Commentary

QB intrigue starts with Skins

Should Washington target Manning or Griffin III? Seattle at critical juncture

Originally Published: February 27, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The 2012 scouting combine didn't resolve any of the big questions for teams in need of quarterbacks. If anything, it confused things.

Entering the combine, Andrew Luck remained destined to go to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1 and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was set as the second quarterback taken, most likely at No. 2 after a trade. But Griffin was so impressive in interviews and as an athlete that the price of trading up for him will be exceedingly high.

The price for Griffin, in terms of draft choice compensation, will be so high that only the Cleveland Browns, who draft fourth, and the Redskins, who draft sixth, have a chance to acquire him. The Dolphins, who draft eighth, and the Seahawks, who draft 12th, have no chance of trading up. They wouldn't have enough draft choices to fit the needs of the Rams, who can broker a Griffin trade from the second pick.

The Redskins face the most interesting questions. Do they trade for Griffin or sign Peyton Manning if he's cut by the Colts? Griffin ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.41) in combine history for a quarterback. He's got Steve Young-type ability.

A franchise like the Redskins has been waiting for a quarterback to build around and Griffin could resolve its needs for the next decade. But Manning could make the team better in the short term faster if he signs with the Redskins.

The Browns aren't desperate for a quarterback, but they'd be crazy not to trade up for Griffin. If they can't get him, they can move forward with Colt McCoy, but settling for McCoy could leave them fourth in a division that features Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton.

The Dolphins will either end up with Manning -- if he's cut -- or Matt Flynn, the Packers' backup who won't be franchised. That leaves the Seattle Seahawks in a precarious position.

If the Seahawks wish to advance above the 7-9 level, they need an upgrade at quarterback. The combine didn't answer many questions for them. Brandon Weeden didn't light it up throwing at the combine and may have fallen behind Kirk Cousins of Michigan State. Cousins had the best day throwing of all the quarterbacks Sunday.

Foot injuries prevented Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M and Brock Osweiler of Arizona State from throwing and they may be the next best options for the Seahawks, more likely in the second round. Of course, they could still look at Flynn, whom general manager John Schneider was involved in drafting when he was with the Packers.

The NFL remains a quarterback-driven league, so the decisions made by these four franchises will determine the success or failure of their futures.

From the inbox

Q: I keep hearing about this whole Peyton Manning-to-Miami thing and all the other possible suitors for Peyton. But there's one factor I think people are missing -- Reggie Wayne. I think he could be a big factor regarding where Manning ends up.

John Paul in Bethlehem, Pa.

A: I don't think people are forgetting it. Wayne could follow Manning to Miami or Washington. He would fit on both teams. The Colts are trying to re-sign Pierre Garcon. If they have enough money left, Wayne would be an option, but by that time he will be somewhere else. The first thing is getting Manning healthy. The Dolphins are expected to be big players for Manning if he's a free agent. Wayne would fit well along the outside. It also doesn't hurt that Wayne trains in Miami and Manning has a home there.

Q: It seemed like the officials throughout the playoffs were keeping their flags in their pockets, not making petty calls and letting the players play. It was much more enjoyable that way. Do you think there were instructions from the League? In any case, can anything be done to bring that attitude to the regular season consistently?

Laurence in Oxford, England

A: The officials did let the players play in the playoffs. It might not have been a mandate from the league, but I'm sure it was a suggestion. Fans want to see football players, not officials march off penalties. There was a dramatic drop-off in holding penalties, which often holds down scoring. The league is all about trying to promote more scoring. For the past couple of regular seasons, the league has been trying to limit the number of flags. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Q: In past five years, the quarterbacks who have played in a Super Bowl are: Eli Manning (2), Tom Brady (2), Ben Roethlisberger (2), Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning. Obviously, there are guys like Joe Flacco and Alex Smith who came very close to making a Super Bowl appearance. Nonetheless, it's no secret that in order to contend for a Super Bowl, you simply have to have an elite quarterback. Why have teams like Seattle, Cleveland and Washington pushed aside their glaring quarterback needs and focused on other positions?

Avi in Bellevue, Wash.

A: Avi, you get it. The old theory of playing great defense and running the ball only gets you to a certain point. Sure, a team with an average quarterback may slip into some Super Bowls, but those are in years in which there is a shortage of great quarterbacks. This is a mini-golden age for quarterbacks. You have to have a great one to compete in the biggest games. The problem is trying to find them. It usually takes a lot of losses to be in position to draft a great one. Or you have to gamble in a trade or a signing to hope to find one. It's a quarterback-driven league. You figured that out pretty easily.

Q: Here's something none of the draft analysts seem to be talking about -- the rookie wage scale. How will that affect the draft? Will more teams draft based on need because they won't be stuck giving outlandish contracts to first-round picks?

Colin in San Diego

A: Sure, teams will be more willing to trade up and fill needs, but they also will want to keep as many draft choices as possible because they are less expensive. With a salary cap, teams want to balance the price of veterans versus the price of rookies. What you will see is a less complicated draft. If a team wants to fill a need, it can. If it wants to take the best player available, it can. Before, with the high price of draft choices, teams wouldn't trade high into the draft.

Q: Do you think the Eagles may take a quarterback later in the draft? I'm very wary of Michael Vick's consistency, especially with regard to games played; he takes a lot of hits and will be 32 at the start of next season. I'm unsure about Mike Kafka. It may be time to start grooming a future QB, or at least one to step in when Vick is hurt.

Pat in Hazleton, Pa.

A: The Eagles signed Trent Edwards, so they have an experienced backup to replace Vince Young, who probably won't be back. Kafka is being groomed as the main backup. Because they signed Vick to a contract extension, they aren't thinking about the long-term replacement for Vick. They just went through that process in grooming Vick to replace Donovan McNabb. With three quarterbacks under contract, I bet they stay away from drafting a quarterback in the later rounds.

Q: I keep hearing about how the Bears need a wide receiver, but being a lifelong Bears fan I know better than to get overly excited. What do you really think the Bears will do? If they do sign a big-name wideout, who will it be?

TonyS

A: That's impossible to say because we don't know who will be available because of the franchise tags and re-signings. What is for certain is that the Bears have to get someone. Johnny Knox is coming off neck fusion surgery. Roy Williams is a free agent, but if he's brought back, he will be only a role player. They need a starter. They either have to pay for one or draft one.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireMario Williams to Philadelphia? Nah, he would be a more logical fit in Seattle.

Q: The Texans have a choice to make between RB Arian Foster and Mario Williams. Let's say they re-sign Foster and let Williams walk (like I think they will); what are the chances the Eagles pick Williams up?

Broc in Ogden, Utah

A: The Eagles really don't need him. They have Trent Cole and Jason Babin at defensive ends. Plus, the Eagles are one of the better pass-rushing teams in the NFL. The Texans need to do something with Foster, center Chris Myers and others. They can't afford to give Williams a $22 million cap number. They can't afford to make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Williams will end up on a 4-3 team. I think it could be Seattle.

Q: The Giants proved shutdown corners are not needed with an effective pass rush. Shouldn't the Cowboys draft speedy-type players like Courtney Upshaw or Zach Brown instead of corners?

Patrick

A: Interesting. They need the corner more than the pass-rusher, but this is a deep draft for corners. They could get one in the second or third round. The pass-rushers may be gone by then. They do need to re-sign Anthony Spencer. But the Giants proved you can't have enough good pass-rushers. One thing that is vital is having good man-to-man-coverage guys. The Giants have the ability to play man with their corners even though they aren't shutdown guys. The Cowboys need to get more out of their pass rush and need to add one corner to the mix.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN

John Clayton

NFL senior writer