Sunday, February 20, 2011

Redskins position review: Quarterbacks

The next to last position preview - only special teams remains. Here's links to the earlier posts:

Defensive line
Defensive backs
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line

Unfortunately, the main storyline of the Redskins upcoming offseason (once the resolution of the labor dispute allows an offseason to happen) will be the attempts to recover from the Donovan McNabb fiasco.

If the coaches had any lingering faith that McNabb could be an acceptable quarterback (to them), they only would have dropped him to #2 instead of all the way below John Beck to #3. On those grounds I think there is almost no chance that he is brought back, unless complications from the lockout make it difficult to get rid of him.

Regardless of which McNabb narrative you accept, the coaching staff comes out looking terrible:

- If the whispers about his work ethic are true, then the coaches are guilty of not doing their homework.

- If his skills are simply not a good fit for the Shanahans’ system then they are guilty of a failure of film study.

- If he does have the skills and work ethic to succeed, then the coaches failed to coach him up properly and design game plans around his abilities.

- If McNabb is retained and might still have a chance to succeed with the Redskins, then demoting him to third string was an indefensibly bad decision.

Under any of the first three scenarios, the trade was a catastrophic failure. Under the fourth, the coaches’ mismanagement runs the risk of making the trade a catastrophic failure. The team is hurting from the loss of a 2010 2nd rounder and a 2011 4th rounder, and they wasted not only resources but a year of development time on an apparently inadequate quarterback, significantly setting back the rebuilding process.

And now more resources must be invested into the quarterback position, as Rex Grossman is simply not starting material. The lack of arm strength is a serious problem – every time he lofts a ball on a sideline route he’s begging for an interception. And of course he is just terrible under pressure – a bad characteristic for any quarterback, but especially one on this team. As soon as there is even a hint of pass rush Rex is done with going through progressions and you can see the panic setting in. Instead of throwing it away or calmly checking down he almost inevitably resorts to some desperation move that risks a turnover. I am fine with Rex as a backup. His knowledge of Kyle Shanahan’s system is useful, and he can be productive at times. But as a starter he will cost us some games.

Some may hope that Grossman could hold down the starting job for six to eight weeks before giving way to a rookie. But even under the best of circumstances, expecting a quarterback to be ready to play during his rookie year is generally unrealistic. And remember that due to the probable lockout, this rookie would likely be entering the league without the benefits of minicamps and OTAs, and possibly with an abbreviated training camp as well. That should ruin what little chance a rookie has of developing quickly.

The only real question come draft time seems to be whether the Redskins take a quarterback in the top two rounds or pick up a developmental guy late (remember as of now there are no 3rd and 4th round picks). Teh best case scenario may be a cheap trade for a veteran (Greg Trippiedi of Hog Heaven and Live Ball Sports suggests Chad Henne could provide solid play in exchange for McNabb and a late round pick) and a quarterback of the future selected in the second round. The first round QBs all have significant boom or bust potential, and you just can’t afford to miss on a #10 pick. The first round is very deep in front seven defensive players, and those types of players take less time to develop (so they would have a better chance to contribute in the short term with a short offseason) and are less likely to simply fail in the NFL. The opportunity cost of not taking one of those guys probably dictates a safe pick at #10 and waiting until the second for a QB.

And where does John Beck fit into all of this? We haven’t seen him play at all (except for his four starts with the Dolphins in 2007), so I have no real opinion on his abilities. But the Redskins did take the trouble to trade for him late in the preseason once it became clear the Ravens would not be keeping him (to be fair, he was essentially free since the Redskins only gave up cornerback Doug Dutch, who was also destined to be cut). Now while it is clear that the Shanahan’s had little faith in Colt Brennan as an NFL quarterback, Shanahan is well known to favor carrying only two quarterbacks on a roster, so I think we can ssume he would only trade for Beck if he thought he had some potential.

So under what scenarios does Beck stay with the team?

- If Grossman is the starter, Beck is likely the #2 unless a veteran was brought in who is of a low enough caliber that he cannot beat out Rex for the starting spot (Alex Smith, for example?).

- If a veteran displaces Grossman to #2, then Beck is probably gone as the #3 spot would presumably be taken by a draft pick.

- Or Beck could outcompete Grossman for the #2 job, but I consider that unlikely since the coaches’ confidence in Rex is much better documented. But honestly, would anything surprise you with this team?

Note that if a quarterback is drafted that probably rules out the two quarterback roster scenario, as it is doubtful that a rookie could be trusted with anything more than #2 duty.

I'm afraid that among the Redskins' many needs the quarterback position, probably the most important position on the team, is the one that is least likely to be significantly improved in one offseason. Whatever happens it will be interesting, but probably not in a good way.

1 comment:

  1. Two thoughts:

    1) I really agree with Trippiedi that Henne is worth looking into. He's young with some nice tools, and probably wouldn't be too expensive. If Shanny's ever going to win here, he better be the QB "guru" he was supposed to be, and if he IS... then I think he could turn Henne into something above average.

    2) I think we disagree on the implications of moving McNabb straight from starter to QB3. I don't believe it implies they believe McNabb is worse than EITHER Rex OR Beck, or even that they don't think he's viable. I just think, when we were formally eliminated, Shanny felt he direly needed to see what he had in Rex, and that, should Rex get injured, he'd then rather see a little of Beck than any more from the well-known quantity that is McNabb. In fact, even if any faith in DM5 remained, I think moving him from 1 to 2 would have made the least sense of any possible move, because it would have contradicted they "let's see what we have here" strategy in the face of futility. Do they love him? Obviously not, but they seem to be, at worst, undecided on Rex, and I still think there's easily a chance that they will conclude over the course of this season that McNabb is even more viable than Rex.