When the Washington Redskins take on the Broncos in Denver on Sunday afternoon, it will mark the first meeting of Robert Griffin III, who represents the team’s present and future at quarterback, and Peyton Manning, who represents what might have been.
In the first months of 2012, Redskins officials found themselves at a crossroads entering Year 3 of the Mike Shanahan Era.
The team badly needed a quarterback after the failed Donovan McNabb experiment in 2010 and the 5-11 season that saw Rex Grossman and John Beck share duties with little success in 2011. The upcoming draft class included Andrew Luck, Griffin, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, each of whom was considered a potential starter. But only Luck and Griffin were considered sure things, and they were expected to be taken 1-2; Washington didn’t pick until sixth.
Meanwhile, the free agency crop featured names such as Manning, who had been released by the Indianapolis Colts after a year recovering from multiple neck surgeries, Vince Young, Matt Flynn and Kyle Orton. Questions loomed about each, but Manning was expected to return to form despite his year off. The Redskins had salary cap limitations, but they continued their pursuit and held several talks with Manning, though at the same time, they began negotiating with the St. Louis Rams over what it would take to obtain their No. 2 overall pick.
On March 9, the team agreed to give the Rams three first-round picks — the sixth overall in 2012 and those in 2013 and 2014 — and its 2012 second-rounder. The next day, Shanahan and his son/offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hosted Manning at the head coach’s home in Denver.
“You have that a lot of times when you are thinking about the draft or free agency,” Shanahan recalled this week. “And after you have those conversations and you talk to somebody — I really had a strong feeling after talking to Peyton that any time you have a brother within the same division, that wasn’t going to happen. And so even though I enjoyed spending time with him, my gut was, understanding from a family standpoint, it would be very tough to come within the same division, especially in the NFC East.”
But Manning said during a conference call this week that the Redskins were among the options he considered with a degree of seriousness last offseason.
“I wouldn’t have met with them had I not been kind of considering a number of options,” Manning said. “That was very early in the process for me, and I was just kind of getting a feel for how this whole process works. I’ve known Coach Shanahan for quite some time. I’ve been in the league 16 years now and have played in two Pro Bowls for him and have always had great respect for him.”
Manning ended up choosing the Broncos, reportedly over the 49ers, Titans and Cardinals, and the Redskins used the second pick to draft Griffin.
Manning’s decision appears to have paid off. He experienced immediate success with Denver last season, but the Broncos fell in overtime of the divisional round of the playoffs. Now he has the Broncos off to another impressive start and is commanding the most-prolific offense in the league this season.
Griffin also made an immediate impact on his team last season, taking them from basement dwellers in the NFC East to division champs and their first playoff berth in five years. His second season got off to a rocky start as he recovered from surgery to reconstruct his right knee. But the quarterback appeared to have recaptured his 2012 form last week in a 45-point, 400-yard outing in a win over the Chicago Bears.
Both Mike and Kyle Shanahan said they don’t allow themselves to wonder what-if regarding how last season’s quarterback pursuit played out. Manning and Griffin possess different styles, and Washington’s offense would look drastically different today had Manning come to town. Unlike Griffin, Manning doesn’t need to run to give himself an edge.
“You’ve got to get a good quarterback,” Kyle Shanahan said. “You can be a good quarterback any type of way possible. . . . You can win with anybody. You just need to find a scheme that fits your personnel and make sure you have good players.”
Griffin says that although their styles differ, he tries to emulate parts of Manning’s game.
“You have to learn from the great quarterbacks in this league that have paved the way for all of us,” Griffin said. “He’s one of those guys even though our styles are varying. He still paved the way for quarterbacks like myself to have the chance to play in the NFL, so you learn from those guys, and I have learned. I won’t tell you what I’ve learned, but I have learned.”
But for now, Griffin’s only focus is helping his team climb out of its 2-4 hole.
“I’ll leave the sappy stuff for after the game or when I send him a text message here and there,” Griffin said. “But right now he knows he’s got to focus on his team, and I’ve got to focus on mine.”
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