What the Washington Redskins are looking for in their quarterback search, what they desperately need their next QB to be, is something that doesn’t really exist: A Sure Thing. There are risks, sometimes major ones, no matter which direction they go — established veteran (e.g. Peyton Manning), untested up-and-comer (e.g. Matt Flynn) or college hotshot (e.g. Robert Griffin III).
Actually, the Redskins aren’t just desperate, they’re doubly desperate. They’re desperate as an organization because they’ve scuffed along at the quarterback position for too long (and seen their standing in the league plummet as a result). Beyond that, though, their coach, Mike Shanahan, is desperate because he’s entering Year 3 of his rebuilding job, and it’s time for him to show some real progress.
Manning, the Indianapolis Colts’ icon, is the most intriguing of the Redskins‘ possibilities because he’s as close to A Sure Thing as you can get — provided he’s able, with a surgically-repaired neck, to regain his form (and provided the Colts don’t run a fumblerooski and decide to hang onto him). But that remains to be seen, just as it remains to be seen whether he’d even want to play in Washington. There could be several bidders, after all, for his services, including the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.
Which brings us to Flynn, who has spent his first four years backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He’s another potential option for the Redskins — and would be even more of a roll of the dice. Granted, he’s played well in a couple of pinch-hit appearances, posting ratings of 100-plus and, in the Packers’ 2011 finale against Detroit, setting club records by throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns. But how much do two games tell us about any quarterback?
Something else to consider: If Flynn really is that valuable a commodity, why didn’t the Packers — who see him in practice every day and know him better than anybody — try to trade him after the 2010 season, the way Philadelphia did with Kevin Kolb? The Eagles, you may recall, got Arizona to give up a starting cornerback (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and a second-round draft pick.
Other backup quarterbacks, I’ll just point out, have flashed for a game or two, enticed teams to acquire them … and turned out to be less-than-franchise QBs. Rob Johnson comes to mind. (Remember him, Redskins fans? He briefly passed through town in 2003, near the end of the Steve Spurrier era.) Anyway, Johnson was the No. 2 guy in Jacksonville behind Mark Brunell when, in a spot start against Baltimore in 1997, he completed 83.3 percent of his passes (20 of 24) and had a 145.5 rating — both, at the time, franchise marks.
In the offseason, he was traded to eager Buffalo for No. 1 and No. 3 picks (after originally being just a No. 4 himself). But he never had much success with the Bills. (Indeed, he lost his job to Doug Flutie.) His record as a starter after leaving the Jaguars: 11-17.
Flynn could very well be another Rob Johnson — an unproven guy who, like anybody surrounded by good talent, can look better than he actually is. (Another quarterback in the not-too-distant past who fits this description: Scott Mitchell, Dan Marino’s one-time backup in Miami, who went on to lead Detroit to a couple of playoff berths but never developed the way the Lions hoped he would.)
Then again, Flynn could be another Matt Hasselbeck … or another Brunell … or another Matt Schaub … or another Stan Humphries. All four essentially were blank slates when they switched teams a few seasons into their careers — and all worked out quite well for their new clubs. Hasselbeck (Seattle) and Humphries (San Diego), the ex-Redskin, guided their teams to the Super Bowl, and Hasselbeck, Brunell (Jacksonville) and Schaub (Houston) became Pro Bowlers.
But again, there are no guarantees. And we haven’t even discussed the issue of how quick a study Flynn might be. He’s spent his entire career in the Packers’ system and presumably has grown very comfortable in it. In Washington, he’ll have to learn to play Shanny Ball, Shanahan’s version of the West Coast offense — and, as if that weren’t enough, adjust to being, instantaneously, one of the faces of the franchise. Even in the best of circumstances, the transition can take a while.
So that’s where the Redskins are as the free agent signing period approaches. They’re looking for certainty at the most important position on the field, but they know full well there’s no such thing. Any course they take is a crapshoot, and this time the stakes are much higher. This time their coach is all-in.