INDIANAPOLIS -- For years, Mike Shanahan hasn't had a presence at the NFL combine. Even with Broncos beat writers staking out every exit of his hotel, Shanahan's stealth-like approach allowed him to get in and out of Indy without being noticed.
That's what made his appearance Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium so unusual. He arrived at 10:45 a.m. ET and spent more than an hour visiting with reporters and other bystanders. At one point, Shanahan said, "Two more questions, guys." Then he stayed and did one-on-ones for the next 30 minutes. I'm not saying Shanahan's going to turn into an open book, but it's obvious that he's now the face of the Washington Redskins.
Now, if he'd just come out and tell us who he's going to take with the No. 4 pick in April's draft. Shanahan was predictably coy with most of his answers, although he didn't hide his passion for free-agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson when I broached the topic.
But the main thing on everyone's mind is the quarterback situation in Washington. Shanahan didn't exactly give incumbent starter Jason Campbell a ringing endorsement Friday, although he expressed his "admiration" for the way Campbell overcame so much adversity in '09 -- namely preserving most of his body parts while playing behind an injury-ravaged offensive line. Shanahan confirmed that the Skins will offer Campbell, a restricted free agent, a tender that probably will have first- and third-round compensation attached. If he signs the tender, Campbell would make $3.268 million in 2010 -- otherwise known as Sage Rosenfels money.
Campbell is well within his rights to wonder why the Redskins would ask him to potentially start at quarterback while paying him second-string money. And while he's the ultimate team player -- as evidenced by his behavior last offseason while owner Dan Snyder fawned over other quarterbacks -- there's a chance Campbell could decide not to sign the tender and skip Shanahan's offseason workouts. General manager Bruce Allen is scheduled to meet with Campbell's agent Joel Segal during the combine, according to a league source. Maybe they'll flesh out some of the details. For now, though, Campbell's focused on remaining the starter in 2010.
"No matter who they take, I plan on winning the starting job," Campbell told me Friday. "My plan is to come out and have a great year."
Shanahan has had the good fortune of working with Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Steve Young and John Elway in the past. He knows better than anyone that this is a quarterback's league and that's what led him to trade the 15th and 68th overall picks in the '06 draft to move up and select Jay Cutler at No. 11. He made this move despite the fact that Jake Plummer had led the Broncos to the '05 AFC Championship Game. And by November of the '06 season, Shanahan had made Cutler the full-time starter.
I'm told that Shanahan became obsessed with getting a new quarterback after spending a lot of time with Peyton Manning during Pro Bowl week five years ago. He couldn't believe that Manning was actually studying for the Pro Bowl, something that a free spirit such as Plummer might avoid.
Obviously Shanahan's not going to tip his hand at this point, but you can guarantee that he already has a strong opinion on the top quarterbacks in this draft. I asked him how much college football he watched during his season away from the game and he admitted that it was more than usual. And you can bet that he was paying particular attention to Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Shanahan said he plans on going to the pro days for both of those quarterbacks.
"You just look at the film," said Shanahan, referring to Bradford. "He's played enough that people should have a strong opinion."
Of course, there's a decent chance Bradford will be off the board when the Redskins pick at No. 4. The St. Louis Rams could use a franchise quarterback about now. That leaves Clausen in the mix and perhaps Texas' Colt McCoy in the second round.
I think Shanahan definitely respects what Campbell has done with the Redskins, but the coach's track record suggests he's going to try to make a splash in this draft. And no matter how much you like offensive tackles Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga, the game's not about the left tackle.
On Friday, Shanahan didn't say anything particularly revealing, but in a lot of ways, his past speaks for itself.