December 10, 2019

What the 2014 NFL Draft Teaches us About the RG3 Deal

On Thursday, while the NFL world collectively held their breath, the Washington Redskins were merely spectators. Barring some eleventh hour trade possibilities, on that first night nothing was on the line.

The Redskins ‘earned’ the second overall pick due to their dismal 2013 season, but sat out of the first round as their pick went to St. Louis, the final piece of the package that ultimately brought in Robert Griffin III.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville hung their hopes of resurrecting their franchise on a quarterback most people had never heard of until a stellar performance in the Fiesta Bowl, Cleveland picked a dynamic playmaker that half of the experts believe will be a complete bust, Minnesota traded up for a quarterback who can’t throw the ball without a glove on and Houston is betting the season on Ryan Fitzpatrick after choosing not to draft a quarterback until the fourth round.

For Redskins fans, it stings to watch the first round of this draft and last year’s go by with no picks, but this draft also show exactly why the Redskins were willing to pay such a steep price.

Quarterback is the most important position in football and is debatably the most important position in sports. It is almost impossible for an NFL team to see sustained success without a dependable quarterback under center.

Things went downhill for the Redskins after Joe Gibbs retired (the first time) following the 1992 season. In the 21 seasons since that time, the Redskins have had 23 different quarterbacks start at least one game. To compare, the New England Patriots have had five quarterbacks start at least one game in that same stretch.

In those 21 seasons the Redskins won two playoff games, the Patriots won three Super Bowls.

Clearly, quarterbacks matter.

Franchise quarterbacks, however, are hard to find. There is a big difference between a quarterback who starts and a starting caliber quarterback. There are 32 teams in the NFL, but fewer than 32 franchise quarterbacks. Those teams fortunate enough to have one are loath to give them up. Barring the rare Peyton Manning situation that Denver benefitted from, the draft is the only avenue to acquire one.

But what do you do when there are no franchise quarterbacks available in the draft?

The players considered to be the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft were Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. Opinions on all three players varied, but the consensus seemed to be that none of them were in that Troy Aikman/Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck, can’t miss, surefire overall-number-one-pick category. In fact, there are major questions about each player’s potential and players at other positions were regarded as better NFL prospects.

Teams with higher draft picks frequently are in need of a franchise quarterback. Drafts like this one, however, leave these teams with a dilemma: do you reach for a quarterback and hope he will exceed expectations or take a player you are more confident is worthy of such a high pick?

Jacksonville reached for a quarterback in 2011, selecting Blain Gabbert with the tenth overall pick. Just three years later, the Jaguars selected Bortles, another quarterback, with the third overall pick. With Gabbert not playing as well as the Jaguars hoped he would, they still remain a basement-dwelling team in need of a quarterback three years later.

The draft is set up to help those teams that need it the most, but there’s no guarantee the player you need will be available the year you have a high pick. That is especially true with the quarterback position as it is so critical to success. When a draft comes along loaded with quarterback talent, therefore, teams must take the opportunity to acquire one just the Redskins did with Griffin.

That does not mean that there are not franchise quarterbacks available in the later rounds; Tom Brady was taken in the sixth round in 2000 and Russell Wilson was selected in the third round in 2012. These cases, however, are not the norm. Had teams known how good these players would be, they would have been taken considerably higher in the draft.

The point is that when your team needs a quarterback and is as sure as one can be about a certain players, that team must break the bank to acquire him. Three first round draft picks and a second round pick is a high price to pay for one player, but how much would Jacksonville give up to erase the last three years of poor play?

From their perspective, you could argue the Redskins got off easy.

Sure, you can take other players high and hope for a sleeper quarterback in the later rounds, but chances are you are not going to find that ‘diamond in the rough.’

You can reach for a quarterback and hope he pans out, but if you’re wrong you’ve set the franchise back several years. Instead, the Redskins paid what they had to for a quarterback they were confident could lead the team to the postseason.

Fans can be unhappy the team was without its first round pick, or they can just be glad they’re not rooting for teams like Houston and Oakland who skipped out on the top quarterbacks or teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland and Minnesota who decided to roll the dice.

To those teams, Griffin is worth what the Redskins had to pay for him and a whole lot more.

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