Mike Shanahan handed down his long-awaited quarterback decision this week and, by the width of a chinstrap, Whatshisname (Rex Grossman) won out over That Other Fella (John Beck).
This might be the single biggest cause for alarm in Shanahan's second year as the Washington Redskins' overlord: He's still getting the QB situation sorted out. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but is the 2012 starter even on the roster, or are Grossman and Beck merely passers pro tempore (as they say in the halls of Congress)?
After all, last anyone checked, quarterback was the most important position on the field — exponentially more important than most others (which will remain nameless because, well, we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, especially the long snapper's). Yet the Redskins might be spending less on QBs than any team in the NFL. They're certainly spending less than any team in their division. Combined, Grossman and Beck reportedly will make a little over $2 million this season, about 2 percent of the cap. When was the last time a club won much of anything by devoting 2 percent of its cap to the most important position in the game?
Shanahan will be left open to all kinds of uncomfortable questions if Grossman and Beck fail to measure up, the first one being: Uh, Mike, don't you tend to get what you pay for in this league? But again, let's not get ahead of ourselves, because we still have a season to play — beginning in three days against the New York Giants — and it's always possible Shanny's bargain-basement approach will prove a master stroke. There's a first time for everything.
We all know Shanahan's track record with Steve Young and John Elway — and even Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler. He's a coach who gets the most out of his quarterbacks, provided they're willing to give themselves over to his system. Donovan McNabb wasn't last year, and that's why he's in Minnesota. But Grossman and Beck seem much more pliable, perhaps because they've hit the Big Three-O and may be out of options. If it doesn't work out here for them, it may never work out.
But as a wise man once said: You can't put in what God left out. Shanahan may be a schematic Einstein — and his son, Kyle, the Stephen Hawking of play callers — but every quarterback has his ceiling. Griese, Plummer and Cutler may have put up some nice numbers in Denver, but what, ultimately, did it amount to? One playoff victory in his last decade? Heck, even the Redskins have had one playoff victory in the last decade.
No, it's all a bit puzzling. Shanahan is saying, "Trust me," but fans are much more inclined to trust their own eyes. And what they've seen in Grossman over the years is a thoroughly ordinary quarterback whose highs don't nearly compensate for his lows. As for Beck, the pro football world is just getting to know him; he's been in mothballs the past three seasons. He moves well and conducts himself like the Eagle Scout he is, but there isn't much else that stands out about him.
Don't get me wrong, it would be a great story if either quarterback was the long-term solution in Washington. Grossman, remember, started in the Super Bowl for the Chicago Bears at the age of 26 — before getting lost in the NFL wilderness. Beck, on the other hand, has been a virtual invisible man since breaking into the league with Miami in 2007. So you have the redemption angle going for Rex, the late-bloomer angle going for John, all sorts of angles in play.
Doug Williams was a redemption story, once upon a time — and Joe Theismann was the classic late bloomer. In other words, it's happened in Redskinsland before. But do Grossman and Beck really have that potential? Or is Rex just another nothing-special quarterback off the Steve Spurrier assembly line - and John just an alluringly athletic mediocrity better suited to backup duty?
What Shanahan seems to be forgetting is that Redskins Nation has waited an eternity for a franchise quarterback, one capable of being a fixture for five or 10 years and bringing some much-needed stability to the organization. The last one was Mark Rypien in the '90s, or maybe Theismann in the '80s, depending on how you define these things. For too long, the most important position on the field has been a merry-go-round — from Heath Shuler to Patrick Ramsey to Jason Campbell (and all the QBs in between).
There's a craving for a quarterback in Washington, the kind who can cover up a club's deficiencies and be the rising tide that lifts all teammates. It takes a real leap of faith, though, to believe that Grossman or Beck can be that QB. Which means there's a good chance that, 16 games from now, we'll be back in the same place, wondering once again who the Redskins' quarterback of the future is.
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