The opening moments of the NFL draft Thursday night lacked suspense, but the Washington Redskins certainly weren’t complaining. On an evening they hope they will remember fondly for years to come, the Redskins made their long-anticipated addition of quarterback Robert Griffin III official by selecting the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor with the draft’s second overall choice.
After years of trying, the Redskins hope they finally have landed a dynamic player at the sport’s most important position who can help rekindle the franchise’s past success. Team officials had targeted Griffin from the moment they completed their blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Rams in March to move up four spots in the first round, paying a heavy price in future draft choices to do so.
“We tried to keep it secret as long as we could,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said at Redskins Park soon after the pick was made, describing team officials as “elated” with the selection.
“He wants to be the guy,” Shanahan added. “He’s going to do everything he possibly can to be successful. You don’t have to be around him very long to figure that out.”
Griffin wore burgundy and gold striped socks and a light blue suit to the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York. “I’m real excited,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “A team finally fell in love with me. They want me for who I am, and I can’t wait to go play for them.”
The Redskins announced plans for Griffin’s introductory news conference at 2 p.m. Saturday at FedEx Field, where the team will be hosting a draft party for fans.
The formalities Thursday night were anticlimactic. Soon after the draft began at 8 p.m., the Indianapolis Colts made Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck the top overall selection. The Redskins then turned in Griffin’s name for the second pick to be announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Luck and Griffin became the fifth set of quarterbacks selected first and second in the same year since the NFL and AFL combined their drafts in 1967.
Redskins officials said after they completed the trade with the Rams that they would be happy with either Luck or Griffin. But most people in the league seemed virtually certain the Redskins would end up with Griffin. It’s not necessarily a consolation prize. Some talent evaluators prefer Griffin’s chances of becoming a centerpiece player in the NFL to Luck’s.
But the Colts were locked in on Luck throughout the period leading up to the draft. In March, they released quarterback Peyton Manning, the only four-time most valuable player in league history, after he missed all of last season following a series of neck surgeries. Manning landed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent, and the Colts made plans to begin their rebuilding around Luck. The Colts announced Tuesday they would select him.
That seemed to suit the Redskins just fine. In Griffin, they are getting a quarterback who has demonstrated speed as a runner and accuracy as a passer. He has put star quality on display during the pre-draft buildup. Now he must show he can stand out in the NFL with his play on the field, as well.
The Redskins are heavily invested in Griffin after trading three first-round draft picks to the Rams — the sixth overall choice Thursday night and opening-round selections next year and in 2014 — plus a second-rounder this year for the right to draft him. That will matter little to the Redskins, though, if Griffin becomes the kind of player who takes his team to Super Bowls. The Redskins have gone 20 years without a Super Bowl appearance and have totaled just 11 victories in Shanahan’s two seasons with the team.
Shanahan has said he’s not certain whether Griffin will start from the outset of his rookie season in September. That will depend on Griffin’s early progress, Shanahan has said. The Redskins re-signed quarterback Rex Grossman in free agency, and he could be a temporary starter if Griffin is not ready. The team also has quarterback John Beck on the roster.
The Redskins made moves in free agency earlier this offseason to upgrade Griffin’s receiver corps. The team, which lacked a 1,000-yard receiver last season, signed wideouts Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan as free agents. Neither has had a 1,000-yard receiving season in the NFL, and it’s unclear if the Redskins have assembled enough talent around Griffin to be a winning team, even if he performs well as a rookie.
The transition to the NFL can be slow and tumultuous for some prized young quarterbacks. But the top overall choice in last year’s draft, Cam Newton, began his NFL career by throwing for more than 400 yards in back to back games, and broke Manning’s league record for passing yards by a rookie. Even so, the Panthers finished with a 6-10 record.
The Redskins should be able to sign Griffin to his first NFL contract in fairly routine fashion before training camp opens this summer. The rookie pay system that went into effect last year is designed, in part, to get players to training camp on time. Griffin is likely to sign a contract worth about the same or slightly more than the fully guaranteed four-year, $21 million deal that Von Miller, the linebacker drafted second overall last year, signed with the Broncos. It is not clear when contract negotiations will begin, but typically that does not happen until the weeks before training camp.
The Colts and Redskins must cross their fingers and hope that Luck and Griffin can defy the history of quarterbacks going first and second in the draft, by both living up to their promise.
Only one of the previous four sets of quarterbacks taken first and second in the same draft had highly productive pro careers. Jim Plunkett was drafted first and Archie Manning went second in 1971; both were standout quarterbacks. The other three sets of quarterbacks drafted first and second — Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer in 1993, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf in ’98 and Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb in ’99 — yielded one Pro Bowl performer and one draft disappointment.