Back in June, I was at Washington Redskins minicamp and was speaking with Mike Shanahan in his office about the state of the team. We got around to quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the curious fact that Shanahan had picked him in the fourth round in spite of obvious needs elsewhere and the fact he'd traded four high picks for Robert Griffin III, who also plays quarterback, and taken him three rounds earlier.
"I have no reservations about the guy," Shanahan told me. "When I take a look at quarterbacks, the first question is, 'Are they natural throwers?' He is. He's got everything you look for. How often do you find a quarterback that you like in the fourth round?"
There's the thing, right there. Shanahan wasn't just picking a fourth-round quarterback to add depth at the position. He was taking a guy he actually believes can play in the NFL -- who's worthy of a spot on his roster right now, even as a rookie in need of further development.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid did the same thing when he picked quarterback Nick Foles in the third round. In Foles, Reid saw a guy who looked like an NFL quarterback. Foles has the size. He has the big arm. He has, Reid believed after meeting with him, the leadership qualities. All of those things were on display Monday night, when Foles had to enter a preseason game early because of yet another injury to starting quarterback Michael Vick. After the game, Reid discussed Foles' excellent play so far. Per CSNPhilly.com:
Reid, generally loath to praise his rookies, conceded after the game that he's never had a rookie quarterback do what Foles has done.
"I don't think we have," he said after Foles rallied the Eagles back from an 11-0 deficit to a 27-17 win. "But you guys would know better than me."
Regardless of what position either of these rookie quarterbacks occupies on his team's depth chart -- whether Cousins can beat out veteran Rex Grossman for the No. 2 spot behind Griffin or whether Foles would be a better option than Mike Kafka right now to fill in for an injured Vick -- it's clear based on the practices and practice games so far that these are players of some significant value to their teams.
The Eagles believe they can win with Vick. But it's not smart to cling to your belief and never have a backup plan in case you're wrong. Vick is 32 years old and obviously far from a sure thing to stay on the field for a full season's worth of snaps. If this season doesn't go as planned, the Eagles could conceivably get out of the remainder of Vick's contract and move in another direction. So picking Foles, a guy they believed could develop quickly in their downfield passing system due to his ability to throw deep, was a smart hedge. I'd argue that, assuming he's not overwhelmed by the stage, Foles makes more sense as the backup right now than Kafka does, since Kafka's weakness is the deep ball and the Eagles' offense is so keyed around the great downfield speed of its starting wide receivers. Foles has the tools to play quarterback the way the Eagles would need him to play if they had to put him in a game. He'd make mistakes. He'd turn it over. He'd show he had plenty to learn. But his particular skill set fits what they do.
Cousins in Washington is a different case, of course. If Griffin for some reason couldn't start Week 1, the Redskins would likely turn to Grossman, who knows the offense and the people around him and whose one obvious flaw is his troubling tendency to throw the ball to players on the opposing team. The Redskins know what it would look like -- the good and the bad -- if Grossman had to take snaps for them, and there's value in that kind of certainty, for better or for worse. Grossman is still with the Redskins, at least in part, to help tutor Griffin and Cousins on the Shanahan offense, and that work is not yet complete. Shanahan doesn't know if Cousins is the right kind of quarterback for the offense he wants to run with Griffin. What he does know is that Cousins has the kind of presence and experience and physical tools that, given time to develop, hold broad-based appeal. So that if Cousins does have to play at some point, he'll look good enough to entice another team into trading first-round picks for him down the road.
That's something Reid has done with quarterbacks, of course, and it's something he may get to do with Foles if everything works out with Vick the way the Eagles hope and believe it will. But in the short term, what Reid and Shanahan have both done here is find quarterbacks they liked in the middle rounds of the draft. That's a rare thing, and it gives them a number of interesting options both now and down the road.