"When I walked into the training room, I was a little like, 'Whoa, what is this?' when I first got to Redskins Park," said defensive lineman Adam Carriker, who arrived in 2010.
Carriker said he had flashbacks to a training room he'd seen at a Division III college. No large ice tubs or large hot tubs. No underwater treadmill. And the weight room was one-third the size of the one he used when playing at Nebraska. The same Redskins team that had spent and overspent hundreds of millions of dollars on players under owner Dan Snyder was making do with cramped, outdated facilities.
With the help of taxpayer dollars, that is changing. Griffin's knee isn't the only reconstruction job of 2013; the team is expanding its training room, weight room and hiring a full-time chef for an expanded kitchen as part of a $30 million makeover at Redskins Park in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. And, on Thursday, the coaches and players will open training camp at a new, $10 million state-of-the-art facility in Richmond, Va.
It's part of a subtle arms race to keep up with the Joneses or rather, stay ahead of Jerry Jones and the rest of the NFC East. The New York Giants two years ago moved into a new training facility with all the bells and whistles a player or coach would want. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was looking for ideas when he toured Redskins Park in 1997 it was only 5 years old and still state-of-the-art and went on to construct the largest practice facility in the NFL at the time it was built, a 22-acre complex next to the team's stadium. And it's no secret that Cowboys owner Jones is looking to build something new to replace Valley Ranch.
"For us, it made it more pleasant to come to work," said Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who was with the Giants when they opened their new headquarters. "It was a happier work environment. Guys are more apt to want to use the facilities, use the cold tub, use the hot tub, when they're nice and new and improved. If you're happy Monday through Saturday, I think that could make for a better performance on Sunday."
While there was no debate the Redskins could use better digs, the obvious debate came from whether the Redskins or any team in the cash-flow-heavy NFL should be asking lawmakers to find the money to help pay for it. State, county and city governments are chipping in $6.4 million as part of the deal to renovate Redskins Park and move training camp to Richmond.
The Redskins were able to pull it off thanks to a maneuver as old as professional sports: Give us money, or we might just pack our bags and move. General Manager Bruce Allen said the team explored options in Maryland, which already has the Redskins stadium, and the District of Columbia. Asked how he defends the use to taxpayer money, he cited the cumulative effect of all those huge player salaries on the state economy.
"As a payroll," he said, "we're one of the largest businesses in the commonwealth."
Carriker offered a player's perspective.
"It's a business," he said. "It's about trying to have the best facilities without spending a lot of money a lot of times in the NFL."
The improvements mean better logistics for the players, like no longer having to lift weights in shifts. Carriker, who has started eating more organic food when he's at home, is most excited about the new chef and kitchen.
"Jeff Gordon would never put water into his racecar and expect it to go fast," he said.
Coach Mike Shanahan concurs. One of the greatest Redskins quotes of all time is from longtime athletic trainer Bubba Tyer: "I saw us win three Super Bowls eating McDonald's hamburgers for lunch." But that was more than two decades ago.
"A lot of these guys are single," Shanahan said. "A lot of these guys are at Wendy's or Burger King all the time. And we want to get them in the building to eat healthy during the season, take care of their bodies and do what you need to do give themselves the best chance to win."
Several players said the biggest upgrade is already in place: the "bubble" indoor practice field that was built at Redskins Park last year, which meant the team no longer had to drive to an airport hangar or a fitness club to hold practice when the weather was bad.
"We were definitely juiced up about the bubble," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "It's progress. It's forward progress, man. Anytime you're not going forward, you're going backward."
Still, bricks and mortar can only do so much to produce a winning team. While Shanahan is pleased to have a better kitchen, he's much happier to have a quarterback like Griffin.
"As a coach coming in, you're trying to get the best facilities you can," Shanahan said.
Then he laughed.
"But what I want," he added, "is players."