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Monday, April 2, 2012
Going 'all-in' on a first-round quarterback

By Dan Graziano

Robert Griffin III
Some scouts apparently feel that Robert Griffin III is a bit overhyped as the NFL draft nears.

The deed done weeks ago, the Washington Redskins and their fans have had little to do but wait. They know they're going to get a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the draft later this month. Whether that quarterback is Andrew Luck or, more likely, Robert Griffin III, they believe he has the stuff to be a franchise quarterback -- to provide stability and excellence at the game's most important position for years to come. The Redskins paid a significant price for this -- three first-round picks and a second-round pick -- and since it happened there has been nothing to do about it but wait and anticipate.

What goes on during the anticipation phase? Buyer's remorse would be natural, of course. A feeling of concern. Did we pay too much? What if this doesn't work out? Have we doomed the franchise to two more decades of misery?

Natural questions, to be sure, and in their quiet moments Mike Shanahan & Co. have surely entertained some form of them. But the advice from someone who has been there before tells them not to dwell on what-ifs.

"What you're thinking at the time when it gets done is, 'That's our guy. We were able to accomplish it. Here he comes. Let's go,'" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "You've got to have great conviction. You've got to believe in your system. And once the deal is accomplished, there's no looking back."

In 2004, Coughlin's first year as their head coach, the Giants made a similar move up in the draft for a franchise quarterback. After the San Diego Chargers took Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick, the Giants drafted Philip Rivers at No. 4 and traded Rivers, their third-round pick in 2004 and their first-round and fifth-round picks in 2005 to get Manning. Not as steep a price as the Redskins paid the Rams last month, but it was a lot, and at the time (and in the years that followed) there was much debate as to whether it was worth it.

Eli Manning
It's safe to say that the price the Giants paid to nab Eli Manning in the 2004 draft was worth it.
But to hear Coughlin tell it, that debate never happened within the walls of the Giants' team headquarters. All of that debate happened before GM Ernie Accorsi made the deal, and once the deal was made it simply could not continue.

"You make that kind of investment, you'd better have done the research," Coughlin said. "You'd better have made the decision on how he's going to impact your team. And you'd better be prepared, because that young man has got to go through what every other young guy did. This league is tough. People make it very, very hard on that position when you have a young guy taking the snaps. There are things he's going to see that he's never seen in his life -- never even imagined seeing."

Which makes it scary, this business of dealing away big parts of the future in exchange for a kid who has never played an NFL down. It has worked out well for the Giants, obviously, as Manning has led them to two Super Bowl titles in the past five years. If the Giants ever had any doubts early in his career, or in the immediate aftermath of the trade, Manning has erased them all and confined the debate over the worthiness of the trade to ancient history.

What happens with the Redskins and their new quarterback remains to be seen. But it sounds as though Shanahan is already living Coughlin's advice. Asked last week whether it mattered to him which quarterback fell to him at No. 2, Shanahan said no, of course not. They wouldn't have given up what they gave up to get to No. 2 if they weren't convinced that Luck or Griffin could both be what they need. And they wouldn't have made the move if they hadn't already erased all of their doubts about whether it was too much to pay. Franchise quarterback is too important, and the Redskins saw a chance to get one.

"The Super Bowls that I've been involved with, with Steve Young, with the John Elways, both were franchise quarterbacks," Shanahan said. "They can make plays when everything breaks down. And if somebody can do that, then you've got an opportunity, once you get to the playoffs, to do something special. Now, can you still win without one? Sure you can. But you'd better be pretty special."

The teams that don't have franchise quarterbacks spend their existences wandering in search of one. It can consume them, as it has the Redskins for so long. That's why, when it comes down to it, there's really no such thing as overpaying for a chance to get one. Besides, if it doesn't work out, everybody who was in on the decision is going to be working elsewhere anyway. Right, Tom Coughlin?

"You don't ever go down that road, either," Coughlin said. "It's going to work."

That's the mindset the Giants had in 2004, and it's the mindset the Redskins have right now. When you're dealing with stakes and prices this high, there's really no other way to be.