With all signs pointing to Andrew Luck being selected with the first pick in April’s NFL Draft, teams desperate for a franchise quarterback were feeling out the owners of the second pick, the St. Louis Rams, to see what it would take to move up to that position in order to select Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. After the Peyton Manning situation, the landing spot of RG III had become the biggest story of the NFL offseason, as most observers believe he has all the tools necessary to become a star in the league for the foreseeable future.
The mystery was solved a few weeks ago, as in a predraft blockbuster the Washington Redskins agreed in principle to send three-first round picks and a second-round pick to the Rams in exchange for their second overall pick in this year’s draft. It is expected that the Redskins will use selection on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, though the stockpile of picks given up for the opportunity to select RG III is reminiscent of some previous trades that didn’t go so well for the teams offering up the farm:
Vikings/Cowboys/Herschel Walker trade: A trade so one-sided that has become known as “The Great Train Robbery”, the Cowboys shipped star running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings in 1989 for six draft picks. This trade jump started the Jimmy Johnson/Cowboy dynasty of the 1990’s, with the picks obtained for Walker later being used to select such stalwarts as Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith, and Russell Maryland. The Cowboys would go onto win three Super Bowl titles, while Walker flamed out in Minnesota after a little over two seasons.
Saints/Redskins/Ricky Williams: The Redskins should remember this one fondly since they were on the receiving end of a large haul for one player. In 1999, Saints coach Mike Ditka thought it would be smart to trade all of his team’s 1999 draft picks (along with a few of his 2000 draft picks) to Washington so they could move up in the draft and grab Texas running back Ricky Williams. While Ricky went on to have a long and productive career (primarily for the Miami Dolphins, his time away from football for personal reflection/yoga/weed notwithstanding), the move set the Saints franchise back for a number of years and led to the firing of Ditka after that season.
I’m not sure if the Rams ever turned this pick into a bidding war between teams in order to land the biggest haul, but either way they have put themselves in a great position for years to come. Comfortable with incumbent starter Sam Bradford, the new St. Louis regime led by coach Jeff Fisher now has the sixth pick and Washington’s second-round pick in this year’s draft to work with, as well as the Redskins’ first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. This is a team that has plenty of holes to fill and improvements to make if they are going to challenge San Francisco in the NFC West. By obtaining such a big return for their pick, the Rams now have the flexibility to upgrade at multiple positions and build a more competitive team.
It’s too early to tell how the Redskins will fare in the long run by giving up so many picks for one player, but Mike Shanahan knows better than anyone that you need a top flight quarterback in the NFL if you are going to have any chance of winning of a Super Bowl. He has won only one playoff game since he had John Elway as his quarterback, and playing in the same division as Eli Manning, Mike Vick, and Tony Romo, Shanahan can’t afford to go into another season with Rex Grossman calling the shots.
This move is definitely a gamble for the Redskins, for no matter how good Mel and McShay project RG III to be there is always a degree of uncertainty with QB’s selected in the first round. Griffin has been described as a bigger Michael Vick, and barring a Peyton Manning to DC scenario he will likely be the starter on day one for the Redskins. Washington has done a good job of getting younger on defense since Shanahan became the coach in 2010, and if RG III lives up to the advanced billing this team could make some noise in a few years. After trading away all those draft picks, Redskins owner Dan Snyder will have to open up his wallet to bring in player in some quality targets for Griffin to throw the ball too. Spending large sums of money has never been a problem for Snyder in the past (with mixed to poor results), so I don’t foresee any issues in this regard.
Following back to back losing seasons, the question remains though whether or not Shanahan will be around to witness the development of RG III and lead a potential Redskins turnaround. Snyder has never been a patient owner, and if the Skins endure anther subpar season in 2012 Shanahan might be on the chopping block. Washington has gone all in on RG III, and unless he eventually develops into a franchise quarterback and turns the Skins into perennial playoff contenders, this four for one swap will come back to haunt them.