Matt Barkley and the Washington Redskins; not so fast

There will not be an opponent scouting article this week.  The Redskins are favored and I have no reason to write a bunch of mean things about the Minnesota Vikings.  The Redskins have their own set of issues.  I’ll address the quarterback situation here.

Matt Barkley announced his decision to return to USC today.  What does this mean for the Redskins? Probably nothing.  I’ve been hearing the Redskins weren’t even high on Matt Barkley, and this team won’t be picking in the top five anyway.  Sure, the cost of trading for Robert Griffin just got a lot higher, but I don’t see the relevancy really.  Griffin, if he even comes out, is going to be so highly thought of that the Redskins were going to be in a bidding war for his services anyway, if thats what the Redskins really want.

The quarterback equation for the Redskins isn’t really different now.  I think it does change the focus of the draft a bit if Robert Griffin stays at Baylor, because that shifts the focus of the Redskins from “try to move up” to “try to move down” in terms of draft positioning.  And I think Griffin’s decision may affect the decision of another Redskins target, Landry Jones.  So that one matters a bit.  This Barkley thing is cool, if you’re into that.  But the Redskins are in the same spot that they were at the beginning of the day.

Start looking at the senior quarterback prospects.  Look at guys like Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, and Ryan Tannehill.  Look at later round picks like Dominique Davis, Dan Persa, Chandler Harnish, and Kellen Moore.  Try to catch Landry Jones this postseason.  Jones is someone I’ve been aware of as on the Redskins radar for awhile, and could be a trade down target.  In a draft where up to four quarterbacks are likely to go in the first round, the Redskins should not be lamenting the decision of Matt Barkley to stay at USC.

Now, with about four guys slated to go in the first round, the thing the Redskins need to decide is whether or not a first round quarterback in 2012 serves them best in the long term wishes of the franchise.  Now, wait, you must be saying, if the Redskins aren’t going to address the quarterback position in this draft, then when and how are they going to address it?  That’s just the thing.  Allow me to explain.

John Beck is no longer a viable option as a rostered NFL quarterback.  Rex Grossman will be back as sure as the Shanahan’s are, but that’s one out of three rostered players.  The Redskins can roster up to three quarterbacks, and they have multiple options to fill the roster.

Draft only

One way to do it is to say that “enough with the veterans,” it’s time to go draft-only.  The Redskins could pick a quarterback high in the draft, and still be in the mix to add another guy later on.  The Packers did this in 2008 with Brian Brohm in the second round and Matt Flynn in the 7th round.

Whether or not the Redskins draft another quarterback in the later rounds isn’t particularly relevant.  Going this route just means that they are going to turn the keys over to a young guy within the year.  There is no QB competition.  There is only a first-string veteran (Grossman) whose aim is to compete in the short term before the drafted players take over.  In Green Bay, there was an honest competition in the preseason between the highly drafted Brohn and Flynn, and it was won by Flynn.

This methodology to picking the next Redskins quarterback makes a lot of sense if it was 2010, Mike Shanahan’s first year, and the first-string veteran was Jason Campbell (and the first round pick remained Trent Williams).  That would have given the Redskins their choice of Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy (well, the 2010 draft QB class kind of sucked), and would have allowed them to go back and get another developmental QB later.  It makes significantly less sense with this coaching staff now.  There hasn’t been a concerted rebuilding effort under this leadership, and now is not the time to start, it’s the time to make whatever the heck the Redskins have done over the last two years pay off.  Based on where the Redskins are right now as a franchise, I don’t think the draft only approach to finding the next quarterback makes a lot of sense.

Going this route commits the Redskins to pretty much the same spot the Redskins are right now a year from now, but the focus will be on whether we believe in the young guy and if we can find a head coach to coach up this kid against not having anyone.

Best Player Available

On the other extreme is the draft philosophy that the Redskins should continue to maximize their value in the draft by picking the best player available at their pick, and try to trade down and then employ the same philosophy.  Under Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins used the draft as an extension of free agency.  This would be a continuation of that philosophy.

The Redskins under Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have typically shied away from this route to roster building.  That doesn’t mean that they’ve improved on it.  If you want to stack your roster with the most talent.  But because of the supply of players, the Redskins can best address their needs (if you consider quarterback to be amongst their needs) by using free agency.  If Grossman isn’t good enough to be the starter, the Redskins should go out into the market and get a starter.  That starter could easily be RG3, but the Redskins will consider the cost first and foremost.  There will be no morgaging the future to get the quarterback of 2012.

Come draft day, the Redskins would be wise to bump quarterbacks higher up their board because the value is there this year, but how silly would it be to pass on Michael Floyd or Alshon Jeffery or even Kendall Wright because Ryan Tannehill once played in the Mike Sherman WCO system?  Whatever your evaluation of those players is, why pass on the better one for the quarterback is the main question?  Take the best player available and address remaining needs via trade.  Nothing will bring the Redskins back quicker than making smart personnel decisions.

Whether the idea should be to bring the Redskins back quickly or for good is at the heart of the debate, but one thing that won’t get mentioned in the debate that no one will have is that Mike Shanahan will be 60 years old next year.  And no head coach beyond that age has ever survived three consecutive losing seasons.  It is nothing besides silly at this point to think that the Redskins can rebuild their way through more 10 loss seasons under the current regime.  If the Redskins aren’t back quickly, they aren’t back at all.

Developmental Quarterback Route

This may be the best route for the Redskins to take, though it’s very similar to the BPA route, just significantly less focused.  The Redskins split their effort at the quarterback position.  You have Rex Grossman for the here and now, perhaps as a backup.  Then you have to go outside the organization and get the best quarterback you can get for 2012 to compete with (and hopefully beat out) Grossman for the 2012 season.  Then on the other hand, the Redskins spend their first or second round pick (or best remaining pick) on someone with great talent such as Tannehill, Landry Jones, or Kirk Cousins.  Then that player takes a back seat to what the Redskins are trying to accomplish right away.

In both the BPA philosophy and the draft-only philosophy, there is some amount of integration between the now and the future.  Working only through the draft, the future is the only thing that matters, and Rex Grossman will play until he’s not the best guy for the job.  The whole idea is to accelerate the clock on the rebuilding process.  Don’t skip steps.  The future isn’t now.  With best player available, the Redskins are upgrading to make as much of a run in 2012 as possible without actively hurting the long term health of the organization.  It’s bundling the future and the present into a new element of Redskins football, using the draft and free agency as a vehicle to achieve success with the Shanahans.

Developing a quarterback splits the efforts and resources.  It’s an admission that wins in 2012 are paramount, but instead of lumping the future with the present, it separates the future and tries to do two things at onces.

Now, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, or Jim Haslett to put a developmental quarterback on the roster.  First of all, they had two years already to do this.  They never did.  Secondly, if they are feeling the heat as much as it seems like they are feeling the heat, why split the resources of the franchise between saving their behinds and building for the future?  Everything the Redskins have done on offense over the last two years suggests that they think a quarterback who doesn’t play is useless to them.  They’ve attempted (perhaps succeeded?) to build the offensive infrastructure up around the quarterback so that a player just has to come in, learn the system, and then the pieces are around him to contribute immedately.  Like the draft-only route, this would have made more sense back in 2010 than in 2012.

Learning from the past

Really, it’s worth trying to study the last two years and understand exactly what they have been trying to accomplish.  The Redskins decided way back at the beginning of 2010 that they would need to go get a quarterback, and they thought Donovan McNabb was the best available at a reasonable cost.  So clearly they went all in on McNabb.  They did not split the efforts between McNabb and a young guy, even though the timing would have allowed it.  They backed up McNabb with Rex Grossman and John Beck.  This followed the post-Cerrato meet-the-new-boss, same-as-the-old-boss script.

After the 2010 season, though, the Redskins broke that script and went totally off the map, arguing that, in fact, quarterback was not a need.  This seemed insane at the time.  A team that inhereted Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, and Colt Brennan at quarterback determined that quarterback was a need.  That team replaced those three with Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck.  That’s arguably deeper if not better than before.  But the problem with that, according to the Shanahans, was that McNabb was in the way.  So just get rid of McNabb, promote Grossman and Beck, look at the draft to see if you really love a guy (the Redskins did not love Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder), and if not, quarterback depth is a frivolous need anyway.  Just move forward.

In 2010, the Redskins operated like a win-now organization who found it’s long lost solution to the QB conundrum and would compete with the current roster.  That failed, so they deluded themselves to believing everything was already in house in 2011.  So the Redskins in effect went from a continuation of the Cerrato-Gibbs-Zorn era in 2010 to completely insane in 2011.

As we enter 2012, the only real difference is that there is now pressure to perform on the coaches and team.  The 2011 team has disappointed to date, one year after the 2010 were a strong disappointment.  I recently suggested that the Shanahans are going to be one way or another tied at the hip to Grossman, because it’s unlikely they can win early in 2012 without Grossman’s continued improvement, and without a hot start next year, there is no future.

You could see the Redskins going draft-only if they really, truly believe that they’ve accomplished something this past season under Grossman.  Because if they are totally comfortable with their fate lying in 16 Grossman starts next year, there’s no reason to use free agency for any reason beyond signing Grossman.  But taking a slightly more rational approach, that even if Grossman leads the Redskins to another 3-1 start, without a future prospect or (relatively) young free agent on the roster, 2012 won’t be any different from 2011.

If internally, the Redskins are much closer to the public perception of their situation, and realize that they are pushing their luck with Grossman, you will see them spend money prior to the draft at the QB position, improve on John Beck, and then turn their eyes to the draft.  Whether they try to grab their next quarterback in the first round or try to play it cool and get the developmental quarterback with an obvious decision making flaw, like Cousins or Landry Jones. 

There are merits to both philosophies.  But it starts with critical evaluation of their own situation.  And that’s the part of the quarterback conundrum that the Redskins have consistently failed under Mike Shanahan.  Matt Barkley staying at USC doesn’t change that.

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