This all started in April, at the draft, when everybody knew the Redskins needed a quarterback, but they didn't pick one. This meant something must be up. And when coach Mike Shanahan explained things shortly thereafter by saying the Redskins wanted to go with John Beck because they thought highly of him coming out of school, it didn't mollify the doubters. Shanahan can't be serious, most people thought. There's some sort of trick at work here. My first thought was that Shanahan was trying to leverage potential trade partners or free agents by pumping up Beck as a viable option he already had.
But in the months since, it's become clear that the Redskins' 2011 quarterback plan is, in fact, Beck. Or some combination of Beck and Rex Grossman. And so the comments and questions I now receive about the Redskins' quarterback situation have two running themes, neither of which makes any sense at all:
1. The Redskins are trying to "tank" the 2011 season so they can lose as many games as possible, get the No. 1 draft pick in 2012 and take Stanford's Andrew Luck.
2. This is a good idea.
Enough already. The Redskins are in no way planning to "tank" an entire NFL season, mainly because teams don't do that. This (thankfully) isn't the NBA, where the insane salary-cap structure encourages teams to lose games intentionally in an effort to improve their position in the draft and/or free agency. The 2011 Redskins are not the 2008-09 New York Knicks, and their decision to go with apparently substandard personnel at the most important position on the field shouldn't make anybody think this is the case.
Why would any team go into any NFL season convinced it didn't have a chance to win? This league is as unpredictable, year to year, as any in the world. Every year, at least one team that was lousy the year before shocks everyone and wins its division. Anybody see the Chiefs coming last year? The Bengals the year before that? The only thing you know about how an NFL season is going to go is that you don't know. And this year -- with the offseason wiped out by the lockout and an insane, compressed free-agency period still to come -- could be one of the toughest ever to predict.
So why tank? What if you turn out to be good? What if Beck plays all right, the defense comes together in the second year of the 3-4, the young running backs are studs and the offensive line takes a big step forward? The Redskins won six games last year. (Same as the Cowboys, by the way. Should they "tank" too?) The Skins need to add three to that total to contend for a playoff spot. Do I think they'll do it? No, I do not. But I'm going to miss on some team. I know that for sure. Some team will have a better year than any of us expected. That mere fact is the biggest reason you don't -- and shouldn't -- see NFL teams "tank" seasons.
This is what the Redskins are saying if they go with Beck/Grossman at quarterback for this year:
1. They didn't view any of the quarterbacks they could have drafted as their long-term solution at the position.
2. They know that the first round of next year's draft includes several guys who could fit that description. Not just Luck, but guys like Landry Jones and Matt Barkley, too. You don't need to have the No. 1 pick next year to fix your quarterback problem. You just need to stay flexible enough to be able to move into position to get the guy you like.
3. For that reason, the Redskins don't want to deal draft picks for (or commit long-term money to) a veteran quarterback such as Carson Palmer or Matt Hasselbeck, who might help them win an extra game or two this year, only to find themselves unable to move into the draft position they'll need to be in next April.
4. The Redskins have enough other needs that, without an available quarterback option they like better than Beck, it makes more sense to address cornerback, the lines and maybe wide receiver than to force a quarterback solution with which they're not comfortable.
That is a sensible way of doing things, and that's what the Redskins are up to if they go with Beck and/or Grossman. They're not "tanking." Shanahan is in the second year of a five-year contract. And although, yes, there is a rebuilding component to Shanahan's assignment, owner Dan Snyder didn't give him that contract and then tell him it was OK to be one of the league's worst teams for more than half of it. Snyder wants to win as soon as possible. Shanahan wants to win as soon as possible. And he and general manager Bruce Allen are balancing that desire with the long-term health of the franchise and making reasonable decisions instead of rash ones. Given the recent history of Redskins offseasons, you'd think their fans would appreciate that.
The worst-case scenario is that it all falls apart, Beck is a disaster, and the Redskins do indeed find themselves in a position to draft Luck, Jones or Barkley. The best-case scenario is that Shanahan coaches Beck into a quality starter and they go into next year's draft not needing a quarterback. The most likely result is somewhere in between, and that's fine. Because there are a lot of good potential outcomes in between those two. And the Redskins (and every other NFL team) would be foolish to rule them all out.