The primary goal, and the Washington Redskins' biggest need, is a franchise quarterback. Not a capable quarterback. They have one of those, but Rex Grossman throws too many interceptions. They need to move on from him and upgrade for 2012. So the hunt is on for the franchise quarterback.
The problem is that everybody wants a franchise quarterback, and although there are 32 NFL teams in the world, the number of people who fit the description "franchise quarterback" is something less than 32.
"Not everybody understands that," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan told me in an interview in his Ashburn, Va., office last month.
I don't think Shanahan knows what he's going to do about quarterback for next season, because I don't think he knows yet what he can do. The Redskins are picking No. 6 in the first round of this year's draft. A trade-up to No. 1 to get Andrew Luck looks impossible, because the Indianapolis Colts seem intent on taking him. And it appears as though a team might have to trade as high as No. 2 to get Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Those are the two quarterbacks in this year's draft who appear fit for the "franchise" label. Given the competition sure to come from the Browns, Dolphins and others in the trade-up sweepstakes, the price might be too high. It's not, after all, as though the Redskins have no other needs and can just trade their whole draft for a quarterback.
So, although it remains possible that they would move up, Redskins fans must brace for the likelihood that the team will get neither Luck nor Griffin and would therefore go into 2012 with some non-franchise quarterback -- and therefore with their biggest need still unfilled. Sure, Ryan Tannehill or Nick Foles or Brandon Weeden could be available in a later round and end up being the guy. But if the Redskins come away with one of those players, there's no way to know for sure whether (a) he'll be ready to play in 2012 or (b) he's the long-term answer.
ESPN's Mel Kiper addressed a lot of these issues on a conference call that was well-attended by Washington media on Thursday. On the same call, Mel said that he'd heard the Redskins didn't have a high opinion of Matt Flynn, the Packers' backup quarterback who's likely to be a free agent, and that it was possible they could pursue Colts veteran and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. This is an idea I think they should seriously consider.
Some disclaimers, of course: First, Manning has to prove he's healthy enough to play. The neck injury that cost him the 2011 season is the main reason the Colts are in a position to pick Luck, and why the Colts are almost certain to let Manning walk rather than pay him a $28 million roster bonus that's due March 8. Rob Lowe tweeted the other day that he'd heard Manning was planning to retire, and although it's been awhile since Rob Lowe broke a big NFL story, you can't rule out the possibility that Manning would hang it up at age 35 with a bum neck.
But assuming Manning wants to play and can prove that he's healthy enough to sign, the Redskins need to keep this alive as a possible 2012 solution.
The arguments against it don't make a lot of sense. The Redskins wouldn't have to give up picks or players for Manning -- he'll be cut before the trading season even opens. The Colts won't trade him because they can't. And they'll surely release him rather than pay him that $28 million bonus plus his salary and commit $23 million or so to Luck. That's a little bit too much money tied up in one position for a team that just went 2-14. So it'd just be about money for the Redskins, and likely not very much. There are legitimate questions about whether Manning would want to play in Washington, where the Redskins have had three straight losing seasons, but if you can get him a No. 1 wide receiver and add a big offensive line piece, it becomes an easier sell.
And yes, he's 35 and clearly not the long-term answer. But this wouldn't be Donovan McNabb all over again. Shanahan's problem with McNabb wasn't McNabb's inability to fit into the offense -- it was McNabb's unwillingness to put in the work during the week to prepare for the games. I'm not aware of anything in Manning's history that hints at a similar problem, nor have I heard anything to indicate he's a problem around younger players. I don't think bringing Manning in to play quarterback for a year or two would stunt the growth of the rest of the team. Might even help it.
All of this assumes that the Redskins can't find their "franchise" guy this offseason, which is very possible since they don't grow on trees. There's no reason to force it and build around a quarterback you don't believe is the long-term answer. The Redskins can spend their picks and money on receivers and linemen and defensive backs, and maybe a project quarterback who could sit behind Manning for a year or two and learn the trade.
A lot would have to happen yet for this to become a real possibility, but it surely could. And if it does, it's one that Shanahan and the Redskins shouldn't rule out.