Seventeen years. The Redskins have been searching for a quarterback to lead them out of the wilderness for that long. You'd think he was hiding in a mountain cave along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (where his agent had stashed him to drive up his price).
It doesn't seem possible. It almost doesn't seem right. The franchise that gave us Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen, that all but invented the modern passing game, hasn't had a quarterback of lasting quality in nearly two decades. Not that Redskins fans need to be reminded of this. Most of them can probably tick off - at the risk of a pounding headache - the name of every QB who has started for the club since Mark Rypien suddenly became scatter-armed.
John Friesz, Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Jeff Hostetler, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, Patrick Ramsey, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman. (I don't think I've forgotten anybody, but I may have repressed the memory of a couple.) Anyway, that's 17 quarterbacks in 17 seasons, which goes a long way toward explaining why the franchise has won exactly two playoff games in that time - one against an 8-8 Lions team, the other against a Bucs club quarterbacked by Chris Simms.
There are many reasons why the Redskins have been riding a streetcar named Irrelevant, but the revolving door at quarterback is surely at or near the top of the list. And now, of course, they're in the market for a QB again. Last year's "answer," McNabb, didn't work out, and Grossman is little more than a Bridge to the Next Guy; so Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan, armed with the 10th pick, are mulling their options in the draft.
By the time their turn comes, though, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and conceivably even Ryan Mallett could be off the board, leaving them with accuracy-challenged Jake Locker or, if they prefer to wait until the second round, somebody like Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton. You also can't rule out the possibility of a trade. Maybe the Redskins envision Kevin Kolb, who likely will be dealt by the Eagles, flourishing in their offense the way Matt Schaub did in the Texans' (under Kyle Shanahan, the current Washington play-caller).
Still, how did the Redskins get themselves in this predicament? How have they gone 17 years with virtually no continuity at the most important position on the field? Heck, the situation is even worse than it seems. Consider: Since 1985, when Joe Theismann had his leg broken by piggy-backing Lawrence Taylor, there have been only seven seasons, seven in 26, in which the same quarterback has started every game for the Redskins. In four of them, the team reached the playoffs (and in another it missed out on a tiebreaker). Think there's any connection?
Not all of the aforementioned quarterbacks - the not-so-magnificent 17 - were meritless. Johnson, for instance, went to the Pro Bowl in 1999 and helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl three years later. Green, meanwhile, moved on to Kansas City and made the Pro Bowl twice. Had either stayed in Washington, the Dan Snyder Era might have turned out much differently. But Green left in free agency after the '98 season, amid ownership uncertainty, and Johnson was cast aside in favor of Snyder pet Jeff George (who was soon benched).
In the case of other quarterbacks, it was simply a matter of bad timing. Hostetler, for example, would have been a swell QB to have earlier in his career, when he was leading the Giants to a Super Bowl upset of the Bills. The same went for Brunell and McNabb, who didn't remotely resemble in Washington the franchise players they had been elsewhere.
Then there's Shuler, who couldn't have gotten elected dogcatcher in D.C., but has gotten elected to Congress three times in North Carolina. Who knew?
So the quarterback procession has been a mixed bag of first-round busts (Shuler, Ramsey, Campbell), front-office brain freezes (George, Brunell, McNabb) and assorted other miscalculations and acts of desperation. It just underlines what football folk are always saying: There's nothing more difficult than evaluating a QB, especially one coming out of college.
"It's always fascinated me," Joe Gibbs says. "You know you've gotta have a quarterback, and yet it's extremely hard to pick one in the draft. You're rolling the dice in some ways. And the reason is: You're trying to pick people. You're trying to pick what's going on inside somebody.
"Like toughness. I've never coached a quarterback who was real good who wasn't real tough. They're going to be in positions where they can't defend themselves, and they're going to get whacked. And they've gotta be able to get right back up and think clearly and do all the things a quarterback's gotta do. A lot of guys play quarterback, but there's only a few that are gifted and can make the key play and have a way to lead a team and get you down the field when you've gotta have it."
Yet Gibbs, for all his genius, failed to see how little Brunell had left in the tank. He also gave up three picks to draft the thoroughly ordinary Campbell (unloaded on the Raiders last April for a mere fourth-rounder).
And now Shanahan, having whiffed on McNabb the way Coach Joe whiffed on Brunell, is eyeing college prospects, always a high-risk venture.
Even if he hits on one, it figures to be a couple of years, perhaps longer, before the kid is playing at the necessary level. That's why the McNabb trade was such a killer.
At the very least, Donovan was supposed to buy the Redskins time to groom his successor, was supposed to be what Bill Parcells calls a "hold-the-fort" quarterback. But his struggles in a new offense - behind a leaky offensive line - led to a last-place division finish and this latest QB crisis.
"It's just like pitchers in baseball," Parcells says. "The Gaylord Perrys of the world, the knuckleballers like Phil Niekro, this kid pitching for the Phillies now, [Jamie] Moyer - if God's been good to them, and their bodies hold up, and their arms hold up, some guys have the ability to do that at an older age.
And then other guys, they're like a truckload of chickens going over a cliff. It's over."
With this next quarterback decision, Shanahan has to get the truck back on the road - and headed in a northerly direction.
In fact, for his sake and that of the franchise, it would nice if the 17-year search for a passer who won't just be a passer-by ended right here, with QB No. 18.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.