Holding the #2 pick in the 2012 draft and a mandate to rebuild the St Louis Rams in his image, Jeff Fisher had a big decision to make. Should he stick with Sam Bradford, to whom the franchise had committed vast resources — both financially and philosophically — or move on and draft one of the two can't-miss phenom quarterbacks at the top of the draft?
Writing for SI, Peter King wrote about this decision as the biggest and boldest move of the Rams rebuild. As the Redskins and Browns engaged in a high-stakes bidding war, Fisher had almost no choice but to do the deal. In draft value, the Rams made out like bandits, but many fans have been vocal about wondering if we should have taken the quarterback.
King lists two key factors: the coach's confidence in Bradford the player and Bradford the man, and the trade market for the 2nd pick, which was almost assuredly going to be used on Robert Griffin III.
However, a third factor existed in the calculation. It has been almost taboo to mention Griffin's high-risk playing style as a determining factor. No one wants to sound like they are wishing injury on the man. But his collapse on a torn up field in a wildcard playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks makes the topic unavoidable.
We can say it now. The Rams unquestionedly got the better end of this deal, and they are the franchise better positioned for a long run of playoff contention at this point in time.
Let's be clear. Sam Bradford had a good year, but nowhere near the kind of success or the kind of impact that RG3 had. Griffin, Luck and Russell Wilson combined to tear up the NFL's rookie record books, and along with Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins, might lay claim to the best rookie class of all time. Bradford, with his draft contemporaries Tim Tebow, John Skelton, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen, are not going to challenge for that title.
But we haven't seen Bradford at his best yet. The fear for Washington fans right now is that we may already have seen the best RG3 has to offer, or the best his body is capable of delivering. Griffin posted an absurd 20-5 TD to INT ratio in his rookie year. He ran for an additional seven more scores while losing only two fumbles.
But the punishment he accumulated during the process was severe, and costly.
Running a read-option offense that forces defenses to account for the quarterback as a runner invites defenses to stack the box in response. Griffin faced pressure on a league-high 34.8% of his snaps. He was sacked 30 times and hit 27 more behind an offensive line that is one of the better lines in the league.
Those are just his stats as a passer. He ran the ball an additional 120 times in the regular season. Let's conservatively estimate that he took hits on a third of those plays. Add 40 more direct tackles as a runner to his 30 sacks, and suddenly we're putting Griffin in company with David Carr, who got sacked 76 times as a rookie. We're putting Griffin in company with Michael Vick, who took a comparable amount of punishment in his first year as a starter, and who started only four games the next year.
The challenge for Mike Shanahan this offseason is to determine whether they can break themselves of running the read-option offense, before they fast-track Griffin on the Randall Cunningham career path. If they do, they find themselves back to square one on offense.
And square one starts without a first round draft pick in 2013 or 2014, robbing the Redskins of top-level talent to put around RG3. This invites Daniel Snyder to make more high-priced free agent mistakes to fill the gaps.
Meanwhile, the Rams rebuild is almost apace with the Redskins in terms of record, and they are loaded with young players and more top-tier draft picks than any other NFL team in the next two drafts. Just as importantly, they have coaching stability with Jeff Fisher and his veteran staff in their first year of a rebuild, already proving the ability to refine the talent on the roster.
Building a long-term contender in the NFL is all about fitting your key talent into windows. The window of the Greatest Show era Rams was far shorter than it should have been, thanks to Mike Martz's coaching power play and a broken front office that started stripping the roster's depth bare and could not restock via the draft.
Despite having incredible offensive talent in Faulk, Bruce and Holt at their disposal for more than five seasons, the Rams were one yard away from failing to win a single title in their window of contention.
The Rams may find their window opening as early as 2013, with an influx of talent and a ton of respect for taking on the 2nd-toughest schedule in the league and not backing down. The Redskins have Robert Griffin, Alfred Morris, a game of playoff experience, a wrecked knee, and a ton of question marks.