Perception is everything.
Is Daniel Snyder too close to Robert Griffin III? Does Snyder provide special perks to his franchise quarterback? Has the owner empowered Griffin as the second-most important member of the Washington Redskins franchise, more important than even the head coach?
It doesn't matter. What matters is that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan reportedly thinks so. A source told ESPN.com's Dan Graziano that Shanahan has grown weary of the way Snyder "openly esteemed" Griffin above all other players, and the coach told people close to him that he thinks Snyder's behavior with regard to Griffin is a "complete farce."
That is a problem.
Successful NFL franchises have a clear delineation of power. Owners own. Coaches coach. General managers manage. Players play.
Good owners don't meddle in the day-to-day football operation of the team. They aren't buddy-buddy with their players, who are their employees. They don't single out their stars and offer special treatment beyond what they provide for everyone else. They certainly don't open their door and entertain complaints about the head coach.
Good owners understand that the most important relationship in their organization is the one between the head coach and the franchise quarterback. That is the relationship that matters most. That one needs to be strong. When there is friction there, the chance for the team to succeed is greatly diminished.
If Snyder needs an example of what can go wrong when an owner gives preferential treatment to a star player, all he needs to do is look at what happened in Atlanta when Michael Vick was the quarterback.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank loved Vick, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001. He treated Vick like a son. He opened his home to Vick. The owner created an environment in which Vick was the most important person in the building. The rules others had to follow did not apply.
Publicly, it was most evident before the Falcons' first game of the 2003 season. Vick had broken his right fibula in a preseason game. Still wearing a black walking boot, Vick wanted to go out to the field before Atlanta played Dallas at the old Texas Stadium. Instead of Vick using crutches, Blank pushed the QB out to the field in a wheelchair.
Intended or not, the message was clear. The billionaire owner, who built his fortune as the co-founder of The Home Depot, was coddling his injured star.
Vick knew he had the unwavering backing of his team's owner. He knew that in Blank's eyes he could do no wrong. He knew he was more important than the Falcons' head coach at the time, Dan Reeves. Vick knew he didn't have to dedicate himself to the process of preparing for games, that he could be the last one to arrive at the practice facility and the first one to leave. He was a 23-year-old kid, and the Vick rules were established from the jump.
Griffin certainly isn't Vick. He has a good work ethic. He is early to work and late to leave. At 23, he understands the value of film study. He is a supportive teammate.
Even if Griffin's relationship with Snyder isn't as close as it might seem, Shanahan's perception of it is nonetheless a problem, and that's on Snyder.
This power struggle will grind to a conclusion soon enough. Shanahan said he benched Griffin to preserve the quarterback for a future that extends beyond this disappointing season. The real reason behind that decision is debatable, but it is true that after missing all of last offseason following knee surgery, Griffin needs to be healthy for this upcoming offseason. He needs to be able to participate in offseason workouts, practices and minicamp. He needs to get reps in practice to develop into a better pocket passer. Griffin needs to learn how to more effectively read through his progressions so he can get the ball out faster.
And Griffin undoubtedly will have to do all that while adjusting to a new head coach, offensive coordinator and position coach.
Snyder is sensitive to his reputation. He empowered former Skins running back Clinton Portis when Jim Zorn was the head coach. He empowered former defensive end Bruce Smith when Marty Schottenheimer was the head coach. That approach caused problems then, just as it is causing problems now.
Griffin is a big enough star. He doesn't need Snyder to prop him up or single him out. And Snyder needs to understand that the best-run NFL teams – such as New England, Baltimore and the New York Giants – have stable structures and a clear chain of command with owners who care deeply about the team but don't undercut the leadership of the men they employ. They let their head coaches coach and their general managers manage and their players play.
Under Snyder, Washington has never had that. It is evident in the team's results. Since Snyder bought the franchise in 1999, Washington has a 104-133 record that includes just four winning seasons – and not one with more than 10 wins – plus one playoff victory.
That's reality. So, too, is this: Snyder soon will be looking for his eighth head coach, and he has no one to blame for that but himself.