ASHBURN, Va. -- Their stories are the same -- to a point. Two iconic franchises wrecked by inner turmoil and on-field failures, leading to their fall from the top. It turned frustrated fan bases angry.
Now the Redskins need it to work out for them like it did for the 49ers. That will take even more work.
Here's how their stories are similar and how the Redskins might duplicate the 49ers' recovery.
Iconic franchises in decline
From 1981 through 1994, the 49ers and Redskins combined to win eight Super Bowls and appear in nine. But, starting in 1999, their fortunes had changed. There were still some successful seasons -- the 49ers won at least 11 games four times between 1999 through 2018 and played in one Super Bowl. However, they also suffered 13 losing seasons.
The 49ers did have pockets of success, although they turned out to be short-lived. Within two years of their Super Bowl appearance after the 2012 season, they embarked on a four-year stretch in which they went a combined 17-47. During that time, numerous stories were written about declining attendance. Despite reports of sellouts, videos and pictures showed thousands of empty seats.
That's exactly what has happened in Washington, the past two years in particular. Opposing fans often outnumbered Redskins fans -- especially this past season. Since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999, the Redskins have won three NFC East titles and two playoff games. They were 3-13 this past season (one year after the 49ers went 4-12).
Late in a Week 11 loss to the New York Jets, Redskins fans -- the few who remained -- started to chant in the direction of owner Snyder's luxury box, "Sell the team! Sell the team!" It was loud enough for Snyder to hear, and a team source said at the time, to bother him.
Team president Bruce Allen was a target as well. In October, a fan spent $1,600 to hire a plane pulling a banner that read, "Help Skins Fans Fire Bruce Allen!" before a Redskins game in Miami.
It happened in San Francisco, too. In 2015, a 49ers fan used a GoFundMe campaign to raise money so he could fly a banner around Levi's Stadium before a game. The banner, referring to 49ers CEO Jed York, read: "Jed & 49ers Should Mutually Part Ways." Following the 2014 season, the 49ers announced they had "mutually agreed to part ways" with coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Redskins' culture has been a consistent storyline during Snyder's tenure. Of the 49ers, Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg wrote in 2014: "York has created a culture that encourages selfishness, weakness and back-stabbing."
Finally, York once compared new coach Jim Tomsula to Steve Kerr, who has won three NBA championships as coach of the Golden State Warriors. Snyder's right-hand man in 2008, Vinny Cerrato, once compared new coach Jim Zorn to Redskins Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Tomsula went 5-11 in one year; Zorn was a combined 12-20 in two. Oops.
San Francisco went a combined 7-25 in 2015 and '16 under two coaches -- Tomsula and Chip Kelly. The 49ers were a disaster, but they did what many fans wanted: They fired general manager Trent Baalke, who was considered almost untouchable for a while in San Francisco. Just like Allen in Washington.
York hired a smart, young coach in Kyle Shanahan who then championed John Lynch for the general manager's job. York gave them six-year contracts when first-timers like Shanahan and Lynch typically get five years. The 49ers won a combined 10 games in their first two seasons together, but they were unified. With better health at quarterback and a dominant defense and run game, they won 13 games this season and reached the Super Bowl.
In Snyder's biggest move this offseason, he fired Allen, his confidant of 10 years. They had already fired coach Jay Gruden in October during his sixth season. Snyder then opted for a different approach, hiring Ron Rivera and making him the most powerful coach in his tenure.
Another similarity -- the 49ers focused on defense before Shanahan arrived, taking five defensive players in the first round from 2014-17. That included three defensive linemen. Then, after a one year hiatus, they went back to a first-round defender last spring, selecting end Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick.
The Redskins have picked a defensive player in the first round in each of the past three drafts. They selected first-round defensive linemen in back-to-back years -- Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne -- after not having taken one that high since 1997. Multiple people inside the organization -- and outside -- felt the defense greatly underachieved under coordinator Greg Manusky the past three years. Jack Del Rio is now in charge of the defense, and if there's one reason the Redskins could make a jump next season, it's because of this group.
Choosing the pass-rusher
The Redskins can follow the 49ers in one final way when building their defense -- by choosing the pass-rusher (Chase Young) at No. 2. There's likely more of a market for this year's No. 2 overall pick than a year ago when the 49ers owned it, simply because of the high end quarterbacks involved. Washington could get a haul, but would it be worthwhile?
Take Bosa's impact for example. It wasn't just about his addition, but it helped improve the defense. In 2018, the 49ers ranked 23rd in sacks per pass attempt and were 21st on third downs. When using a four-man rush that season, opposing quarterbacks had a 108.5 passer rating.
With Bosa this season, the 49ers improved in all areas: opposing quarterbacks had an 83.0 passer rating while facing their four-man rush; they were tied for second on third-down percentage and third in sacks per pass attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Redskins ranked last on third down this past season despite being seventh in sacks per pass attempt, and opposing quarterbacks posted a 100.6 passer rating against the Redskins' four-man rush.
The Redskins have a ways to go before they can compete for Super Bowls, although nobody saw this coming from the 49ers, either. Washington must add weapons offensively, receive consistent quarterback play from Dwayne Haskins and make sure to build a strong line. The Redskins also need to find an offensive identity, as the 49ers have in their third season under Shanahan. They need more help in the secondary and must settle their linebacker spots as they transition to a 4-3 base defense.
There's a long tunnel ahead for Washington. But perhaps it's the 49ers, whose path they were already following in good ways and bad, who showed that there could be light at the end.