I was hanging out with the No. 1 NFL draft pick Wednesday, just shooting the breeze with the quarterback entrusted with changing a franchise’s destiny.
Okay, it was Sam Bradford, last year’s No. 1 pick. While partnering with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to encourage Native American youth to pursue a healthy lifestyle Wednesday in front of the USDA building on Independence Avenue SW, Bradford took time out to acknowledge how swell it would be if Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones is still there at No. 14 when his St. Louis Rams choose.
“That would be nice,” he said.
For the sake of the Washington football team, let’s hope not.
Let’s hope Decision-Maker Mike does the good and right thing by the fan base and takes Jones, a young Terrell Owens with better wheels, with the No. 10 selection in Thursday’s annual grip-and-grin affair in New York – an affair that’s lately been boffo box office but now influenced by labor strife just feels completely watered down.
If Shanahan doesn’t pluck Jones at No. 10, then trade that pick for more late-round selections to meet the litany of needs facing the roster. Needs that include a space-eater and pass rusher on the defensive line to cover up the abomination of a deal that was Albert; a center to replace the aging Casey Rabach; a bona fide starting running back to enter the post-Portis era with; skill players on both sides of the ball; and, yes, a quarterback like Bradford.
Seeing what Bradford’s play did for how people think of the Rams just one season removed from taking a quarterback No. 1, watching him Thursday help plant a garden with more than 30 American Indian children, hearing him speak of his cause — really, how polished and genuine a first-year player sounded — all I could think was, “Wow. Why can’t that guy live and play here and change how people feel about the Redskins?” (The interview was done under guidelines from his representative that included not asking American Indian mascot questions.)
Anyhow, after Bradford left, I realized Shanahan’s dilemma: You can’t be great again without a franchise quarterback, but neither can you be good again without filling the holes around one first.
I went back and forth over recent “reports” questioning whether the Redskins should take a chance to move up to perhaps No. 2 in the draft and grab Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, who some scouts swear is face-of-franchise material while others think he is basically Chase Daniel with height and worse numbers.
Heck, I’ve even been going back and forth on whether Carolina should take Cam Newton No. 1. (This is where I have succumbed to ESPN’s cult. Because on one hand embedded-coach-in-film-room Jon Gruden is seen salivating over these guys as if they are all Dan Marino in training — “You’re as tough as a $2 steak,” Gruden says cloyingly — before actually exposing Newton as a guy who has no understanding of NFL verbiage or terminology because of Auburn’s give-it-to-Cam scheme. Then you have another draft special of Cam before his pro-workout day, in which his me-against-humanity attitude translates to someone who just can’t wait to prove his detractors wrong on the next level.)
But the main reason Shanahan needs to be careful is because he got himself in this same predicament a year ago, believing Donovan McNabb was a good idea. He is dying to get his hands on another big-time quarterback to run his son’s offense and prove to the NFL that he still has it.
Memo to Mike: Step back, take a deep breath and check your ego at the team’s war-room door. Washington is miles from the Super Bowl at the moment — miles.
This roster doesn’t need mascara and rouge to cover up a few blemishes; it needs the finest cosmetic surgeon available.
Not to mention the current uncertainty in the NFL. Going quarterback Thursday might not even earn you a handshake with your pick, let alone the fact that he may not even get to see your offense or playbook till September.
The only quarterback Shanahan should be thinking about in this year’s draft is the one who’s not available – Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who stayed in school.
Take Jones or, maybe even better, stock up on draft picks. Do something novel in the Daniel Snyder era and burgundy-and-old school at the same time: build this franchise from the inside out, like Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs used to.
The foundation for the three Super Bowl champion teams has been a dominant line of scrimmage. Shanahan did well by following that idea his first year by drafting Trent Williams at No. 4. But there is more work that needs to be done.
Gabbert is not going to help now, unless Shanahan is going to ask him to outscore the other team. Then I would ask, with what weapons after Chris Cooley and, more important, with what protection?
After swinging and striking out mightily with McNabb, it’s time for Shanahan to find his confidence with some nice slap singles.
And if Shanahan is really jonesing for a skill player at No. 10, he could do a lot worse than Jones, who loves to block as much as he does catch and run. Yes, the franchise’s first-round receivers the past 20 years haven’t had busts made of them in Canton — Desmond Howard, Michael Westbrook, Rod Gardner — and certainly Vinny Cerrato’s second-round choices of Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in 2008 have yet to make anyone even forget Gary Clark or Ricky Sanders.
Either way, the worst thing the decision-maker could do is give in to the notion he can change things immediately with a big-time quarterback now. He already has gone down that road.
Let’s for once be honest about this football team. They’re probably two and three years away from being consistently good.
The future is not promising. Mortgaging the future and giving draft picks away is the old way.
It’s time for Washington to try the new way today.