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Commentary : One Bad Apple Can Ruin Whole Bunch

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<i> The Washington Post</i>

There’s no longer a quarterback controversy on the Washington Redskins. Now there’s a quarterback toxicity. Jay Schroeder is poisoning the delicate balance on this team. Get him out of here. As soon as possible.

Forget about what a good quarterback he was, or what a great quarterback he may yet be, because the Schroeder we’re looking at now will never quarterback for Joe Gibbs again.

Last year, Gibbs had to be bludgeoned into even substituting for Schroeder. When Schroeder was going bad, Gibbs was his staunchest defender. They seemed so close, they could have been father and son. Now a chasm separates them. Can you conceive of a more public declaration of disaffection than for a coach to exile a player because the player’s attitude revolts him?

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By taking the juvenile position that his personal comfort should overshadow the good of the team -- by campaigning to get himself traded -- Schroeder hasn’t just burned his bridges, he’s nuked them. Gibbs is slow to anger, but Schroeder has clearly made him livid.

The reasonable course is to trade Schroeder, but the Redskins haven’t been captivated with any offer so far, and the bids are unlikely to improve now that the Redskins’ disgust with Schroeder is obvious. There’s no point in flat-out dumping him. He’d be claimed in a New York minute. He’s just one year removed from the Pro Bowl, and his talent could haunt the Redskins for a decade. The Redskins are graced with deep talent and deep pockets. This isn’t a fire sale. If they can’t get fair value, they shouldn’t sell.

But neither should the Redskins keep Schroeder around. If they’re unable to trade him, they could do to Schroeder what the Washington Capitals did to Bobby Carpenter when it became clear they were no longer on the same page -- pay him and stash him someplace far apart from the other players. The NFL has instituted a two-man, game-by-game taxi squad. Schroeder can go on it every week. He wouldn’t even have to go to practice. He could spend so much time in the cab you’d think he was working for Looie DePalma. We read he’s taken up golf recently. They can send him to Langston to scout the holes that could most easily make way for the new stadium.

At the present time Schroeder’s relationship to the Redskins is viral, and he can do nothing for this team but infect it. His everyday presence will be divisive. Nobody believes Schroeder is a No. 4 quarterback -- especially not him. At practice he’ll take his snaps contemptuous of his place on the depth chart and the fates that consigned him there. At games he’ll stand on the sideline in that familiar pose with his arms smugly folded, disdain dripping off him like water from a leaky faucet. He says he can “play anytime, anywhere.” But is that body language reassuring?

The Redskins have the best 45-man team in football. The only thing that can hurt them is something eating away from the inside. The players all sympathize with Schroeder’s position; most of them have been there. They know how crushed he feels at losing his starting spot. They know how badly he wants to play, to prove his worth, to redeem his pride.

But they’ve seen him pout and heard him complain, and not once has he given any sincere indication of his willingness to bend himself to the will of the team. The true character of the professional athlete in a team sport is revealed by how well he accepts the axiom that the cause of the team is more important than the ego of the individual.

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Schroeder was beaten out, fair and square, by Doug Williams, and hasn’t responded professionally. He has gone from understandably discontent to incessantly malcontent. Once his teammates might have wished Schroeder to be traded for his own best interests. Now they must surely want him gone for theirs.

Schroeder has consistently been his own worst enemy. It’s hard to imagine anyone since James Watt who’s done a worse job at public relations. People in this city love the Redskins. They forgive a Redskin almost anything, overlook all kinds of nasty habits. Schroeder was rather stand-offish in victory. They didn’t begrudge him; they figured he was young, and it would just take him time to warm up. Not everyone can be a Riggo or a Theismann or a Dexter right away. But Schroeder was sullen in defeat. He turned his back on the fans and spurned their love, and they couldn’t accept that. Here’s a guy in the classic underdog position, struggling to regain his stature, promising not to be satisfied with anything less than his best -- expressing all the sentiments we’ve come to admire in an athlete -- and he’s getting booed! Schroeder wouldn’t find himself in that hole if he hadn’t worked hard to dig it.

Last year, at the start of the quarterback controversy, I wrote in support of Schroeder over Williams, believing Schroeder’s slump to be temporary, and noting his remarkable record as a starter. Later on, when Williams emerged as the more productive player, I wrote that Schroeder was too talented to trade. Although his demeanor was grating, it was a small fee to pay for such power and potential. The backup quarterback position was crucial, since Williams might not make it through a full season. This was when Mark Rypien had done nothing but make the sideline safe for sweaters, and before Stan Humphries was drafted. Now we hear talk that Rypien is ready, and that Humphries will someday walk on water. Maybe. I’d still take Schroeder. But Schroeder has made that impossible.

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