In March, I wrote an article about how the Philadelphia Eagles were taking an intelligent risk on a cheap asset named Michael Vick. I explained how this was masterful value investing at work. I explained how this was part of a long history of methodical, intelligent decision-making by the Philadelphia Eagles organization. And finally, I reminded readers that the key to successful investing was identifying that optimal nexus between price and value.
Last night's torching of my lifelong team, the Washington Redskins, at the hands of Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles reminded me just how good one team is at doing this and just how terrible we are at it here in D.C.
A tale of two cities
In case you didn't catch the game, by halftime, the Eagles had already begun to set records. Vick and the Eagles set a new record for points in a single half (45), total yards in a game (592), and produced the second-highest regular season total of points ever (59). It was a thrashing of epic proportion. And Vick, a guy the Eagles had picked up just 1.5 years earlier at the cost of an adequate back-up quarterback, personally accounted for six of those TDs.
Then we have the Redskins.
A lot has changed here in D.C. after a dreadful 4-12 season that seemed to never end in 2009. There are new coaches, new front office, new faces, etc. There's new spirit in the air, too. But one very important thing has not changed: the ownership.
The puppet master
The Washington Redskins organization and its fans are still at the mercy of the single worst executive in pro sports, a man who has proven himself myopic, greedy, and petulant more times than I care to remember. The man, of course, is Dan Snyder. And what is clear to me is that even when things appear to change wholesale, if the guy in the top office is the same, then everything else will stay the same, too.
The latest insult
My evidence for this accusation comes in the form of yesterday's gut-punching news -- no, not the news about getting smashed by a division rival -- the other news. Yesterday afternoon, just hours before the game, the team announced it had just re-signed former Eagle Donovan McNabb to a blockbuster deal. Allegedly worth about $78 million in total, the contract appears to closely resemble that of another very significant name in professional football: Tom Brady.
The problem, of course, is that while both quarterbacks are closing in on the twilight of their careers and are armed with proud track records, one is playing at an extremely high level as part of a winning organization with the fundamental elements necessary to win championships and the other is fuddling along as part of some horrid, patchwork mutant of an organization without any clear direction to it.
Just who's in charge here?
Yesterday's goings-on reveal to me just who is back in charge of the Redskins organization. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan appeared to have been making the type of difficult, long-term decisions that lay the foundation for success over time. He started by drafting a marquee lineman rather than some flashy skill player, he sternly dealt with Albert Haynesworth's lack of effort, and just two weeks ago he made a gutsy call to bench the Redskins newly extended quarterback for not living up to expectations. These are the types of tough, unpopular decisions that lead to productive entities. And that is precisely why this latest news stinks of another's handiwork.
The McNabb contract is a fat, incentive-laden deal that despite a significant opt-out, has all of the hallmarks of some of the "brilliant" acquisitions Snyder has made over the years with aging, former all-stars that all went sour quick. Snyder has made them countless times with names like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Jason Taylor, Albert Haynesworth, and numerous others -- all excessively expensive, all way past their prime -- and they have a lot more to do with selling tickets than building teams.
Snyder's leadership over the years has laid the groundwork for season upon season of mediocre, if not outright terrible, performance. While I like McNabb as an individual and think he has a few good years left in him, the point is: IT'S NOT ABOUT TODAY. IT'S ABOUT TOMORROW, YOU FOOLS! That's what Snyder clearly doesn't get, and as long as he's in charge (regardless of the coach), these types of ridiculous, short-term, greed-driven decisions are going to be part and parcel of the entire organization.
For my part, my economic boycott of the team will continue (just as it has for the past four years). For the Redskins part, I'm sorry for the players. They'll never experience the leadership that they deserve under an executive who just doesn't get it.
The Foolish bottom line
We're talking about the Redskins and Dan Snyder today because the organization's ongoing struggle is representative of a much larger issue in America today. Myopia on the part of investors and corporate decision makers is profoundly affecting the way in which institutions are led and money is made (or not made).
When I look around, I see questionable leadership at companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Blackstone that quite frankly, reminds me of Dan Snyder. Equally so, I am reminded of the economic rewards that are generated by visionary leaders at companies such as Whole Foods, Netflix, and Costco when the customer's experience is prioritized and the business is designed to succeed over the long term. It's so incredibly obvious to me.
Dan Snyder will never understand this, and neither will many business leaders empowered today. The question is: Will you? And will you invest your time and money in the people who do?