My ESPN colleague John Clayton dropped a little nugget on the radio Tuesday night about the Washington Redskins taking Marcus Mariota with the fifth pick if he’s available. As always, I have some thoughts on the matter:
I talked to someone a few weeks ago about Mariota and what Philadelphia would have to surrender to move up from No. 20 to the Redskins pick at No. 5. One thing he said: Mariota was better than Robert Griffin III.
Three years ago Griffin was a slam-dunk No. 2 choice. Tennessee owns the No. 2 pick and by most accounts is likely focused on USC defensive end Leonard Williams instead. The Titans need a quarterback. Badly. For whatever reason, they might pass on Mariota.
Another scout I spoke with said he’d take Mariota if he were the Redskins, saying he thought Mariota was better than Griffin -- not great, but someone you could win with. He did not think the Redskins would win with the quarterbacks on their roster.
Another executive said he bought into the possibility because of how the Redskins' football side comes across in regards to Griffin, not because he knows the Redskins thoughts on Mariota. He also said he hasn’t heard anything about the Redskins shopping Griffin (whom they named their starter for 2015 and have given no indication he’s going anywhere).
Finally, another coach wondered if the Redskins were just trying to stir up interest in their own draft pick. And he doubted the Redskins would make such a move, but obviously wasn’t sure. Certainly, there are mis-truths put out every year about the draft.
Mariota comes from a spread system at Oregon that will require the usual difficult adjustment, though Griffin certainly showed you can succeed early while doing so. The problem, Redskins coaches would say, is that Griffin’s next steps indicated he didn’t realize how far he still had to go as a passer. So, in their minds, his lack of recent success isn’t tied to the system he ran at Baylor as much as his lack of awareness in his own game. Just pointing out what they say; go ahead and shoot the messenger if it makes you feel better. But the point is: They wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss Mariota just because of the spread. However, Jay Gruden likes the drop-back game and there’s no way Mariota would be ready to become that sort of passer. But I think Gruden could live with it if Mariota made good decisions on the move. That’s been a knock on Griffin. Durability is another knock, and Griffin has already had two ACL surgeries.
One thing general manager Scot McCloughan discussed on his first day with the Redskins was Russell Wilson’s "it" factor. And it wasn’t about his play, it was about his aura and how he conducted himself and took charge. If he views Mariota as having that same "it" factor and not Griffin, then maybe this will happen.
Keep in mind when Griffin arrived here, early on I kept hearing teammates talk about how hard he worked and was a welcome change from Donovan McNabb. If Griffin played well and the Redskins won, there’d be zero worry about anything other than his play. When you lose, everything else is magnified. Griffin needs to mature; he’s still talented and does work hard.
Gruden was hired in part to get Griffin going. But if this feels like a forced relationship, then it will make it tough on both parties. Players need coaches to believe in them. I also get that while the coaches are down on Griffin, they, too, have a lot to prove.
But the bottom line is what McCloughan thinks of the situation (and if he does indeed think a certain way, getting the owner to go along). McCloughan, like anyone, puts a great deal of importance on the quarterback. He’s also someone who likes a consensus. If he views a situation as unworkable, should he let it continue? No. Especially if there’s a quarterback he likes sitting there when the Redskins pick? This becomes about his future; these guys want to win. Coaches like players who help them win. Period. It keeps them employed, you know?
I have no idea if this will happen. But there are a lot of new eyes in the building since Griffin arrived. It certainly adds intrigue next month to the draft. (And you'd have to unload Griffin right away; this wouldn't be about competition for him, it would be about a replacement.) And, yes, it would be stunning to think Griffin wouldn’t finish his first contract here (see: St. Louis, Sam Bradford). But there's a long way to go before that happens.