NEW YORK -- Musings, observations, and the occasional insight as we wrap up the NFL's entire three-day draft extravaganza at Radio City Music Hall ...
• I keep trying to discern the master plan in Washington's pick of Kirk Cousins, but I just can't see the wisdom of it. It strikes me as the wrong move, at the wrong time, by the wrong team.
Just when they were enjoying a wildly successful and well-reviewed offseason, the Redskins stunned the rest of the NFL Saturday afternoon by selecting the Michigan State senior quarterback in the fourth round, with pick No. 102. It came exactly 100 draft slots after Washington had taken Baylor's Robert Griffin III, a player the franchise gave up a king's ransom for in that early March trade with St. Louis.
What in the name of Gus Frerotte is going on here?
On the surface, I understand the investment in the future rationale. But this wasn't Green Bay or Philadelphia making its usual move of drafting a quarterback to develop in the middle rounds every few years or so, on the thinking that he might just develop either into your starter way down the road, or some handy trade bait in a couple of years. This was Washington, a team with plenty of needs and a relative scarcity of draft picks this year and in the near future thanks to the blockbuster RG3 trade, spending a second of its first three choices this weekend on a quarterback.
According to ESPN's reporting, the Redskins braintrust sees this as a similar situation Atlanta was in early in the Michael Vick era. The Falcons drafted Matt Schaub out of Virginia in the third round in 2004, played him only when Vick was hurt, but developed him enough to ship him to Houston in the spring of 2007 for a pair of second-round picks in a deal that was widely hailed as a coup for Atlanta.
But a couple key differences need pointing out: Vick was well-established as the face of the franchise in Atlanta and entering his fourth year in the NFL by the time Schaub was drafted in 2004; the two didn't break in as rookies together like Griffin and Cousins will do. And it took Atlanta three years to cultivate a trade market for Schaub, before the payoff came via trade in return for its investment. A similar timetable could be in the offing for Cousins and Washington, and that might be the best-case scenario.
That's why puzzling doesn't begin to describe the call. The Redskins simply aren't in the position to take that sort of nonessential gamble at this point in the Mike Shanahan coaching era, and I don't care how highly they had Cousins graded, it's at best sending a confusing and mixed message just when Washington seemed to at last have a clarity of vision. This was going to be RG3's team, RG3's town, and RG3's time. Case closed. Or not.
Don't get me wrong. I don't really believe Cousins is in any way going to pose true competition for Griffin. Not with the talents Griffin has, and not with the price Washington paid for him.
But what's the point of having the coaching staff expend any energy or time trying to develop two rookie quarterbacks simultaneously? What's the point of handing the team's rabid fan base and the media any other storyline at quarterback other than Griffin is the guy, the franchise, the future? This is D.C. after all. They've specialized in quarterback controversies there since Sammy Baugh retired.
And what's the point of putting even a shred of doubt in Griffin's mind about his status on the depth chart or what Shanahan might be thinking? Griffin at least watched from afar as the Donovan McNabb-Shanahan marriage fall apart quickly in 2010 when the head coach back away from the QB he had so enthusiastically embraced and given up much to acquire only months before.
Again, that's not going to be Griffin's experience in Washington. I'm confident of that. But I just don't see enough upside to warrant opening the can of worms the Redskins opened Saturday. The risk-reward ratio is out of whack on this one.
Sorry, but Shanahan tried to be too smart by half this time. It's not even as if Washington was desperate for a decent backup behind Griffin, because as No. 2's go, you could do a lot worse than veteran and onetime Super Bowl starter Rex Grossman. You don't want Grossman starting, as we learned again last season, but he can win you a game or two in relief on his Good Rex days. As for the Redskins' other 2010 starting quarterback, Godspeed, John Beck. Washington released him Saturday after drafting Cousins.
In Cousins, you have a fourth-round investment tied up in a quarterback who might require two or three years of preseason play and development in order to get your value back out of him on the trade market. With an 11-21 won-loss record so far in Washington, and Year 3 of the Shanahan era looking so potentially pivotal, was fleecing some needy team in the backup quarterback trade market in 2014 really that high up on the Redskins' priority list?
It shouldn't have been. By any measure, the question of whether a developmental quarterback/insurance policy was really the best possible use of the Redskins' fourth-round pick in 2012 becomes almost laughable. How could it be? With Griffin, the time is now in Washington. Adding Cousins to the mix only served to potentially muddle the Redskins' focus. And Washington already has endured plenty of that particular problem for the past 12 frustrating years.
Cousins might some day be a successful starting quarteback in the NFL. But him becoming a Redskin now, on the heels of RG3's arrival in D.C., is a case of the wrong move, at the wrong time, by the wrong team.
• Judging from this year's draft, it's pretty clear who's being chased and who's doing the chasing in the NFC East. The New York Giants are coming off their second Super Bowl championship in a five-season span, putting Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia all in serious lean-forward mode.
The Redskins, of course, swung the deal of the century in moving up to No. 2 to land the franchise quarterback they've lacked for decades in Griffin; the Cowboys got bold in jumping from No. 14 to No. 6 in order to acquire LSU cornerback Morris Clairborne and hopefully fix their shaky secondary; and the Eagles get busy on the defensive front, trading up from 15th to 12th to nab Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and solidify their front seven.
New York, with the luxury and latitude that perhaps comes with winning a championship, got to sit tight with its No. 32 draft slot, picking off a player in Virginia Tech running back David Wilson who both fit its needs and its draft grades. No big, splashy trade up forthcoming from the G-Men. None were necessary.
It's still a tightly-clumped division, as always, but the NFC East is the Giants and three Giants wannabees.
• I'm not sure I've ever seen a team go right down its need list and check off positions quite like the Steelers have done in this draft. Pittsburgh went into the pick-fest with obvious holes to fill at offensive tackle, guard, inside linebacker and nose tackle.
Presto, they get Stanford guard David DeCastro in the first round, Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round, Miami linebacker Sean Spence in the third round, and Washington defensive tackle Ta'amu Alameda in the fourth round. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Nothing to it. And the Steelers got nothing but blue-chip to solid prospects in the process of their haul.
Only slightly less impressive from the confluence of need and value were the Giants, who love to hew to their best-player-available draft approach. Maybe so, but it worked out well to fill needs in New York this time around. The Giants replaced Brandon Jacobs on its running back depth chart with Virginia Tech's David Wilson in the first round, and subbed in LSU receiver Reuben Randle for the departed Mario Manningham in the second round. In the third round, the Giants took Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley, neatly making up for the loss of Aaron Ross in free agency.
In the fourth round, New York was at it again, taking Adrien Robinson of Cincinnati, after the Giants lost tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to ACL injuries in the Super Bowl. The Steelers and Giants were like experienced shoppers on the grand opening of a new supermarket. They knew what they needed, and they efficiently buzzed around getting good bargains in every aisle.
• Have to give the top of Tampa Bay's draft my seal of approval. Moving back two spots in the top 10 and still coming away with Alabama safety Mark Barron. Moving up and back into the first round at No. 31 to go get Boise State running back Doug Martin. And taking Nebraska outside linebacker Lavonte David late in the second round. All were team leaders and captains in college, and that's the Greg Schiano effect showing up in Tampa Bay, right away.
It's not business as usual any more in Bucs-ville. Schiano is all business, and he's getting guys who play that way. With the Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson deals in free agency factored in, Tampa Bay is an early bounce-back team candidate this season -- especially if quarterback Josh Freeman takes care of the football.
• Imagine if you came out of two-year coma on Saturday to discover the Bengals have become one of the best-drafting teams in the NFL. That news might actually stun you back in unconsciousness.
But it's true. The A.J. Green, Andy Dalton haul of last year set a high bar in terms of impact, but there was much more to like in this year's draft. Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler (after a trade down from 21 to 27) in the first round represented strong work. But then to get Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still in the second round, and Rutgers receiver Mohammed Sanu and Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson in the third round put Cincy in the elite class in this year's draft. That's five potential starters who just walked into the door for Marvin Lewis, as well as coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer.
• I'm making an early call on two of the most improved defenses in the NFL this season. Philadelphia and Green Bay both focused heavily on defense after struggling mightily on the side of the ball in 2011, and look the better for it.
The Eagles really helped their front seven with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round, and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry in the second. Philly just more athletic on defense, with players who can chase and hit the ballcarrier with authority.
The Packers know they probably let a shot at back-to-back Super Bowl trips slip through their grasp due to their defensive deficiencies. So they responded by taking defenders with their first six picks this year. While I'm not as high on USC's Nick Perry as some, Green Bay is confident he can add impact as an outside linebacker after playing defensive end in college. Also, from a value standpoint, Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy at No. 51 and Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward were nice finds in the second round. Both should contribute as rookies on a deeper Packers defense.
• It's not surprising the Browns now say they don't expect to wind up moving Colt McCoy after drafting Brandon Weeden in the first round Thursday night. Where's he supposed to go at this point? With Green Bay apparently not interested in him as Aaron Rodgers' backup, the chairs have all filled up and the music has stopped.
Seattle drafted Russell Wilson in the third round after signing Matt Flynn in free agency. The Eagles drafted Arizona's Nick Foles in the third round, and still have Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards behind Michael Vick. And don't even think about calling Washington. They've caught their limit at QB.
• Dolphins owner Stephen Ross joked about some day retiring Ryan Tannehill's No. 17 jersey number at the introductory news conference for his team's new quarterback. As if being the umpteenth Miami quarterback trying to fill Dan Marino's shoes wasn't daunting enough for the rookie to deal with.
• Couldn't help but root for the "other'' Robert Griffin from Baylor to get drafted Saturday, and the ex-Bears offensive lineman landed in a pretty decent spot, being taken in the sixth round by the Jets. New York is recommitting next season to its power running game, and Robert T. Griffin is a mauler of a blocker who might fit well into the Jets' plans, at least as a developmental project.
I wrote about Griffin and his unusual level of fame/obscurity earlier this month in the pre-draft buildup, and he told me he visited the Jets this spring and told Rex Ryan how much he longed to play for him. He will get his wish.
I suppose it was too much to expect the Redskins to take him, and reunite RG2 with his more famous collegiate teammate, RG3. But at least now he can start making a name for himself, of sorts.