Robert Griffin III’s debut casts Redskins-Rams trade in new light

September 15, 2012

Any concern the Washington Redskins and their followers had over the price the team paid for the rights to draft Robert Griffin III probably started to wear off sometime during the rookie quarterback’s breathtaking NFL debut last weekend.

If Griffin spends Sunday making the St. Louis Rams look as overmatched as the New Orleans Saints looked in last Sunday’s season opener, any lingering buyer’s remorse over that March trade likely will be gone forever.

“If you have the right guy,” former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said, “it’s always worth it. If you have a quarterback, you always have a chance.”

During the week following his 320-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Redskins' 40-32 opening victory, superlatives have been heaped upon Griffin. Now, as he aims to provide an encore performance, Sunday afternoon’s game in St. Louis provides an opportunity to revisit the blockbuster deal in which the Rams sent the Redskins the pick that allowed them to select Griffin second overall in April’s NFL draft.

“At the time, I thought it was a lot to give up, but not too much,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said during the week. “I never thought it was like they [the Redskins] got robbed in that trade or anything. It is a lot. But good quarterbacks are hard to find, and you need to have one. If you have a chance to get one, you have to do it. They haven’t had a great one there for a long time.”

A blueprint for the trade

To move up from sixth to second in the draft order — guaranteeing the chance to draft Griffin or Stanford’s Andrew Luck — the Redskins gave the Rams the sixth pick and a second-round choice in this year’s draft, plus first-round selections in 2013 and 2014.

It was a steep price. By comparison, when the New York Giants traded for top pick Eli Manning in 2004, they sent the San Diego Chargers the fourth overall pick (Philip Rivers) and their third-round selection, plus their first- and fifth-round selections in the following year’s draft.

“When the [Redskins-Rams] trade happened,” said Hasselbeck, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, “my immediate reaction was if he’s not the real deal, then this will be devastating. ■I said if they’re wrong, this is going to set them so far back that it’s going to be really painful.”

But as Hasselbeck pointed out, the price for getting the right quarterback is almost never considered too steep. The Chargers did well in the Manning deal, eventually using the picks they received to draft or trade for linebacker Shawne Merriman, place kicker Nate Kaeding and offensive tackle Roman Oben to go with Rivers. But Rivers has yet to win a Super Bowl in San Diego while Manning has won two with the Giants, so no complaints are heard in New York.

Rams General Manager Les Snead said in a telephone interview late in the week: “We inflated the Philip Rivers-Eli Manning trade. That was our asking price. The Redskins met it.”

Snead said the trade happened in March rather than closer to the draft because the quarterback-needy teams to which the Rams were talking were eager to know whether they could count on getting Luck or Griffin or would need to focus instead on pursuing a free agent.

Snead said the Rams never gave serious thought to keeping the pick and trading quarterback Sam Bradford, the former top overall draft selection now in his third season with the team.

“There was never that consideration,” Snead said. “We felt like this organization made the right pick then.”

Some Rams fans disagree. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote during the week that after monitoring its reader forums and live chats “we know which way the fans are leaning this week (R-G-3! R-G-3!).”

One person posting on the Post-Dispatch Web site wrote: “If RG3 becomes Peyton Manning, an awful lot of those picks and [Bradford] will have to make an impact for this thing to look good.”

But there also was support there for the trade, with another person writing that it’s “pretty tough to turn down that many picks.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz urged restraint, writing: “I am a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, and after one regular season game, I am recommending that The Hall suspend its rules, so that we immediately induct RG III into Canton.

“My serious answer: Calm down. It’s one game.”

Redskins fans, in contrast, spent the week reveling in Griffin’s play against the Saints and dreaming about the big things that could be in store.

But there was some sense of perspective. One commenter on The Washington Post Web site wrote: “The price was definitely high from the Redskins side, but this may be one of those trades that works out as hoped for by both teams. The Redskins have been in dire need of a leader and playmaker at [quarterback] for years. Early returns are that we finally have one.

‘Will be a win for both sides’

On draft night, the Rams traded down again from the sixth pick and used the 14th overall selection to take Louisiana State defensive tackle Michael Brockers. After another trade-down, the Rams ended up with four players: Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, running back Isaiah Pead and guard Rokevious Watkins. For a team that went 2-14 last season with one of the league’s oldest rosters, that will aid the rebuilding effort under new Coach Jeff Fisher.

Snead called the Rams “definitely pleased” with the early returns of the trade and said: “You could see where we were as an organization. The goals were to get younger and acquire players to help us out of this hole we were in — and, frankly, acquire a lot of those players. We had a quarterback we feel is a franchise quarterback.”

And the Rams, of course, still have two future first-rounders from the Redskins coming their way.

“I’m going to always call this win-win,” Snead said. “But let’s be honest: We’re very early in this process, and one game doesn’t define a career on either side. This is something we’ll have to look at in five years. But even in five years, I don’t think you’re going to be talking about a winner and a loser. I think this will be a win for both sides.”

In the aftermath of the trade, Cleveland Browns executive Mike Holmgren suggested that the close relationship between Fisher and Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan had played a role in the deal. The Browns tried but failed to get the Rams’ pick. Fisher and Shanahan have denied that, with both coaches saying in recent days that each team made the best deal it could for itself.

Shanahan said it wasn’t all that difficult for the Redskins to stomach giving up what it took to get the pick for Griffin.

“The difficult part was spending all the [time studying] film on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin for three or four years, then coming to the conclusion whatever direction you went you’d feel good about the trade,” Shanahan said. “So we knew to go from the sixth position to the second position, it was going to cost us two number ones [beyond this year] and a two. That’s what we felt. . . . Now, obviously that’s a lot. [But] we felt good about both of those quarterbacks at that time. We felt it was worth the price.

Now the Rams must deal with facing Griffin. It’s a daunting task, although there almost certainly will be some ups and downs to Griffin’s rookie season.

“He’s going to have a bad game here and there,” Moon said. “It happens. It’s inevitable. You just have to bounce back from it. You have to make sure the valleys don’t last too long.”

Yet even if those bad games come, the Redskins appear confident that they’ve found their quarterback for both the present and the future — and confident that they won’t end up regretting what they gave up to get him.

“You could have kept those draft picks, not moved up and still be looking for a franchise quarterback,” Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher said this week. “So what difference does it make? If we’re able to go out and play good football, at the end of the day it won’t matter.”

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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