The Redskins only have a Couple of Choices at Quarterback

Once the Peyton Manning hype runs its course and Manning lands in one of just a few destinations he is considering, Redskins fans will be resigned to glancing towards the draft to find tomorrow’s quarterback today.  Robert Griffin III is going to be the pre-draft fan favorite for Redskins fans, even though the Redskins seem somewhat unlikely to actively pursue him.  The Rams and Redskins are already engaged in informal trade talks for the second pick, but so are the Rams and plenty of other teams.  Those rumors will heat up at the combine.

Remember though, the Redskins have also been informally involved in trade talks with the Colts, Vikings, and Browns as well, not to mention teams further down the board such as Denver.  Come draft day, everybody wants to trade with everybody to improve their draft day haul.  Just remember: no team wants to actually give up the pick that is going to be the next stud player for the franchise, nor do teams ever want to be caught on the wrong side of the NFL’s value equation.  So despite all the trade talks, only actual future events will determine which teams make deals with each other.

The Redskins position on Griffin is somewhere along the lines of that he would add so many elements to a passing game that already likes to throw the ball down the field, and his mobility would put life back in the Redskins zone-boot-counter series which was thoughoughly diffused by Redskin opponents last year.  However, the Redskins also seem to realize a couple of things: that Griffin’s downfield throwing abilities would be largely wasted with the current roster pending a rebound year from Anthony Armstrong, and that consensus third quarterback Ryan Tannehill and second day prospect Brandon Weeden also have the skill set to put the life back in the play action passing game.  I continue to hear that the Redskins think that Robert Griffin is a good fit for their offensive scheme.  But ultimately, one would have to believe the tenor of the film evaluation on Griffin at Baylor still leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

One element in play here is that the Redskins don’t want to invest considerable resources in a player who they feel that they would have to rework a portion of his mechanics.  I do not know whether Griffin is categorized this why by Redskins talent evalutors.  I just know that having a prospect with field-ready mechanics is a big deal for the Redskins.  Mechanical “shortcomings” are ultimately why the Redskins soured on both Jason Campbell and Donovan McNabb, and why they are ultimately a lot higher on Kyle Orton than they were a year ago.

The losing done in the last two years has taken it’s toll on the coaching staff.  When Mike Shanahan got here in 2010, the plan seemed to be to exceed expectations by a whole bunch and earn a free pass for the duration of the contract he signed.  The overriding theme of the last two years was that the Redskins have consistently failed to reach the (perhaps lofty or unreasonable) goals set by the coaching staff; a coaching staff who very much believed that the biggest shortcoming of the 2009 Redskins was the lack of a great coaching staff.  A big fundamental problem of the last two years has been that the people tasked with the unenviable task of re-directing the franchise believed that they themseleves were a necessary part.  I’m just making an educated guess on this next part, but I have reason to believe the Redskins are softening their stance on being able to turn water into wine, and are actually putting more of a premium on acquiring finished products.  If this is true, it would explain why the Redskins are reportedly more interested in Kirk Cousins and Brandon Weeden than they are in the younger, far more talented Brock Osweiler.

And that’s what I believe is keeping the Redskins lukewarm on Robert Griffin III, despite their evaluation that he fits what they want to do.  I am not saying or even suggesting that the Redskins believe that he is mechanically insufficent (right now) to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but I am saying that the days where Shanahan used to gush over possibly acquiring the intangibles of one Tim Tebow and hoping for the chance to make him into a system quarterback are over.

If the Redskins have Griffin and Ryan Tannehill rated in the same ballpark, they are much more likely to target Tannehill because they have personal connections with last year’s coaching staff at Texas A&M (although former TAMU head coach Mike Sherman is now employed by another NFL franchise — one that happens to be a primary competitor for QB talent with Washington).  But I think Tannehill comes with a lot of the same issues with Griffin, but not any of the downfield passing accuracy or ability to make plays under extreme duress.  So it’s hard for me to sit here on the outside and suggest that Tannehill is viewed similarly to Griffin by the Redskins.

I couldn’t tell you what the Redskins think of Brock Osweiler, other than the fact that I can tell you he’s probably not going to get out of the first round anyway, and I suspect that he would be deemed as too much of a project for the Redskins to trade up for.  Already now, you’re looking at four guys who are likely to go in the first round (Luck, Griffin, Tannehill, Osweiler) with a fifth — Arizona QB Nick Foles — caught in an interesting game of supply and demand.  That is to say that Foles probably rates in the second round by most teams right now, but if Osweiler or Tannehill is taken by a team who could be interested in a quarterback despite seemingly having no issue at the position (leaders in this clubhouse: Philadelphia and New Orleans), Foles probably becomes a bottom-half of round 1 pick.  Denver has scouted Foles extensively, although their skin-deep committment to Tebow probably means that Foles is considered a second round target for them.

Foles, along with the two quarterbacks the Redskins followed most closely at the Senior Bowl: Weeden and Kirk Cousins, comprise an incredibly tempting strong second tier for quarterbacks in the draft this year.  However, past history has shown that the Redskins have passed over every chance to take a second rate QB prospect to fill out their roster, instead opting to let other teams spend their draft and development resources on young quarterbacks, and try to pluck them away when they are older.

This is why all roads with the Redskins continue to lead back to Brandon Weeden.  Mike and Kyle Shanahan both like him.  He needs minimal development.  He will certainly be available when the Redskins pick in the second round (and even that is a reach, so if the Redskins take him there, they think he is a day one starter).  In their system, Weeden’s skill set is that of a first round pick.  There’s potentially huge downside here: we’ll find out very early in the preseason if Weeden’s remarkable college success was a product of preying on defenses filled with players nearly a decade younger than him.  If it was, then simply having his skill set does nothing to help him adjust to a game that may simply overwhelm him.  If that’s the case, not only will the second round seem like a reach, but drafted-at-all will seem like a reach.

Weeden is not a sexy pick, he’s not a safe pick, and he has almost no long-term upside with his NFL peak roughly expected in 2013, but he probably is who the Redskins are looking for.  Weeden’s expectations for the 2012 season may very well be higher than those for Robert Griffin or Ryan Tannehill, despite being lower on draft boards because of advanced age.

Weeden has a better arm than Kyle Orton does, and Orton is viewed by the Redskins as the primary alternative.  If Orton is brought in to play the role of Brandon Weeden (and I think they would rather have Weeden), then the Redskins would be more likely to target Robert Griffin or Ryan Tannehill in the first round, as well as Nick Foles or Kirk Cousins in the second.  It wouldn’t make sense to have both Orton and Weeden on the same team, as the difference between them in age is just one year.

As always, Plan B remains Rex Grossman.  The most likely scenario to play out is that Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton take opportunites elsewhere, the Redskins target and get Weeden in the second round (with just John Beck on the roster at quarterback heading into the draft), and Grossman passes up more money to be a backup elsewhere to come back to Washington and compete (if the Redskins took Weeden in the second round though, this would be more of a glorified coronation for Weeden than a QB competition).

Recapping: Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton are both likely to have interest in signing with the Redskins, but the largest likelihood is that they take a more favorable opportunity elsewhere.  The Redskins think that Robert Griffin, and to a lesser extent Ryan Tannehill really fit their system, and would love to add them to the mix, but there’s a chance that neither may have the grade from the Shanahan clan that Jay Cutler had back in 2006, and may not be targets inside the top ten.  And so the four names most commonly mentioned with the Washington Redskins at quarterback are all, for one reason or another, unlikely to be the next quarterback of the Redskins.

Then you have Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins, who made positive impacts at the senior bowl, but didn’t do enough to force themselves up into first round consideration.  This is speculation on my part, but if the Shanahan’s were looking for a mechanically flawed but impressively built quarterback with a long term projection, they would have found one in 2010 or 2011.  There were plenty available last year.  I continue to hear that Foles and Cousins are well regarded by the Redskins, but that is nothing we did not hear about Andy Dalton, Jimmy Clausen, or Colt McCoy in prior seasons.  I expect that Foles and Cousins are in the same boat and if the Redskins HAD to choose between them, they would pick Cousins because of superior intangibles.

You also get the feeling (because of their actions from the last two years) that the Redskins won’t spend a fifth or sixth round pick on a quarterback just because they can.  That means the chances of Kellen Moore, Austin Davis, Alex Tanney (though I’d keep one eye on this name), or B.J. Coleman are not realistic roster fodder for the 2012 roster.

That really leaves just Weeden, the one guy who can be deemed “likely” to receive direct interest from the Redskins in the second round because the Redskins feel he gives them a first round skill set and with their need at the QB position, he can solve the problem the Redskins have had with able passers now, and you can ask your questions later.  Kyle Shanahan can run his entire playbook — no limitations — with Brandon Weeden, and he can do it without paying the price necessarily to get Robert Griffin.

There are plenty of veteran quarterbacks whose names continue to circle the Redskins, though none would return more hits on Google than “Peyton Manning Redskins (3.7 million)” or “Kyle Orton Redskins (3.98 million).” The two names I’ll throw out at the bottom of this article are both Manning-dependent: Matt Schaub and Kevin Kolb.  But there’s no fire there in the rumor mill, and there won’t be until Manning is granted his release.

Right now, I’ll predict that Weeden is drafted by the Redskins, Grossman re-signs with the Redskins, Beck is not cut before training camp, and the Redskins also acquire a young, released QB prospect with a favorable birthdate, either Jimmy Clausen or Nate Davis.  That, plus a UDFA rookie acquisition such as Tulsa’s G.J. Kinne, could very well be your quarterback stable heading into this August.  Then again, things will change irreparably next week at the NFL combine, and we’ll have to start this QB rumor mill…from the top.

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