Redskins’ trade sparks debate about the worth of a top NFL QB

After two decades of instability at pro football’s most important position, the Washington Redskins probably made the correct — if painfully costly — decision to move into position to acquire an elite level quarterback, players, analysts and others across the NFL said Saturday.

Right or wrong, the Redskins’ blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Rams was the talk of pro football Saturday — a move that ignited vigorous debate about how much is too much to give up for an unusual talent in an increasingly quarterback-centric league.

“It’s exciting that it happened, and it was something that needed to happen,” said Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong. “If you look at our quarterback position, stability is something we’ve been looking for a while now. We’ve worked hard the last couple years and we’ve just been missing one or two pieces, and now we can have that piece in place at quarterback.”

The Redskins agreed to trade the Rams their first- and second-round picks in this year’s draft, plus their first-round selections in the 2013 and 2014 drafts for the second overall pick in this year’s draft. The move ensures the Redskins of landing either Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-trophy winning quarterback out of Baylor, or Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, regarded by some scouts as the best quarterback prospect in years.
 The Indianapolis Colts are widely expected to take Luck with the first overall pick after releasing four-time most valuable player Peyton Manning on Wednesday.

Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen, speaking Saturday night at a charity event in downtown Washington, confirmed the trade and said the team had “fallen in love with two players” but would not say whether it expected to get Griffin or Luck.

“We understand it was a heavy price,” Allen said. “But when you bought your home, you probably wanted to pay a little less, too. But you like your home once you live in it. So we’re very confident.”

Allen would not say if the team expects the quarterback it drafts in April to start immediately as a rookie.

Few questioned Griffin’s skills or denied the Redskins’ need for a top quarterback.

“The Redskins have needed a marquee quarterback for some time,” said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who now works for the NFL Network. “They haven’t had success without one. They’ve tried to do it with coaches, and now they will have both the quarterback and coach.

“Griffin has great mobility and athletic skills, accurate arm and is a smart guy that works hard. They had to give up high picks, but there are other ways to build your team — through free agency, and by doing a good job in draft rounds 2 through 7.”

An executive with another NFL team questioned whether the Redskins gave up too much in the trade.

“You can’t use the draft to build around the guy when you do something like that,” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was commenting on another team’s decisions. “It’s a lot to give up. I wonder if it’s too much.”

But former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said he thinks the Redskins made a good trade.

“I think it’s a heck of a deal,” Theismann said. “When you’re retooling and looking at a quarterback like Andrew Luck or RGIII, then it’s worth it. You’re talking about a position where you’re going to have the guy for seven to 10 years and he’s going to carry the fortunes of the franchise on his shoulders.”

The value of the Rams’ pick was increased not only by the Redskins’ need for a quarterback, but also by the NFL’s rookie pay system, which went into effect last summer with the sport’s new labor agreement. Rookie contracts are not as lucrative as they were under previous collective agreements and teams no longer have to worry as much about complicated contract negotiations keeping a rookie away from his first NFL training camp.

The Cleveland Browns also were interested in trading for the Rams’ pick and had an advantage over the Redskins because they hold the fourth and 22nd overall selections in this year’s draft. But the Redskins, who were being rebuffed in their efforts to sign Manning in free agency, were willing to meet the Rams’ asking price. The Browns apparently weren’t.

The Redskins are 11-21 in their two seasons with Mike Shanahan as coach. Shanahan has failed to find a centerpiece quarterback, first trading for the Philadelphia Eagles’ Donovan McNabb and then, after McNabb failed, trying to get by last season with Rex Grossman and John Beck.

The Redskins could have signed a veteran free agent such as Kyle Orton and probably would have selected Ryan Tannehill, the Texas A&M product regarded as the likely third quarterback taken in the April draft, if they hadn’t moved up.

Instead, they made a bold move to get Griffin and will try to put players around him via free agency. They are projected to have more than $40 million in salary cap space to use when the free agent market opens Tuesday and likely will be seeking a high-profile wide receiver and a right tackle to solidify their offensive line. It’s not clear whether they still will pursue Orton as a veteran backup to Griffin.

Said former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams: “I certainly think the Redskins made a very, very bold move and a statement that Robert Griffin is their guy. I know some people might think they gave up a lot. But there is a game plan. It signals that this is their guy and they’re going to put things in his hands.”

The Redskins’ trade brought immediate comparisons to the 2004 draft-day deal in which the San Diego Chargers, after selecting quarterback Eli Manning first overall, traded him to the New York Giants. Manning had informed the Chargers he did not want to play for them. The Chargers got quarterback Philip Rivers, drafted fourth overall that day by the Giants, plus first-, third- and fifth-round picks in that draft and the one that followed.

The Giants initially received some criticism for surrendering so much to get Manning, who was regarded by Ernie Accorsi, then the team’s general manager, as a once-in-a-generation player. The Chargers did well with their package of draft picks, selecting kicker Nate Kaeding and linebacker Shawne Merriman and trading for offensive lineman Roman Oben .

But Manning has since won two Super Bowls with the Giants, and few complaints now are heard about what Accorsi gave up to get him.

The NFL is even more of a quarterback-first league than it was when the Giants made that trade eight years ago. League-wide and individual passing records were set last season, when Manning’s Giants faced Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

“If you have an average quarterback, you’re going to go 8-8 or 9-7 at best,” said Theismann, an analyst for the NFL Network. “If you have a really good quarterback, you can be 10-6. If you have a really good quarterback and put good people around him, you can win 11 or 12 games.”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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