Sep 24, 2012, 06:32AM

Redskins: It Takes More Than a Quarterback

For example, someone to block for that quarterback is always good too.

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Three games do not a season make. No team is going (or not) to the NFL playoffs based on the results of their first three games. However, that isn’t to say these contests can’t tell us anything. When it comes to the Redskins, they’ve found a keeper in Robert Griffin. He’s poised, fast, unfazed in the face of a violent pass rush, smart, a hard worker, and most importantly, accurate. He’s led the Redskins to 99 points in three games without his best receiver and with a patchwork offensive line. That’s impressive for any quarterback, let alone a rookie.

Despite that success, the Redskins are learning a hard lesson. That is, it takes more than a good quarterback to win in the NFL. I don’t have the single blueprint for NFL success. There is no such document, but there is the basic truth that teams with very bad defenses don’t go very far. If we can take the first three games and proclaim Griffin a success, we have to take those same three games and call the Redskins defense and special teams huge failures.

Whether the Redskins have been out-coached, out-played, or both is hard to say without seeing the game tape, but it isn’t outlandish to surmise that better players would improve the on-field results. We further know that one of the more effective ways to build a defense is through the draft. That’s why even with the success that Griffin has had, trading three first round picks and a second round pick for the right to draft him may yet turn out to be a huge blunder. The reasons are many, but here is one that I think is being undersold after the trade for Griffin.

NFL teams are pretty smart. They don’t get everything right when it comes to personnel, of course, but once players are drafted and get into a camp, there’s a fairly large hit rate in terms of figuring out whether a guy can make it or not. That’s not to say there isn’t any talent available on the street or on other team’s practice squads, just that the most effective way to acquire talent in today’s NFL cheaply is to draft it. This means draft picks are incredibly valuable.

Draft picks have always been valuable, but now more than ever thanks to the rookie salary cap that was instituted two years ago. In 2010, the St. Louis Rams drafted quarterback Sam Bradford first overall. He was given a six-year, $78 million deal, $50 million of which was guaranteed. Last season the Carolina Panthers had the first pick and they took a quarterback as well, Cam Newton. Newton was the first pick under the new rookie cap rules and even though his predecessor had signed a huge deal, Newton was forced to settle for less than half that, signing a four-year deal worth $22 million (all guaranteed). Did you catch that? Despite being picked in exactly the same spot and playing the same position as Bradford, Newton is being paid less than half of Bradford’s salary. In essence, the Panther’s first overall draft pick was twice as valuable as the Rams.

So, this also means that the drafting Robert Griffin III with the second pick is much cheaper than it would have been two seasons ago, increasing the value of the second pick. However, the picks the Redskins gave up to get Griffin are far more valuable as well and as we can see from the team’s performance through three games, if any team needs those three extra draft picks, it’s the Redskins. Those picks would have helped provide the team with depth and/or star-level talent (but at least depth) for well below the cost for that same talent on the free agent market. That depth would allow the team to sustain the inevitable injuries that occur in the course of an NFL season, injuries the team is struggling with today.

Great quarterbacks elevate the talent around them and it looks like Griffin will be able to do that. But even great quarterbacks can’t turn a bad defense into a good one, and can’t make a poor special teams unit into a league-average one, and can’t make the back-up left tackle serviceable after the starter goes down. Even Super Bowl-winning greats like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning haven’t done it by themselves. This isn’t to take anything away from Griffin. But even if he’s a Hall of Fame caliber-talent, it’s going to be impossible for him to take the team to the playoffs all by himself.


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