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Who will be Washington Redskins' starting quarterback in 2011 NFL season?

By Barry Svrluga and Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 12:03 AM

Since the Washington Redskins last won a division title, way back in 1999, they have used 16 quarterbacks, everyone from Jason Campbell (52 games between 2006-09) to Gibran Hamdan and Todd Husak (a game apiece in 2003 and 2000, respectively). In between, there was the the turmoil of Jeff George, the indifference of Tony Banks, the occasional promise of Patrick Ramsey, one playoff run with Todd Collins and another with Mark Brunell. Only two franchises, Oakland and Chicago, have used more signal-callers over the past dozen seasons.

Donovan McNabb was supposed to resolve that instability. But as the Redskins approach their final two games of the season, beginning Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, McNabb has been benched and relegated to third string, Rex Grossman has been inserted as the starter, and John Beck has been promoted to backup - with the potential to be the 17th Redskins quarterback since that 1999 NFC East championship.

The upshot of McNabb's benching, though, has less to do with the remainder of the 2010 season than it does with the future. When he benched McNabb on Dec. 17, Coach Mike Shanahan said, quite plainly, that he could not guarantee McNabb would return next season. So the question quickly turned to: Who will be the Redskins' quarterback in 2011?

"I'm going to evaluate everybody," Shanahan said. "I'm going to evaluate the draft. I'm going to evaluate [Grossman and Beck] and come up with the best game plan. It could very well be Donovan. It could very well be him. But I'm just not making that commitment until I see everybody."

So the central issue of the Redskins' upcoming offseason will be just what it has been in so many offseasons gone by. Though the Redskins signed McNabb to an extension Nov. 15, they could cut him at any point before the start of the 2011 season, and it would cost them only $3.5 million. Grossman would have to be re-signed to a new deal. Beck signed a two-year extension early in the season.

But the evaluation won't end there.

"The first thing you do is look at all of the free agents out there and evaluate them and evaluate our own squad," Shanahan said. "Then you go to the college players. . . . There is a lot we need to talk about as a coaching staff, and then we hit in detail the college [players]. You never know."

Shanahan has Sunday's game at Jacksonville and next week's game against the New York Giants to coach before he turns to evaluations. We, however, have some extra time on our hands, and it's never too early to try to figure out who might be the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback.

John Beck

Current team: Washington Redskins.

Height: 6 feet 2. Weight: 229.

Possible acquisition: Already under contract for 2011.

Key stat: Beck hasn't appeared in an NFL game since his rookie season in 2007.

Why it will happen: Shanahan is clearly intrigued by Beck, for whom he traded during the preseason. When Beck was a college senior at Brigham Young, Shanahan liked everything about him - his quickness, athleticism, arm strength and throwing motion - and that was enough to get Shanahan to sign him to a two-year extension. Plus, at 29, Beck is mature enough to deal with starting - something he did four times for Miami in 2007.

Why it won't happen: Given that Grossman is finishing the season, and Beck didn't get here until training camp, it's hard to see Shanahan handing the reins to a player who could have no regular season game experience in his offense. Beck's tenure as a starter was less than impressive; he was sacked 10 times in 107 attempts, had a quarterback rating of 62.0 and threw three touchdown passes and one interception.

Odds he's a Redskin: 1-to-1.

Marc Bulger

Current team: Baltimore Ravens.

Height: 6 feet 3. Weight: 208.

Possible acquisition: Free agent signee.

Key stat: Bulger played all 16 games only once in 10 NFL seasons. He has yet to see any action this season.

Why it will happen: If the Redskins weren't able to pull the trigger on the McNabb trade last offseason, Bulger is believed to have been next on their wish list. Bulger is a year older - and a year removed from regular playing time - but little else has changed since then. Bulger would be a "system quarterback," someone coaches plug into their system to fill a role and execute.

Why it won't happen: Bulger will be 34 years old by the start of next season and he hasn't had a standout year since 2006. He could be a sturdy option, but he'd be just a place-holder and the Redskins would still need to turn to someone else to secure the position long-term.

Odds he's a Redskin: 30-to-1.

Rex Grossman

Current team: Washington Redskins.

Height: 6 feet 1. Weight: 225.

Possible acquisition: Already on the team but would need to be re-signed.

Key stat: In his first start in more than two years, Grossman threw four touchdown passes on Dec. 19.

Why it will happen: Though he has eight seasons under his belt, at 30, Grossman still will be younger than some other free agent options. Grossman will have two years of experience running Kyle Shanahan's offense, which will put him a couple of steps ahead of any new acquisition. Even if they draft a quarterback, Grossman might make the most sense for the first part of 2011.

Why it won't happen: Grossman won't bowl over Redskins fans or Redskins foes. He won't sell tickets or jerseys - and if the team sees a major roster makeover, he might not be able to win many games either. The team could choose to start a rookie right away. Despite his performance in last week's loss at Dallas, Grossman still has to prove that he can play consistently, make smart decisions and not turn the ball over.

Odds he's a Redskin: 1-to-2.

Jake Locker

Current team: University of Washington.

Height: 6 feet 3. Weight: 230.

Possible acquisition: First- or second-round draft pick.

Key stat: Locker accounted for 78 touchdowns over the course of his college career: 51 passing and 27 rushing.

Why it will happen: Considered a lock as the draft's No. 1 pick last spring, Locker returned for his senior season and saw his stock plummet due to injury and inconsistency. But he still has natural ability and athleticism that made scouts drool a year ago. The Shanahans were believed to be especially high on both Locker and Sam Bradford a year ago. Having played four years of college, Locker is older and more experienced than others, and he'd be a good value pick if he falls late in the first round or into the second.

Why it won't happen: Locker won only 13 games in college and saw his numbers plummet in many important statistical categories. He doesn't have the strong arm that Shanahan covets, his mechanics are somewhat suspect, his accuracy has been called into question and he doesn't always make the best decisions.

Odds he's a Redskin: 15-to-1.

Andrew Luck

Current team: Stanford University.

Height: 6 feet 4. Weight: 235.

Possible acquisition: First-round draft pick.

Key stat: Set school single-season records for touchdowns (28), total yards (3,489), completion percentage (70.2) and rushing yards (438).

Why it will happen: Projected to be the top quarterback in next spring's draft, Luck is technically sound, smart and surprisingly polished for a junior. He's considered the school's top quarterback prospect since John Elway, and he'll instantly become a franchise quarterback for whichever NFL team is able to nab him near the top of the draft.

Why it won't happen: Luck could be the draft's No. 1 overall pick, which means that unless the Redskins can move up, he likely won't slip down. To move up in the draft, teams need to be willing to part with picks. That strategy hasn't been an especially fruitful one for the Redskins in the past.

But if Luck is a once-in-a-generation player, they might feel it's worth the risk. Mike Shanahan was really keen on last year's No. 1 pick, Bradford, but was unable or unwilling to move up to the top pick.

Odds he's a Redskin: 10-to-1.

Ryan Mallett

Current team: University of Arkansas.

Height: 6 feet 6. Weight: 238.

Possible acquisition: First-round draft pick.

Key stat: Mallett threw for 30 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons with the Razorbacks.

Why it will happen: Mallett's size and powerful arm would make him attractive to Mike Shanahan, as would his completion percentage of 66.5. It's also possible the Redskins wouldn't have to trade up to get him. A transfer from Michigan, Mallett will be, according to most draft projections, the second or third quarterback selected - meaning he could slide to the Redskins, who will almost certainly have a top-10 selection.

Why it won't happen: Mallett's size also translates to some awkward mechanics, and Shanahan would have to be convinced he could smooth out those issues. Mallett, who has a year of eligibility remaining at Arkansas, also has some trouble moving in the pocket, which could mean he's not a fit for the Shanahans' offense, which features so many bootlegs.

Odds he's a Redskin: 10-to-1.

Donovan McNabb

Current team: Washington Redskins.

Height: 6 feet 2. Weight: 240.

Possible acquisition: Already under contract for 2011.

Key stat: McNabb's 77.1 passer rating in 2010 is his worst since his rookie season.

Why it will happen: McNabb is under contract and already has an established presence in the Washington area. Coaches know what they have with him, and perhaps can figure out ways to better take advantage of his skill-set in a second season. Plus, players in the locker room respect McNabb and his leadership skills.

Why it won't happen: By benching McNabb with three games to go, coaches have essentially thrown up their hands. They'd hoped he'd pick up the offense sooner, and it's not likely they feel he'll be able to suddenly run it better in Year 2. And even if they did, McNabb feels he's been disrespected and might be ready to start anew somewhere else.

Odds he's a Redskin: 50-to-1.

Cam Newton

Current team: Auburn University.

Height: 6 feet 6. Weight: 250.

Possible acquisition: First-round draft pick.

Key stat: Newton is one of just three Division I players to both run and throw for 20 touchdowns in a season.

Why it will happen: The Heisman Trophy winner has seen his draft stock soar in recent months, and he could hear his name called toward the middle of the first round. He has a cannon for an arm, is a playmaker and knows how to win. He's also mobile and will give an NFL team some flexibility in its offense.

Why it won't happen: Newton will have to spend some time improving his footwork. Plus, as an option quarterback out of the SEC, his adjustment to a pro-style offense could be slow and might scare some coaches. While he's won games in college, Newton will have to impress coaches in personal interviews to clear up any possible character questions.

Odds he's a Redskin: 20-to-1.

Alex Smith

Current team: San Francisco 49ers.

Height: 6 feet 4. Weight: 217.

Possible acquisition: Free agent signee.

Key stat: Smith has thrown 53 interceptions as a pro but just 49 touchdown passes.

Why it will happen: Dealing with inconsistency, coaching turnover and minor injures, Smith's time in San Francisco appears to be coming to an end. Protection has been an issue for Smith, who wasn't always given time to make his reads or the best decisions. Six offensive coordinators in six seasons did little to allow Smith, who's regarded as both smart and mobile, to grow in one system.

Why it won't happen: Smith thrived in Urban Meyer's spread offense at Utah but hasn't made the best adjustment to a pro-style system. He'd likely be a stop-gap answer, not the long-term solution that Shanahan needs.

Odds he's a Redskin: 25-to-1.

Michael Vick

Current team: Philadelphia Eagles.

Height: 6 feet. Weight: 215.

Possible acquisition: Free agent signee.

Key stat: In his return to the starting lineup, Vick has a 103.6 passer rating (third in the NFL) this season and has thrown 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

Why it will happen: No team pursues the marquee free agents like the Redskins, and there will be no bigger name on the market this offseason than Vick, who is an MVP candidate during his renaissance season with the Eagles. Vick has a strong arm and quick feet. Mike Shanahan believes Vick has improved every aspect of his game. The fact that he's a Virginia native (Newport News) can't hurt, and buddy DeAngelo Hall will be in his ear too.

Why it won't happen: How could the Eagles let him go? Coach Andy Reid looks brilliant for giving up on McNabb when he did, but the backlash in Philadelphia would be extraordinary if Vick slipped away.

Odds he's a Redskin: 50-to-1.

svrlugab@washpost.com maeser@washpost.com

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