- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A year ago this week, as the 2011 draft approached, I wrote that the Washington Redskins desperately needed to “get lucky.” At that point, they’d been down for so long that luck seemed to be their only salvation — or at least the quickest way to restore their tarnished reputation.

“Granted, ‘getting lucky’ isn’t much of a plan,” I conceded, “but the Redskins‘ other plans, if you want to call them that, haven’t borne much fruit in the past 18 years. Good fortune, it would seem, is their last resort, their Hail Mary. Trouble is, it’s been in critically short supply in Ashburn.”

Alas, no Tom Bradys fell from the sky on draft day last April. And the season that followed — undermined as it was by the lockout, injuries, suspensions and low-quality quarterbacking — was pretty much a disaster. But that’s where the team’s luck began to turn, though we didn’t know it at the time.

As a reward for their 5-11 foundering, the Redskins wound up with a much higher first-round pick than expected: the sixth. And while they were compiling this record, something equally unforeseen was happening in Waco, Texas. A quarterback previously known mostly in the southwest, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, was having a Heisman Trophy-winning year and shooting up the draft lists. Suddenly, there wasn’t just one to-die-for QB in the draft — Stanford’s Andrew Luck — there were two.

The Redskins, of course, need a quarterback. They’ve needed a quarterback since George Bush was president. And having the sixth selection positioned them to move up and get either Luck or Griffin. Had they been picking further back, it would have been more problematical.

But the Redskins needed other things to break their way, too. For starters, they needed the club holding the second pick, the St. Louis Rams, to be willing to trade it. Often, a team that finishes 2-14 also has a void at quarterback, but the Rams don’t. They drafted Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 and remain committed to him, even though they just brought in a new coach, Jeff Fisher.

You could even argue, though it’s hard to measure these things, that Fisher’s friendship with Mike Shanahan gave Washington an edge over other clubs in the bidding for the No. 2 pick. Whatever the case, the Redskins won the sweepstakes by offering the Rams a truckload of selections: three first-rounders (2012, ‘13 and ‘14) and a second-rounder (‘12). And you have to admit, it was fairly fortuitous that they had a second-rounder to throw in, given their penchant for dealing it (for the likes of Donovan McNabb, Jason Taylor and Rocky McIntosh).

The Redskins were lucky, too, that the team that has the No. 3 pick, Minnesota, took a quarterback in the first round last year (Christian Ponder) and wasn’t interested in doing it again. It would have been so easy for the Vikings to slide into the second spot; their first-rounder, after all, would have been more enticing than the Redskins‘ first-rounder.

Finally, it was really nice, from a Redskins standpoint, that the new collective bargaining agreement slashed rookie salaries, making high picks much more affordable. Let’s not forget, they were docked $18 million in cap space this year for front-loading contracts in the uncapped 2010 season (a ruling they’re appealing). It would be a lot harder for them to sign a quarterback such as RG3 if the old pay scale were still in effect.

Bradford, for instance, has a reported six-year, $78 million deal that includes $50 million guaranteed. Compare that with Carolina’s Cam Newton, last year’s No. 1, who has a four-year, $22 million contract, fully guaranteed. That’s not to say the Redskins wouldn’t have gone after the No. 2 pick, anyway, but it certainly would have made other important acquisitions — such as free agent receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan — more difficult, if not impossible.

To summarize, the Redskins are lucky seven times over. That’s about seven times luckier than they’ve been since Dan Snyder took over the team. Indeed, Thursday night, when they designated Griffin as their quarterback of the future, may well go down as one of the luckiest nights in franchise history. The Redskins might not deserve this good fortune, as ham-handedly as the club has been run, but their long-suffering fans definitely do.