- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

This is Mike Shanahan’s Till Death Do Us Part draft. He has to find himself a quarterback, marry him and hope that five years from now - heck, three years from now - they’re both still gainfully employed by the Redskins.

Sixteen months ago, when he arrived in Washington amid much pomp, Shanahan probably never envisioned Thursday’s draft having such urgency. After all, he brought in Donovan McNabb to buy him some time, to keep the offense humming at an acceptable pitch while he searched for a longer-term solution. But the scatter-armed McNabb proved a poor fit for Shanny’s system, and Rex Grossman certainly isn’t the answer; so the Redskins once again have a desperate need at the most important position on the field.

Fortunately for them, this is a good year to be looking for a quarterback. That hasn’t usually been the case when they’ve been in the market for a passer. In 1994, for instance, when they took Heath Shuler third overall, the best QBs available, as it turned out, were Trent Dilfer and Gus Frerotte (their seventh-round selection that year). Not exactly a shopper’s paradise. And in the 2002 draft - whence Patrick Ramsey came - the QB who’s gone on to have the best career is David Garrard (who went in Round 4 to Jacksonville). Again, pretty slim pickings.

The Jason Campbell draft (2005) was a little better but, aside from Aaron Rodgers, hardly mind-blowing (Alex Smith, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel). But this year’s collection of quarterback talent has a lot of people excited. Some observers are predicting that eight QBs will go in the first three rounds, which would be an all-time record. And even the tight-lipped Shanahan conceded Wednesday, “It’s deeper than most drafts I’ve been in. In fact, it’s much deeper.”

If so, the Redskins, needy as they are, might not have to use their first pick, 10th overall, on a quarterback. They might be able to get one in the second round - but probably no later than that, because trades have left them without their third- and fourth-rounders (exchanged for Jammal Brown and McNabb). Of course, there’s always the possibility they’ll trade down from the 10th spot, regain their third-and/or fourth-rounders, and use one of those for a QB, but I just don’t see it. When you take everything into account - the gaping hole at the position, the wealth of highly rated prospects and the organization’s desire to Get This Thing Turned Around in a hurry, it’s hard to imagine the Redskins not grabbing a passer early.

Here’s hoping they keep their wits about them and don’t reach for one. If a quarterback they like isn’t worthy of the 10th pick, they should either move down and draft him lower or spend the pick on a player who is worthy of the 10th selection. This year, in particular, they have to make sure they maximize the value of each pick. For one thing, as previously stated, they’re missing their No. 3 and No. 4. For another, with free agency on hold because of the labor situation, the draft is about the only way they can upgrade the roster. They can’t afford to waste anything.

Problem is, quarterbacks - because they’re so darn vital - often cause clubs to take leave of their senses. A team will get fixated on a QB and end up trading way too much for him. Consider the 2001 draft. The Falcons gave the Chargers a 1, a 2 and a 3 (plus a player) for the first pick so they could take Michael Vick; the Chargers said, “Thank you very much,” drafted LaDainian Tomlinson with Atlanta’s first-rounder, then “settled” for another QB at the top of the second round: Drew Brees.

Putting too many chips on one quarterback is especially dangerous because, as Shanahan said, “There are probably more mistakes made on quarterbacks, if you look through history,” than at any other position. There are simply too many factors that aren’t measurable - like toughness or, in some instances, just common sense.

Carolina reportedly is mulling whether it should take Heisman winner Cam Newton with the first pick. Newton, obviously, carries some risk. His multi-college career wasn’t smoothest ride, and he didn’t play a lot of games at the Division I level. On the other hand, he’s an “off-the-charts” athlete, in Shanahan’s opinion. Will the Panthers wind up drafting him because, well, they’re afraid not to, afraid of getting second-guessed - from here to eternity - if Newton turns out to be a superstar? It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

How the Redskins deal with their quarterback issue in this draft will be revealing. If they make a play for Auburn’s Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert - and perhaps mortgage future picks in the process - it will suggest, as much as anything, that Shanahan is feeling insecure after his disappointing 6-10 first season. But if they don’t force things and draft a QB later on, somebody like TCU’s Andy Dalton, Florida State’s Christian Ponder or Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, it will be a sign that sanity has prevailed and that Shanny is going to stick to whatever plan he and Bruce Allen have mapped out.

Should be an interesting next few days at Redskins Park. Make no mistake, though: This quarterback decision likely will be the most crucial call Shanahan makes in Washington. He’d best get it right.