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Talking Scot McCloughan with Washington fans

Gotta talk about the favorite of 49ers fans.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Former San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan is one of the more popular figures for fans of three different franchise. 49ers, Seahawks, and Washington fans have plenty of positive things to say about McCloughan. There are plenty of critics, but not many executives have three fan bases that offer some fairly significant support.

Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen fired McCloughan this past offseason in a situation that was not pretty. There were some nasty allegations spread through the media, but McCloughan has more or less gone quietly. In chatting with Hogs Haven writer Bill-in-Bangkok, I thought it made sense to get his thoughts on McCloughan. It’s not a simple topic, but here’s what he had to say.

It’s honestly quite hard to tell you what the fan base overall thinks about the situation with Scot, because feelings are mixed, and evaluation of his tenure, now that it’s done, has been fluid. The small sample size (two drafts) makes it hard to evaluate his impact on the team, and then there’s the question of how much influence he had on this year’s draft. Some fans want to credit him with all the work that led up to the draft, while others point out that he was effectively gone before the Combine, and minimize his influence on this year’s draft results.

Let me try to provide a few bullet point thoughts about McCloughan and his Washington tenure.

  • Fans are nearly unanimous that his termination was handled badly by the organization.
  • Scot’s success in utilizing free agency was not impressive. Very few of his free agent signings played beyond a single season, and most of the free agents we signed in his two years here underperformed on the field. The best thing most people can say to support Scot’s free agency decisions is that he was applying Band-Aids, and that he didn’t commit any big dollar contracts to bad players that hurt the team from a salary cap standpoint. He did have a few notable successes. Two that spring to mind are Vernon Davis, whom 49er fans know well, and Mason Foster, one of our current starting inside linebackers. The list of forgettable free agent acquisitions is too long to go into here.
  • Given his reputation as a talent guru, Scot’s two drafts weren’t notably more successful than the ones that preceded and followed his tenure. Generally speaking, the 2014 Draft was pretty good. Most fans feel very happy about this year’s draft, and nine out of ten draft picks this year made the 53. There’s also a feeling that Washington picked up a couple of steals this time, such as cornerback Fabian Moreau, a possible first round talent who slipped to the third round because of an injury at the combine.

Scott’s drafts in ’15 and ’16 haven’t looked any more impressive than others in the short time we’ve had to evaluate them. Four players from the ’15 draft remain on the team (out of ten picks), though all four are core players. The two big ‘misses’ were RB Matt Jones in the third round, and OL Arie Kouandjio in the fourth.

Of the seven players drafted last year, only three are currently contributing to the team. Josh Doctson hasn’t paid many dividends as a first-rounder yet, and the drama with second round pick Su’a Cravens just before the opening game has cast a bit of doubt on Scot’s vetting process among some of his critics.

Some might argue that seven contributors out of 17 draft picks is pretty good.

However, the 2014 draft – the year before Scot was hired – had eight picks, five of whom are with the team today. The ’17 draft, as already mentioned, saw nine of ten players make the squad. 14 of 18 (at least so far) is a pretty strong result for the non-McCloughan drafts, and many people argue that Washington is just fine without him.

All in all, it’s hard to say definitively that Scot’s tenure was a success. His drafts were good (but probably not great), and his free agency moves, while they may not have hurt the team, didn’t do a lot to help either.

  • There has been a noticeable change in the “culture” of the organization, and some credit that to McCloughan. His emphasis on “football players” and his deep involvement with the team is seen as a driving force behind the metamorphosis of the franchise from laughing stock to a potentially well-functioning organization.

The fly in the ointment is the possibility that this culture change has as much or more to do with Jay Gruden, who is still here, while McCloughan is not. As a fan who gets information via newspapers, Twitter, and blogs, I think it’s impossible to sort through the evidence and find the truth.

The last part of your question asked what fans make of the current front office. Like much of what I said about McCloughan, it’s really hard to gauge.

The guy at the top of the tree is Bruce Allen, son of iconic Washington coach George Allen. Bruce is a good looking, professional guy who “feels” like a politician (in fact, his brother, George Allen, is a former governor of Virginia) and not much like a football guy. Fans have snickered at Allen for years, and we were thrilled when he handpicked Scott McCloughan to run the football operations. His eventual ham-fisted handling of Scot’s dismissal ignited a storm of protest and #FireBruceAllen tweets, but it’s been hard to maintain the outrage beyond the start of training camp and the regular season. Scot’s gone. The fans have accepted it and moved on.

The new front office organizational structure is easy to see if you’ve got an Internet connection, since it’s posted on the team’s website, but the power structure and responsibilities are opaque. No one in the front office holds the title of General Manager. Bruce Allen is the President, and there are a bunch of Vice Presidents. The one that seems to matter to this discussion is Doug Williams, the Senior VP of Player Personnel. It looks like he’ll have the overriding authority for free agency and the draft, with power and responsibility being heavily decentralized, and a heavy dose of input from Jay Gruden. Williams is a franchise legend, and putting him in charge of personnel following Scot’s dismissal was an obviously political, but still popular, move by the franchise.

Given the apparent success in the ’17 draft, and the early results on the field, there’s not much to complain about, but the organization has been disappointing fans for the past 18 years, so no one is completely at ease. We all have a bit of PTSD that isn’t going to disappear overnight, and the offseason drama with Scot McCloughan caused a spike in the stress levels among the Washington faithful.