- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I get it, Washington Redskins fans. You've been hurt. You've been burned too many times by big March headlines you thought would bring lasting happiness but instead brought heartache, and now it's difficult for you to trust. You don't want to be hurt again.
How else to explain the horrified reaction by a quarterback-starved fan base to the idea of signing Peyton Manning? Judging by the reactions from the folks in our comments section all the way up to the mayor of Washington, D.C., you'd think we were talking about handing the starting quarterback's job to Dan Snyder's teenage nephew. This is what Mayor Vincent Gray had to say on the topic to a D.C. television station last week:
"You know, I think it depends on what role he would play, Bruce," Gray said. "But I really think the Redskins need a quarterback that they can build with for the future. You know, Andrew Luck is probably going to go to the Colts, but there's Robert Griffin III, and there's a couple other promising quarterbacks that are out there. We've kind of been down this pathway with quarterbacks who've been great but maybe are in the back end of their career, and even if he comes in and plays a year or two, where do we go from there?"
Well, jeez, Mr. Mayor. At that point, you go with the guy you drafted in 2013 because you weren't able to trade up and get Griffin in 2012. Or you go with a young guy you picked later in that draft who's been apprenticing for a year or two under Peyton Manning, for goodness' sake. What Gray and many other Redskins fans seem to be missing here is that Mike Shanahan can't just go to the "franchise quarterback" aisle at the Wegman's down the road from the team's Ashburn, Va., training facility and pick one. Only one team's going to get Griffin, and if the Redskins aren't that team, they need to have a good Plan B. If Manning is fully healthy and shows he can throw the ball the way he was throwing it two years ago before his neck injury, he's the greatest Plan B in alphabetically themed planning history.
Redskins fans, the mayor included, are looking at this whole thing through the disappointing prism of free-agent signing periods past. I'm hearing names such as Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Albert Haynesworth and yeah, Donovan McNabb -- a list of big-name, star players the Redskins brought in to great fanfare and who flopped for one reason or another. Because of this, the chorus moans, Manning isn't the way to go. The Redskins have done the big-name/big-contract thing before and it just never works out. They need to stop doing business this way.
Well, guess what? They kind of already have. Yeah, McNabb was a mistake -- a flyer Shanahan took thinking he could re-light a spark that had gone out in Philadelphia and maybe sneak into the playoffs in his first year in Washington. He acknowledges it was a risk that didn't work out. But (a) Manning is not McNabb, who was no longer driven to excel by the time the Redskins got him and (b) the McNabb acquisition is an outlier among the moves Shanahan and Bruce Allen have made since taking over personnel decisions two years ago. Everything else they've done in the draft and free agency has been focused, sober and competent, and they deserve the benefit of the doubt, even from Redskins fans scarred by the mistakes of past administrations.
Snyder doesn't pull these strings anymore. Part of the agreement Shanahan signed when he took the job was that Snyder would let him build the team, as he puts it, "the right way." Last year's draft was an exercise in patience, as Shanahan refused to reach for quarterbacks he didn't think were the long-term answer simply because he had a need at that position. He traded back, trying to build depth, and picked up key future pieces such as Ryan Kerrigan, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Jarvis Jenkins and Dejon Gomes. He has eight picks this year and will have to decide how many of them he's willing to sacrifice if he wants to move up to draft Griffin. Shanahan knows how many needs his team has, so he's not going to make that decision lightly.
In the meantime, there is free agency, and although the Redskins didn't make a big splash last summer, they did very well in free agency. Shanahan targeted specific players in the 27- to 29-year-old age group -- guys he believed were already established but still young and hungry enough to grow and develop with the team. He plans to use the same formula this year to address wide receiver, offensive line and the secondary. He's not after the biggest name out there. He's after the specific types of players he believes his team needs in order to build a consistent, year-to-year winner.
Which brings us back to Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Shanahan's not going to give Manning a big, five-year, huge-money deal. I don't think anyone is, given the health concerns, but if the market gets that crazy, I don't expect the Redskins to play in it. It just wouldn't be smart. Bringing Manning in on a one-year or two-year deal with incentives to allow him to prove he's healthy is smart, because if Manning is healthy, he's worth as much as any quarterback in the league.
That's the important thing to remember here, Redskins fans. Manning isn't a "fading star" who's past his prime. He was, before his neck injury, playing at as high a level as any quarterback in the league. He got hurt and missed a season. Now, it appears he'll be available again. And if he shows teams he can throw the ball the way he did in 2010, he's a smart short-term investment for a team that needs a quarterback answer now and for the future. The ideal solution would be both, but if that's not out there, the Redskins need to be smart about addressing the former while keeping their eye on the latter. So far, the Shanahan regime has shown that it doesn't do business like those "same old Redskins" who've hurt you so many times.