By: Tim Van Blarcom, Feature Writer
In the largest trade in NFL draft history, the Washington Redskins traded their 2012 1st Round, 2012 2nd Round, 2013 1st Round, and 2014 1st Round draft picks to the St. Louis Rams to move up two spots from #4 overall to #2 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. At #2 overall, the Redskins insured that they would be able to draft either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III and have a franchise quarterback in Washington.
After the Indianapolis Colts drafted Andrew Luck, it confirmed what the entire country already knew. That Griffin would be the new franchise quarterback for the Washington Redskins.
In 2012, Griffin emerged as a dynamic playmaker, earning Rookie of the Year honors and leading the Redskins to their first division title since 1999. The season ended with Griffin succumbing to a crippling knee injury that tore both of his ACL and LCL.
In 2013, the lingering effects of RG3’s injury and a new knee brace limited his effectiveness on the field. Coupled with a historically bad special teams unit, a struggling defense, and an erratic coaching staff, the Redskins finished 3-13, second to last in the NFL.
The debate on whether or not Griffin is worth the cost will follow him for the entirety of his career but as the 2014 draft nears, Washington is almost done paying the bill for him. But what if Washington never made the trade? What if the St. Louis Rams liked the Cleveland Browns offer a little better and traded with them instead?
Put on your tinfoil hats and step into the Twilight Zone as I take a look into this alternate dimension and see what the current state of the Redskins would be without Griffin.
I can’t actually see into parallel dimensions so all that follows is opinion and speculation. I’ve taken into account team needs, rumors from the Shanahan era, actual game results, others talent evaluations, and real standings when developing this article.
If you want the spoilers, Shanahan still has a job, Kirk Cousins is still the back-up in Washington, and the Redskins are primed to make the playoffs in 2014.
The Cleveland Browns trade their 2012 1st Round, 2012 2nd Round, 2013 1st Round, and 2014 1st Round picks to the St. Louis Rams for the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft. With that pick, they select Griffin to be the franchise quarterback for the Browns.
With the 4th pick in the 2012 draft, the Redskins draft Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M. It was leaked after the draft that the Shanahans were high on Tannehill and possibly would have drafted him if the Griffin trade didn’t go through. Factor in that 2011 was the year of John Beck/Rex Grossman and the Redskins were not going to come out of this 1st round without a new quarterback for the team.
With their newly kept 2nd round pick, the Washington Redskins draft University of North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins (Career: 115 Tackles, 21 PD, 5 INT, 3 TD). This is the same player the Rams would take with this pick but even in 2012 the Redskins secondary needed help and Jenkins was the best player available.
The rest of the 2012 draft would most likely remain the same. If Shanahan wanted to draft Cousin after Griffin, he most certainly would’ve wanted to after Tannehill. Alfred Morris would also have still been drafted in the 6th.
While Tannehill would not have brought the same fanfare and excitement as Griffin, Washington would still have welcomed him and bought-in with all of their hopes and dreams. The other main difference would be the addition of Janoris Jenkins to the secondary. Washington was still excited about the Josh Wilson/DeAngelo Hall tandem in 2012 and Jenkins would have been considered a back-up or slot guy at best.
Robert Griffin III (393 passes, 3200 yards, 20 TD, 5 INT, 102.4 RAT, 120 rushes, 815 Yards, 7 TD, 12 FMB)
Ryan Tannehill (484 passes, 3294 yards, 12 TD, 13 INT, 76.1 RAT, 49 rushes, 211 Yards, 2 TD, 9 FMB)
For the 2012 season, the defense would’ve been the same save a back-up corner and the offense would’ve been led by Tannehill. The stats listed above show pretty clearly that Tannehill struggled in his rookie year. While the Redskins could have played to his strengths a bit more and improved most of those numbers, it’s hard to imagine Tannehill approaching Griffin’s numbers.
Without Griffin, the Redskins could not have pulled off their seven game win streak and win the NFC East. It’s also hard to imagine that Tannehill could’ve led the Redskins to any wins that Griffin couldn’t. But turn the close wins down the stretch into losses, at Cowboys, vs Giants, vs Baltimore, and at Philadelphia, and it’s easy to see the Redskins going 6-10 in 2012. Sure there could’ve been some fluke plays in games here and there but 6-10 would’ve been a realistic outcome.
It’s feasible that Janoris Jenkins could’ve played himself into the starting defense during 2012. Jenkins is a better cornerback than Josh Wilson and would’ve been a boost to the secondary. Jenkins had 3 Pick-6’s in 2012 with Rams and it’s not hard to imagine he could’ve had 1 or 2 against the NFC East quarterbacks.
It’s also not hard to imagine that a quarterback controversy between Tannehill and Cousins would’ve started at some point during the season with Mike Shanahan in charge and the team struggling. So instead of Griffin’s injury, factor in a Tannehill benching and Cousins starting the last couple of games to similar results.
Of course there would’ve been grumblings from the fan base about another losing season but with a rookie quarterback, or two, and a one win increase from 2011, Mike Shanahan would have firmly held his job for 2013.
A 6-10 record with their strength of schedule would’ve put the Redskins in the #9 pick in the 2013 draft. The Redskins would’ve made the same re-signings and restructurings as the team remained the same and the salary cap penalty was still in effect. DeAngelo Hall would’ve been a bigger question mark with Janoris Jenkins on the roster but with the cornerback market flooded in 2013 his resigning would’ve been probable.
With the 9th pick in the 2013 draft the Redskins select LSU safety Eric Reid. Safety is still the Redskins biggest position of need but at #9 in 2013 the Redskins would’ve been in a great position to address it long term. Eric Reid was the top free safety in the 2013 draft and registered 11 pass deflections and 4 interceptions this past season. A starting safety was clearly at the top of the Redskins list in the 2013 draft but they didn’t find anyone they liked until late. Eric Reid would have been the day one starter at free safety.
Offensive weapons were also high on their need list as 2012 exposed their lack of depth at wide receiver and tight end. So in rounds two and three, an X receiver opposite of Pierre Garcon and a pass catching tight end would’ve been the picks. Not knowing what the Redskins draft board actually looked like two of the mostly likely scenarios could’ve been:
Scenario 1: #39 WR Robert Woods (40 Rec, 587 Yards, 3 TD)
#72 TE Jordan Reed (45 Rec, 499 Yards, 3 TD)
Scenario 2: #39 TE Gavin Escobar (9 Rec, 134 Yards, 2 TD)
#72 WR Terrance Williams (44 Rec, 736 Yards, 5 TD)
Robert Woods is a speedy wide receiver with good size and hands who would’ve given the Redskins a solid option on the outside. Jordan Reed was obviously high on the Redskins list as they were thrilled when he dropped to the third round.
If the Redskins wanted an upgrade at tight end before wide receiver, Gavin Escobar would’ve been the top rated guy early in the second round. Escobar is more of a complete tight end with good blocking ability and he was underused as a pass catcher last year in Dallas. In the third, Terrance Williams would’ve been there to not only compete for the X receiver position but be an instant special teams starter. It is a bonus that both of these guys actually went to Dallas and the Redskins drafting them would’ve thrown a wrench into Dallas’ draft board.
In the fourth round of the 2013 draft the Washing Redskins select University of Colorado OT David Bakhtiari. With a first round safety selection, Phillip Thomas would most likely not have been the pick in the fourth round. With all the hate that was on Tyler Polumbus and the open competition for the right tackle spot that happened in the 2013 offseason, the Redskins would’ve really liked to add to that position in the draft. The best available offensive tackle in the fourth round would’ve been David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari ended up starting all 16 games for the Green Bay Packers this season and showed good athleticism with some inconsistent moments. Beating out Polumbus right away would’ve been difficult but the Redskins would’ve used him as a back-up and heir to the right tackle spot.
The rest of the 2013 draft would’ve played out the same as the Redskins had all their other picks rated highly. Brandon Jenkins and Chris Thompson would’ve been drafted in the fifth round. In the sixth, Baccari Rambo would’ve been a back-up and forced to play special teams to not lose his roster spot and not forced into a starting role in week 1. Mike Shanahan would’ve of course still drafted his 5th running back in three years with Jawan Jamison in the seventh.
So from the 2013 draft there’d have been a starting free safety, two new offensive weapons, a right tackle in training, and the same back-ups from the 5th round and beyond.
Robert Griffin III (456 passes, 3203 yards, 16 TD, 12 INT, 82.4 RAT, 86 rushes, 489 yards, 0 TD, 11 FMB)
Ryan Tannehill (588 passes, 3913, 24 TD, 17 INT, 81.7 RAT, 40 rushes, 238 yards, 1 TD, 9 FMB)
When you factor in Tannehill threw 100+ more passes than Griffin in 2013, their stats don’t look all that different. Tannehill played much better than he did in 2012 and he most likely would’ve beaten out Kirk Cousins in the offseason to reclaim his starting spot.
The main difference on offense would’ve been the addition of a rookie X receiver. Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson both flashed and struggled at times in the role in 2013. Robert Woods would’ve beaten them both outright in the offseason, and Terrence Williams would’ve played himself into the starting line up at some point similarly to how Aldrick Robinson did.
On defense, the secondary would have been much better. DeAngelo Hall, Janoris Jenkins, Eric Reid, and Brandon Merriweather would’ve been the starters in the roles that they were meant to play and would’ve been a much improved group. Better coverage of course means improved pass rushing and the unit would’ve had much more success. They probably would not have been a top 10 unit but certainly not in the bottom half of the league.
With special teams you never know, but with some new faces there’s no way they would’ve been any worse than their historically bad 2013. If Terrance Williams was the pick in the 3rd, they’d have had an actual return man that could influence games.
With the improved defense and special teams and an additional impact wide receiver with similar quarterback play, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine these Redskins winning more games in this 2013 than the real one. Specifically without the special teams and defensive collapses, the Redskins could’ve won vs Detroit, at Minnesota, vs New York, at Atlanta, and vs Dallas. The result would’ve been an 8-8 record, 2-4 in the division for second place in the NFC East. Again, which specific games that would’ve been different can be debated but somewhere in the 7 to 9 win range seems right.
Other important difference for 2013 would be no rushed offseason rehab and “All in for Week 1” campaign, less quarterback vs head coach drama, and hopefully no veiled shots at each other through the media. Instead there’d be a constant Cousins vs Tannehill debate throughout the season and pressure on Mike Shanahan to stick with a guy.
The big shocker, Shanahan would not have been fired after the 2013 season with this outcome. The Redskins would have improved their record in each of the past two seasons, have a young and improved quarterback, and no major locker room implosions. In this scenario, Mike Shanahan would have stayed for the final year of his contract or even received a short extension to try and make playoffs with this team.
At 8-8 with their strength of schedule, the Redskins would be picking around 18th in the 2014 draft. With the salary cap penalty over, the Redskins would still be looking to spend in free agency although their needs would be slightly different. London Fletcher would certainly still be retired by now and Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley, DeAngelo Hall and Chris Baker would still be key free agents. The defensive line, offensive guards, inside linebackers, and outside linebackers would still be positions of need. The secondary and wide receivers would still be on the list but not as dire a need.
The DeAngelo Hall and Chris Baker re-signings would certainly have still occurred as the Redskins made it clear that they were priorities. The Redskins would still not have a replacement for Brian Orakpo so his re-signing or franchise tagging is likely. Perry Riley would also still be in a similar situation as the Redskins consider his value and need for two starting inside linebackers. In free agency, the Redskins would still be players for a starting defensive lineman and offensive guard but the big name wide receivers and safeties wouldn’t be priority signings.
At 18th in the draft with a first round pick, the Redskins would be in position to draft one of the big name wide receivers, safeties Calvin Pryor or Hasean Clinton-Dix, or defensive linemen Louis Nix, Timmy Jernigan, or Aaron Donald. Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley would also be in their range and could start on the inside right away.
The most important implication for the Redskins in the 2014 draft would be the flexibility to trade up or down and truly take a “best player available” approach with no glaring needs for the team. It is well documented that teams that are forced to draft for need frequently reach in the draft and overlook players that would be better value overall for the team.
In summary, without the trade for Robert Griffin III in 2012, the Redskins would be a rising young team in the league with Mike Shanahan still the head coach, Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback with a lingering quarterback controversy, a much more talented and productive defensive unit, and extremely high expectations for the 2014 season.
In the real world of course, the Redskins have already been to the playoffs, Mike Shanahan has been fired, Robert Griffin III is the franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future, the defense and special teams are aging and in shambles, and there are major questions heading into 2014 with rookie head coach Jay Gruden.
Which scenario is better depends on your point of view. Are you ok with a quarterback controversy or do you prefer an undisputed franchise guy? Is a playoff appearance worth mortgaging some of the long term quality of your team? Would you rather have a dominant offense or defense?
There should be no question that Robert Griffin III is the superior quarterback to Ryan Tannehill but the question remains, “Will he be worth the four high draft picks used to draft him?”