- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Robert Griffin III showed at the Scouting Combine what the football world already knew. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He has the smarts, personality and charisma that make a franchise quarterback. He has it.

Mike Shanahan has to decide whether Griffin also can read NFL defenses. Can he establish proper footwork dropping from under center in addition to taking shotgun snaps? Can he anticipate open receivers to exploit the small windows in an NFL secondary?

Shanahan has had plenty of time to analyze game film from Griffin’s four seasons at Baylor, so you can bet the Washington Redskins’ top decision maker already has formed his belief about Griffin’s ability to win in the NFL.

All that matters, then, is what the St. Louis Rams want from the Redskins for the second-overall pick in the draft. If, as ESPN reported Monday, the Rams want a deal similar to the one the New York Giants made with San Diego to draft Eli Manning in 2004, that’s within Washington’s range.

This isn’t about the price of moving up four spots from the sixth pick to the second. It’s the price of hope.

It’s the cost of having RG3 on your team instead of Kyle Orton or Rex Grossman. It’s the price of reinvigorating the fan base with college football’s most dynamic playmaker at the most important position. And perhaps most importantly to Shanahan, it’s the cost of buying more time for his building project.

The Redskins have many needs, so there’s some risk in trading their 2013 first-round pick, some lesser 2012 picks and swapping 2012 first-rounders with St. Louis. Those picks could help address shortcomings at receiver, offensive line and in the secondary instead of only quarterback.

The Redskins could minimize the risk, though, by wisely using their salary cap space in free agency. The league hasn’t calculated the exact cap yet, but Washington is more than $40 million under the expected number.

That margin would shrink if the Redskins re-signed free agents London Fletcher, Adam Carriker and Fred Davis before the start of unrestricted free agency March 13, but Washington still would have enough room to be aggressive.

If the Redskins signed a free agent receiver such as San Diego’s Vincent Jackson or Indianapolis’ Pierre Garcon and upgraded the offensive line with Baltimore left guard Ben Grubbs or Houston center Chris Myers, it would diminish the need to fill those holes through the draft.

Some fans will resist an aggressive approach to free agency because it has burned them so many times during owner Daniel Snyder’s tenure. That’s understandable.

However, it’s up to Shanahan, general manager Bruce Allen and team scouts to differentiate themselves from the Vinny Cerrato era. They did that last summer by adding productive defensive linemen Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen and cornerback Josh Wilson, although new safety Oshiomogho Atogwe didn’t match expectations.

Cerrato and Snyder’s willingness to trade draft picks is a major reason why Washington has been stuck at the bottom of the NFL. The Redskins can more afford to do it this year, though, because 11 of their 12 draft picks in 2011 spent time on the active roster; and the 12th — defensive end Jarvis Jenkins — would have challenged for a starting spot if he hadn’t torn the ACL in his right knee during preseason.

Stockpiling picks devalues late-round selections because eventually there isn’t room for those players on the team. Trading the 2013 first-rounder to St. Louis would sting, but with so many youngsters returning for their second year in 2012, the Redskins could get away with dealing St. Louis their extra 2012 fourth-rounder and others.

Lastly, consider this: Why should Shanahan worry about mortgaging the Redskins’ future for Griffin when there’s no guarantee he’d be around to see the future if he doesn’t solve the quarterback problem?

Coaching the Redskins is Shanahan’s shot at solidifying his Hall of Fame candidacy and propelling his son Kyle, Washington’s offensive coordinator, to the head coaching ranks. After only 11 wins in his first 32 games, Year 3 of his five-year contract is going to be a pressure cooker the likes of which D.C. hasn’t seen since Snyder tried to buy a title in 2000.

For as much as Shanahan preaches the value of a quarterback’s supporting cast, he knows he can’t achieve his goals here without a quarterback that makes the players around him better. So if Shanahan believes in Griffin the way scouts, other coaches and analysts do, his decision to trade up for RG3 should be easy.

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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