The St. Louis Rams took advantage of some of the best leverage in NFL history this week -- and Friday night confirmed that they'd finalized one of the biggest trades in league history with the Washington Redskins.
It's believed that no team has ever traded three first-round picks for a draft choice in NFL history. The Redskins did all of that, plus added a second-rounder to the deal with St. Louis so Washington will be able to choose Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the first round of the NFL draft April 26.
When the NFL league year opens Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Rams will officially deal the second pick in the draft to Washington for the sixth overall pick, Washington's second-rounder this year (39th overall), plus the Redskins' first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.
The deal leaves St. Louis with the sixth, 33rd (first in the second round and first on day two of the draft) and 39th picks this year, along with two first-rounders in both 2013 and 2014. If the Rams can't turn those seven prime picks into a contender, they will have blown one of the great architectural opportunities in NFL history.
The kneejerk reaction is to say Washington overpaid. And history might show that GM Bruce Allen and head coach Mike Shanahan did. When the Rams started this process a couple of weeks ago, their hope was that some team would give them three first-round picks for the second overall pick. But not just three ones; the optimum value would be three ones, with the first one in this year's top 10. Washington certainly provided that. But the Rams got lucky.
Washington was joined in the pursuit for the pick by Cleveland (who owns the fourth overall pick in the draft) and Miami (picking eighth overall) -- and two teams beyond the 10th overall pick. Those two teams couldn't be identified late Friday night, but with the fervent interest Philadelphia showed in both Andrew Luck and Griffin, the two top quarterbacks in this draft, it wouldn't be surprising if Philadelphia wanted to move up to take either a quarterback or another top prospect.
The league was abuzz with the news Friday night. One GM told SI.com he understood why the Redskins paid such a huge price for Griffin. "If you're Washington, and you haven't had a quarterback in so long, you can't pay too much for Griffin,'' the GM said.
The deal is a coup for rookie GM Les Snead of the Rams. The haul is beyond what he could have hoped for. One of the teams involved in the pursuit of the Rams' No. 2 pick told SI.com Friday night that Snead, instead of using one team against another in the deal, set a price this week and went about trying to get a team to meet it. The Redskins did.
In the end, it's easy to say the Redskins overpaid. That's what everyone said about the Giants' deal for Eli Manning in 2004 after a couple of years. New York dealt two first-round picks, a third and a fifth to San Diego for Manning. It looked excessive until the last four years --when Manning has become one of the best clutch quarterbacks in recent history and won two Super Bowls.
Griffin is an accurate and athletic quarterback, and he told me at the Scouting Combine two weeks ago he's willing to be a malleable one. "I don't care what system I'm in,'' he said. Shanahan will be happy to use his athleticism and his strong throwing arm to make him a mobile passer and a pocket passer, all in one.