This is when reality hits. When it really seems over.
Players exchange off-season information. Clean out their lockers. Stuff shorts and shirts and shoes in plastic trash bags and head out through the swinging double doors, perhaps not to return.
It's always said that only one team ultimately goes home happy at the end of the NFL season and that's the one that wins the Super Bowl. Ultimately, though, every team goes home and comes back very much altered for the next season.
As will the Redskins. A 6-10 season, veteran linebacker London Fletcher observed on this final Monday, should and would lead to shakeups of varying magnitudes.
"There's change year-in and year-out whether you have a winning season or a losing season," he said. "Obviously there's more change on losing teams than there are on winning teams. There will be some changes. But it's the nature of the business."
It's a business. That was a common refrain on this day because there's no game to play, no opponent to prepare for. Only the uncertainty of the NFL's labor situation, how it will impact the months ahead or even the 2011 season. Business.
Many of the players who expect to be free agents would like to stay, even after a tumultuous 6-10 season marked by controversies surrounding Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb. Cornerback Carlos Rogers, who freely admitted desperately wanting to leave over the previous two seasons, hopes to come back if offered a suitable contract. Safety Reed Doughty and defensive end Kedric Golston offered similar thoughts.
The impact of this day, of the season's end for the Redskins while 12 other teams gear up for the playoffs, hit hardest among the veterans with a clear sense that their time here has come to an end.
Andre Carter, a defensive end for most of his career but a linebacker in this, his 10th season, spoke as if he'd already been fired. Carter, 31, grew up in a football household with a dad, Rubin, who played for the Denver Broncos. Then he himself came into the NFL as the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1 pick in 2001 and joined the Redskins as a free agent in 2006.
He acknowledged owner Daniel M. Snyder, former defensive coordinators Gregg Williams and Greg Blache, talked frankly about his expectation that the Redskins would choose not to pick up the option on his contract.
"It's tough. My wife and myself, we've made a lot of great friends," Carter said. "On and off the field I've met so many great people and will continue to maintain the relationships that I've gained and trusted. There's no telling what the future will hold."
The future approaches rapidly. The Redskins will make decisions in the months ahead on such long-time contributors as Clinton Portis, Derrick Dockery, Phillip Daniels and Santana Moss, on Haynesworth and McNabb, on Carter and Rogers and Doughty and Golston, on Rex Grossman and Malcolm Kelly.
Free agency. The draft. A pruning of the roster to allow for new growth.
Popular players may vanish. New, more obscure ones assume their roles. The Redskins will be remade.
All of that takes place in the great vague realm of tomorrow. On this day, there were no hellos to wide-eyed rookies, no welcomes, no fresh faces heralding the new dawn. It was Monday, just Monday. The day after a season of change and hope culminated in a 6-10 record, after a team that was 2-2 and 4-3 and 5-5 won only one of its final six and again finished last in the NFC East.
"I didn't think we would lose this many games," Rogers said. "I thought we would win like nine, at least, just from the personnel, how training camp was going, how the offense was put in, how the defense was put in. Of course we had a lot of distractions and we had a lot of things get in our way. I think we lost a lot of games by four points or less. If we could have turned them into wins, it would have been a whole different season."
Any team could say that today. Twenty of them – the ones not in the playoffs – probably did. This was a day for what ifs. A day for exit physicals and farewells. A day for trash bags stuffed with the memories of a season and, in some cases, of a lifetime.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.