- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

You can’t pay too much attention to the quarterback position in the NFL (though the Washington Redskins have been ignoring this axiom for the past year). Until you find a bona fide QB, you can forget about hoisting any Lombardi trophies, forget about making any history — the good kind, at least. In fact, until you find a bona fide QB, you’re pretty much roadkill for all the teams that have found bona fide QBs.

Quarterbacks are the pro football equivalent of beachfront property, as Lex Luthor might say. There’s nothing more valuable. And this year, as is often the case, they’re the prime topic of conversation in the months leading up to the draft. Will Indianapolis take Andrew Luck, Stanford’s latest golden arm, with the No. 1 pick? What will happen with Robert Griffin III, the ubertalented Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor? And how will any of this impact on the Redskins, who are sitting with the sixth selection and would seem, at long last, to be in the market for a QB?

All sorts of scenarios play out in your head. What if the Colts draft Luck and trade Peyton Manning? Could Manning wind up in Washington? What if the Rams take Griffin and deal Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in 2010? Could Bradford end up in Washington?

There’s also another scenario, what might be called the doomsday scenario. The Colts draft Luck but don’t trade Manning. (Owner Jim Irsay claims the club is still mulling its options.) And the Rams draft Griffin but don’t trade Bradford. (A possibility I’ve yet to see raised.) Where exactly would this leave the Redskins — hoping that Ryan Tannehill is a fast healer? (The Texas A&M quarterback broke his foot while training for the Senior Bowl.) Renting a rack so they can stretch Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson from 5-foot-11 to 6-3?

If the Rams decided that Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in 2010, needs competition at quarterback, they could select Baylor's Robert Griffin III with the second pick in April's draft. Such a maneuver could throw a wrench into the Redskins' plans for the future. (Associated Press)
If the Rams decided that Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in ... more >

Let’s discuss for a moment the second what-if, because it’s definitely something St. Louis should consider. The common assumption is that the Rams, coming off a 2-14 season, will either auction the pick for a slew of selections — they need help just about everywhere — or take RG3 and auction Bradford for a slew of selections. But there’s another way they could go, and it’s not like it hasn’t been done. Remember what Jimmy Johnson did when he took over in Dallas in 1989?

Allow me to refresh your memory. The Cowboys had the No. 1 pick that year — Tom Landry’s parting gift — and drafted Troy Aikman. Can’t beat that. But then Steve Walsh, Johnson’s former quarterback at the University of Miami, became available in a supplemental draft, and the Cowboys drafted him, too (at the cost of their first-round selection the next year).

So Johnson went to his first NFL camp with two Quarterbacks of the Future, figuring: I’ll let ‘em battle it out, then trade the one I don’t want. Naturally, people second-guessed him — especially when the Cowboys finished 1-15 that season (which meant the pick they forfeited in 1990 was the first pick in the draft). But that wasn’t what mattered to Johnson What mattered was that he had to get the quarterback position squared away, and he had a rare opportunity to decide between two touted QBs. Had Johnson passed on Walsh — and Walsh had turned out to be the better player — he would have been kicking himself for the rest of his life.

So he bucked the conventional wisdom — and it didn’t work out too badly, did it? The Cowboys became a dynasty with Aikman under center, winning three Super Bowls in four years, and Walsh was shipped to New Orleans for a No. 1, a No. 2 and a No. 3. (One of those picks yielded offensive tackle Erik Williams, a four-time Pro Bowler who anchored the right side of the Dallas line for a decade. Another brought receiver Jimmy Smith, who didn’t make it with the Cowboys but caught over 12,000 yards’ worth of passes for Jacksonville).

There’s no reason the Rams couldn’t do the same thing. Indeed, there’s no compelling reason they shouldn’t do the same thing. Bradford, while promising, has had injuries — both in college and the pros. He’s hardly a lock to lead St. Louis out of the wilderness. And Griffin, with his mobility, arm and smarts, could turn out to be an extraordinary quarterback. There’s just no telling … until you get him on the field. And would you rather it be your field or someone else’s field? Me, I’d rather have it be my field.

Besides, under the new rookie wage scale, the cost of first-round picks is much more affordable. The Rams could sign RG3 for less than half the money they had to shell out for Bradford. Two years ago, they couldn’t have fit both under the salary cap, but now they can. So why not take the gamble? We’re only talking about $22 million (or so) — and the most important position in the game.

After all, it wouldn’t be much different from what the Colts are contemplating: carrying two highly paid quarterbacks — for the short term, anyway. And when you think of how atrocious the Rams have been (15-65 over the past five seasons, by far the worst in the league), it becomes difficult to defend not drafting Griffin.

If they do, though, how will it affect the Redskins‘ quest for a QB? That’s a question we may have to explore in the weeks ahead.