Revisiting the trade that brought RG3 to Washington

The biggest move of the era of Dan Snyder ownership of the Washington Redskins occured almost two years ago.  

Two years is an eternity in the NFL.  In the time since, the Redskins received a $36 million salary cap penalty, lost 6 of their first 9 games, ressurected their franchise with a seven game winning streak, won the NFC East, lost a playoff game, lost their franchise quarterback to injury for the entire offseason, lost to a homecoming oppponent, lost 6 of their first 9 games (again), lost 8 games in a row, and fired their head coach and offensive coordinator.  The trade has been wonderful and terrible and the Redskins are not quite done paying off the balance it took to move up 4 spots in the 2012 draft.

And that is really the issue with the hysteria that surrounds draft prospects this time of year.  To draft Robert Griffin second overall in 2012, the Redskins needed to move up four spots.  And it cost them their second round pick that season, and two additional first round picks to make that move.  Up four spots.

During the 2013 season, Robert Griffin's performance was somewhat indistingulishable from that of Ryan Tannehill's, who would have been available for the Redskins picking at 6th overall in that draft.  If that was the only fact we had about the trade, than the Redskins would have screwed it all up.  But in 2012, the Dolphins won 6 games with Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback and the Redskins won 7 games in a row, including five games in the NFC East.  Robert Griffin has been everything Redskins fans could have asked for through two years, given reasonable expectations.

The problem with trades like this is that in order to get the talent a team feels it needs, they have to surrender a price so enormous that the front office effectively cedes control over the whole operation.  The Redskins won 3 games last season and were just so overmatched on the field that it didn't matter if the quarterback was Robert Griffin or someone else entirely.  The coaching staff that builds that team has no place to go except away.  That's just an effect of the trade from two years ago.

Here's the problem with all that: it sure seemed like the Redskins didn't have much of a choice at the time but to make the trade.  Someone was going to give up that much.  Someone was going to fall victim to the Winner's Curse fallacy.  All of the bidders for the Rams' no. 2 overall pick were in equal states of desparation.  And it's not like the teams that lost out on the Griffin selection (Browns, Dolphins) have been any better off than the Redskins.  All of the team's playing the Rams' game were losing organizations desperate to do anything to change to the path that their teams were on.  The only way to win the game was to beat the Rams: acquire a player so talented that the Rams would look foolish for not taking him for themselves.  The presence of the Browns and Dolphins did nothing but drive up the price.

The problem was that the Redskins had an "in".  Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was friends with Mike Shanahan, and it's fair to assume that Shanahan always knew what it would take to make the best offer to move up.  Through that, Washington was able to make the "best" offer.

The most important asset the Rams acquired from the Redskins in the RG3 trade was the asset that was the least valuable on the day it was exchanged: the Redskins 2014 first round pick.  The second overall pick in this upcoming draft.  The strongest of the three drafts.  There was no way to know the Redskins would have the worst season since the merger in 2013, but we now know the Rams have won the trade.  We know this because the top of the 2014 draft has better talent than the Redskins were trading for in Griffin.  Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, and Jadaveon Clowney are unlikely to all be better players than Robert Griffin, but when you are guaranteed to get your pick of that litter where the Rams are now slotted, I would absolutely take that spot in the draft over the same spot in the 2012 draft.

When you make a trade involving future first rounders, you are betting on your organization.  Robert Grififn is worth the 6th pick in the 2012 draft, and three selections between 20 and 35 in their respective drafts.  He isn't worth the 6th pick in 2012, the 37th pick in 2012, the 22nd pick in 2013, and the 2nd pick in 2014.  The player who is worth that much in surplus value does not exist.  It would essentially be a pro-bowl quarterback willing to play at a backup QB salary.  And after Russell Wilson, Griffin may be the closest thing to that in the NFL. For two more years, at least.

The Shanahan Redskins were obviously not an organization that should have been making that gamble, although when the man in charge is allowed to make that gamble, you can't expect much different.

What the Redskins should have known before making the RG3 trade in 2012 wasn't that RG3 couldn't be a great player for them and fill that QB need for the next ten years.  That's still the case, in all likelihood.  The issue was that when you make a trade that involves three first round picks, there's an excellent chance that you'll be trading a pick that becomes a future franchise player, in addition to the other picks involved in the deal.  The Redskins could have gotten a Griffin-type player in this year's draft, but in addition to that, could have picked three players who would have all been cornerstone type talent on the 2014 team.

They would not have gone to the playoffs in 2012 had they not made the Griffin trade.  In effect, a win-now move did deliver an NFC East title to Washington, but it took three top, young, cost controlled talents off the Redskins.  Honestly, that's not an awful outcome.  It could have ended up way worse.  But for a deal that hasn't yet been completely paid off by the Redskins, there is a lesson to be taken out of this.

The lesson is this: no matter how good your intentions are, strong organizations cannot be built on the backs of bad ideas.  They can be build on the back of a player like Robert Griffin III, but it's no coincidence that the front office structure that made the trade had to be dismissed before the team could become a consistent winner.  The Redskins need nothing more from this current coaching staff than some good ideas.  They will just have one fewer draft pick by which to use on such ideas.

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