A Timetable for Robert Griffin III to lead the Skins to the Playoffs

The most common line of thinking regarding the Redskins’ trade up for the second overall pick (be it for Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck; this article will assume Griffin) isn’t correct.  Actually, that’s not true.  The top two lines of thinking with regards to the trade aren’t correct.  

The winner of the trade: quite possibly the Cleveland Browns.  Who don’t have to worry about whether Robert Griffin is every bit as good as they thought, or hope that he doesn’t embarass their decision to keep Sam Bradford over the next four years.

The bigger issue for the Redskins is determining whether they gave up too much.  I don’t have an answer for you on that front.  I can frame this a couple of ways: 1) the price the Redskins gave up for Griffin would have been good enough to grab almost any player in the league if the Redskins wanted them badly enough. 2) if the Redskins had traded this much for almost any player in the league that could concievably been offered, they would have almost certainly made a deal they would have regretted.

Trades of this magnitude for any one player typically don’t work in football.  When it comes to quarterbacks, there is an element of luck at play between value and need.  Drafting quarterbacks for need almost never, ever works.  It’s debatable whether the Redskins were guilty of that here.  

But look: Aaron Rodgers was a value pick in the first round by the Packers.  Eli Manning was a calculated risk by the Giants, a risk they probably lost because of how good Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers turned out to be.  Rivers was a value play by the Chargers, who trusted their board above all.  That caused Roethlisberger to fall and be a value pick by the Steelers.  Other value picks at the quarterback position in recent yaers include Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, and Brian Brohm.  Waiting on a quarterback doesn’t always work out, but it provides the greatest possible return on your investment.  Likewise, waiting to end up with the first overall pick doesn’t always turn out great.  Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Michael Vick all turned out as advertised.  Sam Bradford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith and David Carr?  Maybe not so much.

Teams that have sold out to get one player over another have almost always regretted it.  And with Robert Griffin, the Redskins gave more to get this one player than anyone in the history of the league.  There is no track record for a move like this working.  There is a track record for a move like this failing.  But the Redskins, for the most part, are in uncharted waters.

Why I hate this trade

The part of me that hates this trade will not get caught him in trying to determine if the market for RG3′s services was a rational one that the Redskins should have been involved in.  It’s far more concerned with a competitive timetable for playoff success and with recent Redskins history.  If the Redskins sat at no. 6 overall, the worst they could have ended up with was Alabama RB Trent Richardson, or if he was taken, LSU CB Morris Claiborne or Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.  Shanahan may be as anti-top 10 RB as he was pro-Robert Griffin, so let’s assume a bizzaro world where the head coach of the Redskins prefers the stud RB to the stud QB.

How much better would Richardson make this offense?  A lot.  A ton on the ground initially.  A bunch through the air as well.  Richardson would have provided a similar year one impact on the offense to Robert Griffin, paving the way for a much more diverse set of quarterbacks to come in and filll the bill.  What Richardson could not have offered was the ability to someday lead a franchise out of the malaize and to the promised land.  Griffin offers hope on that level.  What Griffin does not offer is offensive football skills on the polish and level of Trent Richardson.  There needs to be a very open debate that once you get rid of the hope of a shiny new quarterback, whether Griffin really improves the Redskins offense more than Richardson does.

But for all the talk about one of Griffin’s negatives being his durability, you can’t look down the road at a top ten RB prospect, and look at Adrian Peterson’s meaningless game against the Redskins this year where he tore his knee up and feel that Richardson is a safer bet for the future than Griffin is.  It’s a lot easier to project quarterback production year to year than it is for running backs.  If Richardson is worth not trading up for Griffin, that’s something we’ll find out in 2012.

But again, the Redskins cost themselves 2 first rounders and a second rounder by making the decision for Griffin.  And the other thing they’ll try to overcome in justifying this deal is far more troublesome: the Redskins will need to overcome themselves.

With an aggressive free agent make-over, the one Anthony Brown alludes to here, the Redskins will trade in their advantageous financial position in order to try to give robert Griffin a team he can win with right away.  The goal would be to speed up the timetable for Redskins contention.  Maybe (hopefully) into 2012.  That’s probably not all that realistic because the Redskins weren’t able to hang onto their second round pick (a player who would in theory have been a major contributor on a contending Redskins team), but it’s at least possible.

The Redskins currently sit among the bottom five teams in established roster talent.  But an aggressive free agency plan, like the one I outlined here, pushes the Redskins into the middle of the pack in terms of established talent, and then it would be up to Griffin and Shanahan to do the rest.  The problem is that the Redskins sit 12th or 13th in the conference in most power rankings, and up around 10th and 11th are the Arizona Cardinals (who could get Peyton Manning still) and Carolina Panthers in terms of talent.  And might take all of the team’s cap space to close that sizable gap.  In which case, the Redskins still aren’t really a better bet than most teams in their own conference to make the playoffs, and they’re freshout of 1st round draft picks and cap space for the next two years.

But if the Redskins make a smarter play and sit on their available cap space while they let the team develop, such patience could cost Mike Shanahan his job.

Why I love this trade

So what’s the move here?  There is a loophole in the NFL’s playoff rules, and that’s that a division winning team makes the playoffs even in an awful division.  The Redskins don’t need to close the gap on 10 NFC teams including the Panthers, Bears, 49ers, and Packers if they can just close it on the rest of the NFC East.  Can an aggressive free agent plan get the Redskins to a point where they are competitors for the NFC East title in Week 1?

The Redskins are within striking distance of the Giants and the Cowboys.  Theoretically, if the season began today, they’d be a sizable step behind those teams, and probably unable to compete at all with the Eagles.  But given an influx of about 5 starters or so that the Redskins can afford and the other two teams, the Cowboys and the Giants are essentially in the same boat as the Redskins.  We’re talking about three flawed, incomplete rosters, but now that the Redskins have some stability at the quarterback position, all three teams share defensive firepower, and questions on the OL.

To make it worth it, the Redskins have to reach the level of the Eagles.  If you just sum the Eagles roster, they’re probably second to only the Packers in the NFL in terms of talent.  How can the Redskins close that gap and give the Eagles a legitimate run for the 2012?

They can trade for DeSean Jackson.

It’s probably the only way to equalize the two rosters before week one.  And by equalize, I mean that the Eagles would still be ahead by a decent margin, but it would weaken them considerably and the Redskins have the cap room to absorb that contract and keep on going.  Trading for Jackson makes more sense than going after Vincent Jackson or Marques Colston, and paying handsomely for their decline years.  The Eagles have shown their willing-ness to trade in-division with the McNabb trade, but a potential Jackson trade makes more sense than that move did, particularly now with Griffin in the fold.  Jackson isn’t as good as Santana Moss when the Redskins acquired him, but if Griffin is what the Redskins think he can be, his numbers will be more consistently impressive, and he comes in the same age as Moss when the Redskins plucked him.

Compensation?  Two fourths and Perry Riley perhaps?  Maybe a conditional 2013 pick.  That seems light, but the Eagles have a player they don’t intend to resign on a franchise tender, and they’re not going to do any better than a lone second rounder in a trade anyway.

That’s an aggressive move than would speed up the Redskins timetable for contention in the NFC East to: now.  And the first step to consistently competing for the super bowl is to win your division once in awhile.  Right now, the Redskins are too far of a longshot in the NFC East to compete right away.  

But there’s still an offseason.  And the Griffin trade gives legitimacy to everything else the Redskins do this offseason.  But because the 2012 Redskins will take the image of the 2013 and 2014 Redskins as well, there is more pressure than ever before to look like something worth being.  It would be acceptable to go 6-10 in the same manner the Panthers did in 2011: if the Redskins lose Orakpo and Kerrigan to injury, the defense is going to struggle and they can’t win the NFC East with a poor defense.  But if the 2012 Redskins look closer to the 2011 Redskins than the 2011 Panthers, they’ll be starting fresh in 2013.  Which makes the 2012 season critical for not only Mike Shanahan’s job security, but for the long term projection of the organization as a whole.