Posted by: Mike Cornelius | March 11, 2012

The Redskins Go All In On RG3

In the thirteen years that Dan Snyder has owned the Washington Redskins the team has compiled a regular season record of 91-117. Over that time they have achieved a winning record just three times. In each of those years they went to the playoffs, where they lost twice in a Divisional Playoff game and once, at the end of the 2007 season, in the Wild Card round. They’ve been through seven head coaches and a roster full of starting quarterbacks. In each of the last three years their loss total has reached double digits, and the two most recent sad campaigns have been under the coaching leadership of the highly regarded Mike Shanahan. Shanahan was offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when they won Super Bowl XXIX, and then won two Super Bowls as head coach of the Denver Broncos. He arrived in Washington with a career regular-season winning percentage over 62%; with the Redskins he has tasted victory barely one-third of the time.

It’s now more than two decades since Joe Gibbs and quarterback Mark Rypien last brought the Lombardi Trophy back to the nation’s capital. In the past few years growing numbers of D.C. sports fans have turned on Snyder and been drifting away from his football team, shifting their love first to the regular season dynamic but playoff anemic Capitals of the NHL, and more recently to the potentially promising Nationals of the Great Game’s senior circuit.

But year in and year out through all of the Snyder era there has been one championship that the Redskins have captured so often that the award should probably be renamed the Snyder Trophy and simply retired. Time and again the Redskins have won the off-season Publicity Bowl. With surprising trades and staggering free agent signings, Snyder’s team has stolen the headlines in February and March. Of course, as Washington fans have come to know all too well, championships aren’t won at late-winter press conferences; and with a disheartening regularity the hero introduced with much fanfare in the off-season has turned out to be too old or too out of shape or too unwilling to learn a new system or too much of a bad influence in the locker room.

Now they have done it again. Just when we all thought that the only NFL story of note between now and late April’s draft would be the outcome of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, the Redskins have made big news with their most dramatic off-season move ever. In a joint statement released Saturday, Washington general manager Bruce Allen and St. Louis general manager Les Snead confirmed that the Rams will trade the second overall pick in this year’s draft to the Redskins. In order to move up four spots in the first round of the draft Washington is paying a stunningly high price. The Redskins are giving the Rams their first and second round picks this year (numbers six and thirty-nine overall) and their first round picks in both 2013 and 2014.

St. Louis is determined to build a team around quarterback Sam Bradford, who was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. In his first season Bradford broke Manning’s records for most pass completions and attempts by a rookie. While he regressed last year, the Rams continue to believe that Bradford is the long-term answer to their needs at quarterback; and now they have a plethora of what are likely to be high draft picks to gradually fill in their other holes and eventually build a winning franchise.

With the Indianapolis Colts expected to take Stanford’s Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft, the prize for the Redskins will be Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. RG3 is an enormously talented athlete who took a Baylor team that had never recorded a winning season in the Big 12 Conference to a 10-3 record last year, their first bowl victory in two decades, and a national ranking of 12th. In what was essentially a three-year college career (he sat out most of 2009 due to injury) he threw for more than 10,000 yards while completing better than 66% of his passes, and ran for almost 2,200 more yards. He stunned observers at the NFL Scouting Combine late last month when he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash; a time that any wide receiver would love. By all reports he’s also a mature 22-year old, and is demonstrably intelligent, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science while being named repeatedly to the Baylor Dean’s List as well as the Big-12 Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll.

On the other hand, and with a daring and expensive gamble like this there is certainly always a contrary point of view, Griffin like most college quarterbacks has never run a pro-style offense. He is coming to a team that has gaping holes in its offensive line and a shortage of wide receivers to catch the passes that Griffin will throw. Coach Shanahan recently said that he thought the Redskins offense was playoff-worthy last season. He is unquestionably the only person in metropolitan D.C. who thinks so. And while the Redskins have some significant salary cap room that should allow them to fill some of their holes with free agent signings, the package of picks they are shipping to St. Louis essentially abandons the approach that GM Allen adopted last year of slowly but steadily building the franchise from within.

In short, it is a move that smacks of desperation. But that’s because when it comes to quarterback the Redskins are a desperately desperate team. In the last 19 seasons 21 different men have started at quarterback for Washington. The most recent competition for the position was between Rex Grossman, a journeyman with a career-long penchant for the ill-timed interception, and John Beck, a player with so few starts since he entered the league in 2007 that he can’t fairly even be called a journeyman.

For all that, not every desperate move is a bad one; and I can’t help but feel that this was a move the Redskins had to make. The modern NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and I am impressed by Griffin’s obvious intelligence as much as by his athletic ability. Perhaps he will fail; almost certainly his rookie season will be a struggle given the team’s many other deficiencies. But a move like this is properly measured three or four years out, not on day one. A few years back the New York Giants sent a bunch of draft picks to San Diego in exchange for an intelligent and athletic quarterback. There were some rough moments in the first few years of Eli Manning’s career, and there was plenty of second guessing in greater New York about the wisdom of that trade. Now that he has rings and MVP awards from two Super Bowls, the second guessers have all gone silent. There are vocal second guessers today among Redskins fans. Let’s give RG3 a few years. Given a fair chance, he too has the talent and the smarts to quiet the doubters.

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