Friday marked the start of a new chapter in the Redskins’ narrative. Their trade for the second-overall draft pick positions them to draft a franchise quarterback who will become the centerpiece of coach Mike Shanahan’s building effort. Assuming Indianapolis drafts Stanford’s Andrew Luck first overall, the Redskins would draft Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. Washington wouldn’t go wrong with either one, though.
To recap, the Redskins acquired the 2012 second-overall pick in exchange for the 2012 sixth-overall pick, the 2012 39th-overall pick and their first-round pick in each of the 2013 and 2014 drafts, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. It won’t be announced until next week.
Here’s what I’m thinking about the trade and what it means for the franchise:
1. The Redskins gave up a lot – A LOT – but it’s too soon to say they gave up too much. The latter will be determined by the quarterback’s success over time. If he wins Super Bowls, Washington paid the right price. If he doesn’t, then it’s a sliding scale. Of course, losing first-rounders in each of the next two drafts will hinder the rebuilding effort, so we’ll just have to wait and see how the Redskins compensate for that. Their $40 million of cap space entering next Tuesday’s opening of free agency will help.
You could look at it this way: The Redskins traded the equivalent of Brian Orakpo, Trent Williams, Ryan Kerrigan (three first-rounders) and Jarvis Jenkins (a second-rounder) to get RG3. That’s extremely expensive. The Redskins can justify it, though, because they’ll get their quarterback on April 26. It’s a quarterback-driven league now, and the Redskins had no chance of a turnaround until they got one. ESPN’s Mel Kiper said it perfectly during his teleconference Thursday: “You’re in a division with Vick and Eli and Romo, so I don’t care what else you have. You’re going to be in the cellar unless you get that quarterback.”
I wrote this Feb. 28, but it’s worth saying again. The price for trading up to draft RG3 is the steep price of hope. It’s the Redskins’ own fault they were in this predicament, but getting out of it is the most important thing. The Redskins and their fans were hopeless last season, rightfully so. Now the outlook has dramatically changed. I spoke to safety Oshiomogho Atogwe last summer about what changed in St. Louis after the team drafted Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford first overall in 2009, and hope was the first thing he mentioned. He emphasized the importance of the energy and belief it injected into the locker room. The same thing will happen in Ashburn.
2. There are unmistakable elements of urgency and desperation involved in the Redskins’ side of this trade. Steve Czaban, my colleague over at ESPN980, hammered this on Twitter, and I agree with him to a certain extent. Shanahan has only 11 wins in 32 games, and owner Daniel Snyder removed approximately 10,000 seats from FedEx Field last year. Other franchise quarterbacks will come along in future years, but Shanahan and Snyder could not afford to wait any longer. The project of building the roster into a contender was spinning its wheels without a quarterback, so the Redskins had to be aggressive in acquiring one.
It might ultimately be that Washington overpaid, but this at least buys Shanahan time. He is entering the third year of his five-year contract. If the Redskins go 7-9 in 2012 but Griffin shows the type of potential that Cam Newton did for the 6-10 Carolina Panthers in his rookie season last year, Shanahan would be viewed as overseeing a team on an upward arc. There would be no reason to consider a coaching change and force RG3 to learn a new system, especially considering Shanahan’s positive track record with quarterbacks such as John Elway and Jay Cutler. (And I don’t care that Shanahan staked his reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck last summer. That was misguided, but it was only lip service.)
As for Snyder’s side of things, I heard from several fans on Twitter who were waiting to renew their season tickets until they saw what the Redskins did about their quarterback situation. I can only assume there are many more. And this morning several fans said they sent in their payments because of the trade. It’s clear how this move helps Snyder’s business, and let’s not forget it is a business transaction. Whether that boost was worth the high cost won’t be known until the new quarterback is several years into his career.
I’m eager to learn whether Shanahan required convincing from Snyder or general manager Bruce Allen to sign off on the price of the trade. It’s easy to see why Snyder would push Shanahan to make the trade even at a cost that far outbid other teams for St. Louis’ first-round pick. Shanahan does have final say over the roster, but you’re mistaken if you think the owner has zero say. He still signs the checks. Perhaps we’ll find this out in time.
3. I applaud the Redskins for going with a young quarterback instead of attempting to fix the problem with another veteran. Shanahan can groom him and mold him, which would be especially important with a player such as RG3. Because Griffin operated mostly out of the shotgun at Baylor, Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will focus heavily on developing his footwork as it applies to accuracy and, more importantly, timing of his reads.
The band-aid approach failed with Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman, so it was time to try something new. That the Redskins decided to trade up instead of wait to draft a lesser-regarded prospect such as Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill proves how strongly Shanahan believes in RG3 or Luck. Now we get to judge whether Shanahan is correct. And as I mentioned, that process buys him time.
4. Washington’s willingness to give up three first-rounders and a second-rounder might indicate they are confident they can sign their top free-agent targets when the market opens on Tuesday. We’ll find out soon enough.
The Redskins will target a top wide receiver or two and help on the offensive line and in the secondary. Washington couldn’t have made this trade if Allen and salary cap manager extraordinaire Eric Schaffer hadn’t taken advantage of the uncapped 2010 season to help create approximately $40 million in cap space. Now the Redskins have to use that to add pieces with which to surround the new quarterback because the flow of top college prospects is shut off.
Because Griffin, 22, will need to develop as an NFL quarterback, it makes sense to sign younger free agents he can grow with. For example, San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston each will be 29 on opening day. Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon will be 26. Hypothetically speaking, if Griffin hits his stride in his third year, would it be better if he’s throwing to a 32-year-old Jackson or Colston or to a 29-year-old Garcon?
At the very least, Griffin or Luck will significantly boost the Redskins’ recruiting pitch, especially to receivers. Washington now has a plan and a cornerstone. You couldn’t say that a couple days ago.
…I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Post a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter @Rich_Campbell.