The Washington Times - March 10, 2012, 03:09AM

The hardest piece of the puzzle to find in pro football is a championship-caliber quarterback. The Redskins have been looking for one for far too long – nearly 20 years, almost a generation (if not an eternity). Measured another way, it’s eight head coaches (counting the short-lived Terry Robiskie), three general managers and an increasing number of conspicuously empty seats.

So Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan had to do something this offseason to try to rectify the situation. And since Peyton Manning refused to answer their mating call, they decided to pay through the facemask for the second pick in the draft – and the opportunity, presumably, to get Robert Griffin III, the electric Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.


According to reports, the Rams’ price for the pick was three No. 1s (including the sixth selection this year) and a No. 2. That’s an awful lot to spend on a kid who’s never taken a snap in the league and doesn’t even figure to be the first quarterback taken (an honor that’s expected to go to Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the Colts’ presumed successor to Manning).

But if RG3 turns into the QB the Redskins think he can be, no one will much care what they had to give up to get him. Those will be his marching orders, then: be great (or at least very good for a long time). I mean, if he’s anything less than that – if he ends up being the second coming of Heath Shuler or even a close approximation of Jason Campbell – it’ll probably set the franchise back another generation.

And what a waste of a brand-new practice bubble that would be.

It’s fitting that a deal like this happened on Bruce Allen’s watch. His Hall of Fame father George, who led the Redskins to glory in the ‘70s, was famous for swapping draft picks – virtually his entire allotment, sometimes – for veteran talent. “George thought draft choices were pieces of paper,” was how Charley Casserly put it … whereas the Over the Hill Gangsters George acquired for them were proven commodities, flesh-and-blood NFL players.

Anyway, here’s Bruce, as the general manager all these years later, being involved in a trade for a quarterback that could very well change the course of the franchise. Only this time it’s not for a grizzled 32-year-old (Billy Kilmer) – or, in the pre-Allen days, a battle-tested 30-year-old (Sonny Jurgensen). It’s for a fresh-faced 22-year-old, a veritable blank slate.

For now, at least, Redskins fans can project anything they want on that blank slate, because there isn’t a soul alive who knows for sure how this is going to play out. They can see Griffin as a savior, a Super Quarterback capable of running a 4.38 40, jumping a Jordanesque 39 inches and throwing a perfect spiral. Or they can see him as an incredible gamble by a desperate team, a player who couldn’t possibly be worth three No. 1s and a No. 2.

It sounds like a fortune, sure, but part of the reason for that is that the draft picks haven’t been made yet. Maybe the Rams will strike gold with all of them; most likely, though, they won’t. As a GM once told me, “Generally speaking, a third of all first-rounders turn out to be really good, a third are average and a third are busts.” Keep that in mind, all you armchair personnel directors, when weighing the pros and cons of this trade.

I’ve felt for a while now that Griffin is going to be special. On top of being an extremely accurate thrower – which is Job One for a quarterback – he moves in the pocket with a dancer’s grace, sidestepping rushers and quickly resetting his feet. Best of all, when his protection breaks down, he doesn’t immediately tuck the ball under his arm and take off downfield, the way so many other athletic young QBs do. No, he keeps trying to find an open receiver, thinks pass until the last possible moment. He’s a quarterback in other words, who can run, not a “running quarterback.” Big difference.

Manning, assuming he’s healthy, might have given the Redskins three quality years. (At which point he would have been three months shy of his 39th birthday and, in all probability, close to the end.) Griffin, if he develops under the Shanahans’ guidance, could play here for a decade, perhaps longer. In the process, he could bring stability to the franchise, energize the fan base and – would it be too much to ask? – put Washington back on the sports map.

That’s why the Redskins had to do this deal, why they didn’t really have much choice. When you stop and think about it, they haven’t drafted a quarterback who’s played at a high level over an extended period since (gasp) Sammy Baugh in 1937 – the club’s first season in D.C.

We deserve a little excitement around here every 75 years, don’t you agree?