I must let my football nerd out once in a while or he starts to take too much control over my thoughts and I find myself dreaming about stretch plays, buzz coverages, and blitz pickups.
Yeah, I know, most of my regular readers just clicked away without reading the rest of this, but I cannot stop now…
The Washington Redskins have made a huge trade to acquire the second pick in the upcoming draft and they are expected to take Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. To move up to the second spot, they swapped first round picks with the Rams and also gave up their first round picks in the next two drafts plus their second round pick this season.
The price to draft a kid that has never taken a snap in the NFL was very high. To the best of my knowledge, it is higher than any price any team has paid in draft picks in the modern era.
The cost was one that had to be paid by a team that had not been to the Super Bowl in 20 years in one of the largest markets in the country. These are the Redskins who have not had a franchise quarterback since Joe Theismann and some even question his qualifications for such a list.
This is a team that drafted Heath Shuler with their first pick and watched him evaporate into NFL obscurity. This is a team that drafted Desmond Howard as their answer to their future needs at wide receiver.
It is also the team that traded for an, apparently, over the hill Donovan McNabb (I still hold out hope for him, however) and placed the team’s fortunes last year in the hands of Rex Grossman.
Look at the SuperBowl winners of the last decade and you will see just how important a franchise quarterback is for a perennial contender (something that has not been true for the Skins since the ’80’s). To see the importance of a true franchise quarterback, one needs look no further than the Indianapolis Colts and their performance last season without Peyton Manning.
The price was steep, but they had to pay it for the mere chance that Robert Griffin III will beat the odds and pan out as the answer at quarterback in Washington for the next decade or more.
Teams taking quarterbacks with their first pick run a high risk. There is approximately a 35% chance that the player will achieve “franchise quarterback” stardom. In some years, teams have traded out of early draft slots to both gain more picks later and to avoid taking such risks because a bad pick at that position might set a team back five or even ten years.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, that is no longer the case. Quarterbacks taken in the first round come much more cheaply than they have in years past in terms of salary cap. Now, the impact of a bad pick will only last three or four years or until the sacrificed draft picks have been recouped over time.
The payoff, however, can last ten years or more.
The trade for the right to draft RGIII made sense for the unique position in which Washington found itself. For the first time in recent memory, they had cap room (this might have just changed last night given the penalty ipmosed by the NFL, but I will cover that in another blog post). Plus, as strange as it is to say about a team that went 5-11 last season, they have few gaping holes in terms of talent.
Last season, the Skins played a number of close games and the lack of consistent play at quarterback was painfully evident. The ability of the quarterbacks to take control of games late and make plays to win was almost totally non-existent. They were playing with one arm tied behind their backs in terms of winning. The defense played fairly well and was often put in bad positions by a turnover-prone offense. Special teams were decent and bolstered by a punter who could have made an argument to have been the team’s MVP.
The Redskins have the cash to go get good free agents at the few critical positions that need filling. While they could use upgrades on the offensive line, especially for depth, and in the secondary with the likely departure of strong safety LeRon Landry, their primary position of weakness is at wideout. The good news for the team and for a rookie QB is that there are several high profile receivers on the market. There is also the chance that some of the recent draft picks at the position will finally be able to break into the Shanahan system.
The remaining question is: will Robert Griffin III be the answer?
The odds might be stacked against him, but the potential is clearly there. He had a better passing year in 2011 in college than the quarterback likely to be drafted right ahead of him; Andrew Luck.
Let’s look at the measurables for Griffin:
Does he have NFL arm strength? Yes, and more. He can make every throw and his deep ball is simply pretty. Arm strength is probably better than average for an NFL QB.
Does he have NFL accuracy? At a completion percentage of better than 70% last season, the answer would appear to be “yes.”
How is his athleticism? As an athlete, Griffin is of the charts for an NFL QB. He ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash and put up huge numbers in other tests at the combine. He is a better athlete than Andrew Luck and has the potential to rival Michael Vick in ability with his legs.
How about his character? For a 22 year old, he seems to have his head screwed on pretty straight. “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” are often the first words out of his mouth when asked a question. As the son of a career Army father and a mother who achieved the rank of Sergeant, that is no wonder. There are simply no glaring caution signs with this guy.
How about his football acumen? From all reports, the young man knows football. I watched him pick up a play from a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator in one try, and that included the intricacies of options depending on how the defense reacted. The best we can say about this question, however, is: “seems right.”
Will he be able to read NFL defenses? Maybe. This is the largest question any young QB faces. On the good side, his football acumen appears to be high. On the down side, it will not be true until he proves his ability with NFL caliber three-hundred-pound linemen bearing down on him. The ability to make quick, accurate decisions is where most young QB’s fail and he was not asked to do a lot of this sort of thing at Baylor.
On the negative side, he will have to deal with a tremendous amount of pressure. The future of the franchise will largely be on his back. He will be playing in a city that is known for loving the second string quarterback and falling out of love with stars as soon as they take a misstep. He will also be Mike Shanahan’s future as the Redskin’s head coach. If this decision to sacrifice three first round picks and a second for RGIII proves to be a bad one, Shanahan and staff will likely not survive the fallout.
That is a lot to put on the back of someone so young.
Shanahan and company will seek to mold Griffin into their version of an NFL quarterback and will expect Elway-like performance in the second and third year. RGIII can make plays with his legs, but an NFL QB is best served by buying time to throw with those legs. Luckily, Shanahan has always had the knack for providing the thing that a young QB needs most: a respectable to good running game. The Redskins had a decent running game last season when no defense they played respected their passing game. If RGIII and the receivers can throw a scare into defenses and make them fear the pass even a little, the “stretch play”/”zone blocking” based Shanahan running game should flourish.
Lastly, Griffin is the prototypical QB for the Shanahan system. He can move and throw on the run. He can easily get the ball into the hands of the running back on those stretch plays and is good with play action. No longer will fans be subjected to the plodding feet of pocket passers like Grossman.
Hopefully, Washington fans will be patient with RGIII. He probably will not be good in his first year at the helm as his mind tries to catch up to his ability and the complexities of an NFL offense and the defenses he will face. He will need time and second (even third and fourth) chances.
As I alluded to earlier, the Redskins just got thumped by the NFL which imposed a $36 million cap penalty on them for “front loading” contracts in an “uncapped year.” That COULD throw a wrench into the whole RGIII situation and might cost them dearly in their quest to surround him with free agent talent.
Thoughts from other NFL nerds?