Everyone has a different take on whether Manning will become a Redskin — Trent Dilfer says it’s “realistic,” while Theismann told Mike Wise on 106.7 The Fan, “It’s time to draft one of your own” — but one thing they all agree on is that it would be a high-stakes risk. Take it. Manning is well worth the biggest gamble in franchise history.
According to doctors, he is healed from neck surgery, and there is every indication he can regain his arm strength. The Indianapolis Colts owe him a $28 million bonus by March 8 or have to part with him, and owner Jim Irsay has signaled that he plans to make Andrew Luck the No. 1 draft pick, and go with the kid. But if you want to talk about a gamble, how about trying to figure out which “It Boy” coming out of college is going to be Hall of Famer vs. a bust?
Compared to the black art of trying to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, Manning is a sure thing. The two first quarterbacks chosen this spring will be Luck and Robert Griffin III, the Heisman winner from Baylor. There is at least a 50 percent chance someone will make a mistake with one of them. Here’s what a dice-roll drafting a quarterback is: The last time quarterbacks went 1-2 in the NFL draft was 1999. Donovan McNabb was actually the second player chosen. The No. 1 pick? Tim Couch.
The Redskins indeed need to “draft one of their own” at some point. But the stern reality is that their draft choice may not pan out, and it could take more than one draftee before they find their future. Consider the New York Jets, who are wondering just three years after taking Mark Sanchez No. 5 overall in 2009 whether they indeed got the right quarterback.
As Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has said repeatedly in the past year about his failed hunt for a field leader, which led from the sluggish McNabb to the mulish Rex Grossman, “These guys don’t drop off trees.” The greats are rare, and within that category Manning is even rarer, a once-in-a-generation opportunity. He’s the record holder for league MVP awards with four, the single most accomplished, highest-quality free agent ever to hit the open market. This is no Dana Stubblefield, or Deion Sanders, or Jeff George. This is a player so exacting and intelligent and impactful that it’s hard to measure the uplift he gives a franchise.
A couple of years ago I asked Jimmy Johnson what he saw as the biggest problem holding the Redskins back. Why, I asked, were they locked in such a decade-long stasis, why was it that no matter how many coaching changes, and no matter how many times they remade the roster, they still fought to be an 8-8 team. He answered without hesitation, “Quarterback play.”
I’ve heard all the arguments against making Manning a Redskin — they can’t protect him, they don’t have enough big targets for him — and they are nonsense. Manning’s line was plenty iffy in Indianapolis the last couple of years, and just look what he did behind it. It’s amazing how brilliant quarterbacking, the ability to scan, adjust the play at the line of scrimmage and get rid of the ball quickly and to the right place, solves apparently pressing roster issues.
Whether the Redskins should try to get Manning, and whether they can are two different questions, of course. But the suspicion here is the Redskins have a decent chance. It’s said that Miami will be the favorite because it has more talent, and Manning owns a home there. But the Dolphins also have an unproven factor in Joe Philbin, who though a superb offensive coordinator for the Packers, is a rookie head coach at the age of 50. How many times have we seen hot coordinators win head coaching jobs only to flame out?
Shanahan is the only head coach in the market for Manning’s services who can say he’s won two Super Bowls, and knows how to work with a fully formed Hall of Famer. He can also say he has made real strides in rebuilding, despite the Redskins’ record. Their defense has shown vast improvement, a young roster exhibits real promise in some areas, they’ve made good additions on the offensive line with more on the way, have a record of smart drafts the last couple of years, and made some solid discoveries among undrafted free agents. Their only real personnel failure has been in finding a quarterback.
It’s likely that to get Manning they may have to promise to bring in some players to accompany him, chiefly another pass-catcher and some offensive linemen. But they were going to do that anyway. As it happens there are some intriguing players who could be available through free agency, from DeSean Jackson to Reggie Wayne.
The pitch to Manning should be: come lay down a cornerstone and be part of returning the Redskins to greatness. There is no better or more appreciative city in which to be champion, none. There’s one more thing the Redskins can offer. They have an owner who has shown a willingness to open his wallet when needed, who is not afraid of spending money to buy excitement. It’s finally time to use that to their advantage.
For Sally Jenkins’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.