As pivotal offseason begins, the Redskins’ foundation is shaking

Scot McCloughan’s absence from the NFL Scouting Combine hangs heavy over the Redskins’ early offseason. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

INDIANAPOLIS — At the NFL Scouting Combine, where every pro football team hopes to identify future stars who will help transform them into champions, the most significant story line for the Washington Redskins is the absence of General Manager Scot McCloughan.

While other NFL teams’ personnel executives focused on evaluating the 303 prospects on hand Thursday, contradictory versions of McCloughan’s whereabouts led to widespread confusion and perpetuated an image that the Redskins have tried desperately to shake — that of a well-funded but ultimately unstable franchise teetering on dysfunction.

On Thursday, the morning after McCloughan’s absence from the combine was first reported by The Washington Post, Redskins President Bruce Allen said he expected to speak with his general manager by phone that evening and added that McCloughan could return to work next week. In the meantime, mixed messages rang out from inside and outside the organization.

“Just a family matter,” Allen said in a hurried conversation in the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center, suggesting later that McCloughan’s absence was related to the Feb. 6 death of his grandmother, 100-year-old Marie McCloughan.

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Another person familiar with the situation insisted the general manager hadn’t missed any work time at all but was busily working Thursday on scouting business in his office at Redskins Park.

Several agents who represent Redskins players said they had been told that McCloughan hadn’t been in the office last week. And in private conversations, a handful raised questions about the Redskins’ preparedness for the combine; the free agent signing period, which gets underway next week; and next month’s NFL draft.

There have been indications for nearly a month of friction between Allen and McCloughan, Allen’s hand-picked general manager and the man most responsible for upgrading the Redskins’ roster. McCloughan is under intense pressure to deliver a productive draft class after last year’s first-round pick, wide receiver Josh Doctson, idled nearly all of his rookie season with chronic pain in both Achilles’.

McCloughan’s free agent signings have largely disappointed, as well. And in a departure from past practice, Allen restricted McCloughan from speaking to the media this offseason.

The confusion swirling around McCloughan’s status unfolds against the backdrop of the most crucial offseason stretch for NFL teams — when they have the greatest opportunity to upgrade their rosters through careful pruning of veterans, shrewdly negotiated contract extensions and the targeted acquisition of rookies.

For the Redskins, who are coming off a disappointing 8-7-1 campaign, it’s a particularly pivotal moment.

The team is attempting to negotiate a long-term deal with quarterback Kirk Cousins, whom they only managed to keep from bolting by using the…