The Redskins R.G. III Trade and Napoleon III, Revisited


This is getting a bit of traffic, so I should explain.  I originally wrote this after the 2012 draft.  Then, I revised after the 2014 draft, so some of the comments below will be outdated.

With the recent play of Kirk Cousins, and considering that we drafted him in the 4th round the same year that we drafted Griffin, this is looking like my one real shot at an “I told you so!” moment.

I will savor it.

Many thanks!


And now, the original addition to the original post. . .


I published this already, but the day after the first draft day has me saddened as I compare the round 1 trades of the Cowboys and Redskins.

Redskins: To move up 4 places in the draft, they swapped this #1 picks, plus the next two years of #1’s, plus a second round pick.

Cowboys: To move up 6 places in the draft they swapped #1’s for this year, and also gave up this year’s second round pick.

Both trades were made with the SAME RAMS team.

So either the Cowboys got a massive steal, or the Redskins, as usual, paid far too much to a team they probably could have given less to had they waited.  Either way, the news is not good for Redskins fans.


In 1848 Charles Louis Napoleon rode a wave of popular enthusiasm and was elected President of France.  He rode this same wave in 1851, declaring himself Emperor Napoleon III of France, backed by a national plebisite.  Ok — so he wasn’t his more famous, more competent uncle.  He did, however, seem to understand a lesson few other European leaders grasped, that leadership in France and in Europe in the post-Revolutionary era required a deep connection to “the people” to be truly effective.  He began his reign with confidence.

Time passed, however, and Napoleon III proved frustrating and inadequate in his statesmanship.  He flailed about, following one policy, then another, seeking the home run that would make France truly relevant in world affairs once again.  First he started with an authoritarian empire, then switched to be more liberal.  But as he liberalized France at the same time he undermined the power of legislature over France’s finances.  He announced that “the Empire means peace,” but strengthened France’s involvement in Southeast Asia.  He helped forge a new alliance system as a result of the Crimean War, but also undermined that system by his support of national independence movements.  Superior statesman learned to take advantage of him in particular, and France in general.  Dangle something of value, and he runs after it, heedless of the long-term consequences.

Prussia’s Otto von Bismarck would prove to be Napoleon’s undoing.  In Bismarck, Napoleon dealt with  a man of  focus, purpose, and creativity.  When Bismarck wanted war against Austria in 1866, he knew that he needed the French not to intervene.  France and Austria had been enemies off and on, and he counted on Napoleon III to underestimate Prussia’s rising power.  True to form, Napoleon III jumped at the chance to be needed.  “Yes,” perhaps he told himself, “France and I are relevant once again!”

Prussia’s swift and crushing victory over Austria surprised many, and it gave them either direct or indirect control over most of the German provinces.  In the blink of an eye, Prussia undid 200 years of French foreign policy, which aimed at keeping Germany divided.  People in France turned on Napoleon III, who felt humiliated.  He then came up with a solution, another attempt at a home run.  He sent his Foreign Minister to Bismarck with a demand.   “We insist that Prussia cede a portion of German territory as compensation for our neutrality.”  Bismarck easily laughed off this suggestion, and then went one better.  To further Napoleon III’s embarrassment, he published France’s demands in major French papers.  The sun had set on the French Empire, and Napoleon III knew it.

I have been a Redskin fan my whole life.  I had the great fortune of growing up with the glory days during the first Gibbs era.  But Dan Snyder’s reign has inflicted a great deal of suffering on many fans like me.  I don’t question his heart. He wants to win.  Like everyone else, I question his strategy.  The continual bid for the grand slam has given us Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs II, Donovan McNabb, Mike Shanahan, and so on.  Though possessing few actual wins, Snyder managed the marginally impressive feat of staying relevant for the past 12 years by his media-worthy signings.

Now, however, fans are getting restless.  The fabled waiting list of season ticket holders seems not to actually exist.  The umpteenth attempt at a home run in the person of Shannahan has brought  5-11 and 6-10 seasons.  But nothing spells relief like “Quarterback.”  So we made an enormously lopsided trade with St. Louis to acquire the right to draft Robert Griffin III.

I can only imagine the desperation Snyder and Shanahan felt when Peyton Manning chose not to give them the time of day.  He wanted nothing to do with us, and I don’t blame him.  Snyder still had one more chance at executing his favorite move, the “splashy signing.”  Shannahan had one more chance to salvage his legacy.  Beware of an old man in a hurry.  For a king’s ransom, we could still snatch Robert Griffin III.

I can’t help but see parallels.  Napoleon III thought he had scored a great coup with their neutrality in the Austro-Prussian War.  In reality, it was Napoleon who did the dancing.  Bismarck knew just how to play him. . .

How St. Louis must have salivated at the thought of Dan Snyder desperate for relevance, desperate to sell tickets, desperate to create the media buzz he craves and needs to sell those tickets.

I am utterly flabbergasted by columnist Tom Boswell who wrote,

There’s a karmic shadow over this deal, of course. It’s the apotheosis of the whole Daniel Snyder era. Just a few hours after Peyton Manning didn’t even give the Redskins a waltz on his city-hopping dance card, the team completed this blockbuster. Maybe Griffin was always Plan A. But the appearance, around the NFL, was that the Redskins hadn’t even made the first Manning cut. “We’ll-show-’em-we’re-not-dysfunctional” decisions have long been a dysfunctional Redskins trademark. But, sooner or later, one of ’em has to work, right?

The Redskins needed a huge splash for every conceivable reason: to give their fanatic fans a glimpse of glory, not more grief; to give Mike Shanahan a realistic chance to be successful again; to stay dominant in a sports market where other rivals are emerging; and to keep printing money for one of the most valuable sports franchises on earth.

None of the reasons he gives for the trade are actual football reasons, and to hope that at some point even a dysfunctional decision will work is an abdication of responsibility, a resignation to fate.  Boswell later talks about the Redskins suffering from a “curse” as he closes his column:
The Redskins just doubled down on the very same high-profile, high-cost, high-risk (or all-of-the-above) method that has introduced Washington to Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Wilkinson, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier, Mark Brunell, Adam Archuleta, Sean Gilbert, Jim Zorn, Gregg Williams, Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb and Shanahan. That the list is so long and familiar doesn’t make it any less staggering. RGIII will either demolish an amazing losing streak or confirm a curse.
Again, the idea that we suffer from a curse is absurd.  It reminds me of Napoleon III’s uncle Napoleon I, who said after reflecting on his defeats in exile on St. Helena

The vulgar have never ceased blaming all my wars on my ambition.  But were they of my choosing?  Were they not always determined by the unalterable nature of things?


I am the greatest slave among men.  My master is the nature of things.

The most I can say for the venerable Mr. Boswell is that he too is a weary Redskins fan, and subject to that great symptom of weariness, blaming fate.  If one actually looks at Napoleon I, we see that perhaps his invasion of Russia, not fate, had a lot to do with his defeat.  If we look at the Redskins, we see that perhaps their addiction to big names and quick fixes, and not a curse, has put them in their current position.

Whether it be Babylonian dream interpretation during their “Time of Troubles,” or the rise of Stoicism in the Roman Empire, trusting to fate and chance is a tell-tale sign of decline.  Toynbee wrote,

Chance and Necessity are the alternate shapes in which this [passivity] is saluted by its votaries, and while at first sight the two notions may appear to contradict one another to the point of being mutually exclusive, they prove to be merely different facets of one identical illusion.

Whenever you think you must trade your future to draft a player, that is a sure sign that you better not, and start dealing with reality instead.

I hate to be a curmudgeon (well — not always, sometimes it’s fun!), and I usually don’t like to agree with Steve Czaban, but he had it right when he wrote:

The other big argument in favor of this move, is purely emotional. It goes something like this… “After 20 years without a franchise quarterback, you have to pay whatever price it takes.”

Oh, really?

Why? Because Robert Griffin III is the LAST  “franchise” quarterback the college game is ever going to produce? Because if the Redskins don’t make the playoffs this year, the NFL has announced the franchise will be folded forever?


The answer is simple. The owner is desperate. The coach is desperate. And when the fan base is also desperate, you have fertile conditions for “stupid.”

The rest of his column is here.
At least Napoleon III saw his doom approaching.  When it came after the battle of Sedan, he abdicated.  Snyder will not do this.  We are therefore left with, “But, sooner or later, one of [the dysfunctional decisions] has to work, right?”