a long way to go, and the fewer pointless celebrations Washington experiences over the next 10 weeks, the easier it will be to start achieving real “Victory Mondays’ in the future.

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