Coming off of an impressive 23-10 road victory over the New York Giants, one would think the Washington Redskins -- now 5 and 9 -- would be getting a fair amount of praise. After all, they did go into a hostile environment to face a playoff-hungry Giants team and dominated them on both sides of the ball in what was arguably their most complete effort of the year.
Despite that, their fifth win of the season hasn't seemed to elicit any sort of feelings of optimism for the future. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. That, of course, is because of the fanbase's growing discontent of the team going on a late-season run, one that'll hurt their 2012 NFL Draft position come April.
The common sentiment appears to be this: Winning games late in a doomed season is meaningless, and the idea of "creating a winning culture" is simply a mythical objective that rarely translates into success going into the following season. People gravitate towards the higher draft selection -- a tangible prize -- rather than buying into an abstract concept like organizational culture.
But while it's true that losing will help them rise up in the draft order, winning late season games doesn't mean that the Redskins won't be able to achieve their biggest offseason goal: the drafting of a potential franchise quarterback.
It's no secret that quarterback will sit atop the team's offseason wish list and that the draft will very likely be the area in which they address it. The top three names being floated around are Stanford's Andrew Luck, USC's Matt Barkley, and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor. The hope for fans is that the Redskins could be in play for at least one of these signal callers, each of whom are expected to be selected in the top 10 assuming all three declare for the 2012 NFL Draft.
The fear now is that Sunday's win puts the Redskins farther away from acquiring any of these players, and that aside from draft ramifications, Sunday's win didn't accomplish much. But come April, it could very well be the case that the fanbase's fretting over December victories was an even more fruitless exercise. The fact is there are far too many variables that come along with any draft, and projecting how those variables play out in December yields inaccurate results.
So why is it okay for fans to be happy with the win and not concern themselves with the draft? Here are a few reasons why:
1. Wins like this reflect well on not only the players on the team, but the coaching staff: Usually when a team is playing out the string to end a bad season, there shouldn't be an expectation that they'd go on the road and deliver a potential knockout blow to a team still fighting for a playoff spot. That's exactly what happened Sunday, and it showed not only the resilience of the players, but the coaching staff's ability to prepare and motivate them. Regardless if that translates to wins in 2012, it's certainly a plus to have signs that the right coaching staff is in place, not to mention players who will come to play every week. This as opposed to, say, Tampa Bay's dreadful showing Saturday against the Cowboys.
2. It's unknown how, when, or if other perceived "quarterback needy" teams will address the position: People are ready to peg teams like the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs as teams the Redskins could compete with to acquire a potential franchise quarterback. Most people assume every quarterback hungry team will be in the hunt for the top three quarterback prospects in the draft. But who's to say teams won't be active trying to acquire veteran QB's via trade? That, in addition to what could be available via free agency, could change a team's plan.
In Cleveland and Jacksonville's case, people believe that they will essentially give up on their young quarterbacks and get right back in the hunt for their replacements at the top of the draft. But what if they want to select a quarterback in the second round and get the best player available with their first pick? Some of those teams have far more glaring needs than just quarterback and are in dire need of talent at a number of other positions, so it's no lock they will definitely go quarterback with top selection.
3. The draft process hasn't even begun to play out: Heck, bowl season just started. There are still plenty of chances for the Redskins to evaluate who they like over the coming months. Events like the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and private workouts will determine how they truly rate this quarterback class. The scouting staff has spent most of the college season coming up with their own evaluations, but ultimately it'll be up to Mike Shanahan to make the decision as to who he likes best. His opinion won't even begin to be shaped until at least February, when he begins to delve into college tape. If he indeed likes one of the top three quarterbacks, and he feels strongly enough about any of them, then it's certainly possible he could attempt to trade up in the draft. He did so in 2006 when he moved up four spots to select Jay Cutler.
Obviously it may be a bit more expensive for him to make a similar move this time around, but that's why Bruce Allen and his staff are in place: to negotiate the least expensive deal for the Redskins while still managing to give the other team something desirable. Wins like Sunday's might have increase that asking price, but if Washington feels that strongly about a particular player (whether right or wrong), then it's worth taking a shot.
4. How rare is it that three quarterbacks are selected in the top ten anyway? Pretty rare, actually. Since 1980, it's only happened twice. The most recent, of course, was last April when Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert were all taken within the first ten selections. Redskins fans are frightened at the prospect that 2012 could be a repeat of 1999, when quarterbacks Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith were all selected within the first three picks. But how likely is that to happen again? Will Luck, Barkley and Griffin all be gone within the top five? Top ten even?
Again, the draft process has to play out. It's difficult to tell whose draft stock (besides Luck's) will rise or fall in the coming months, and that goes for quarterbacks and non-quarterbacks alike. Perhaps a team ahead of Washington will fall in love with USC tackle Matt Kalil, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or someone else entirely. Either way, it's too early to tell.
There's no doubt that the draft is important, and that where the Redskins select in the first round could determine what moves they could make this coming offseason. But owning a high draft choice was always meant to be consolation for losing teams, not something they strive to attain.
Fans and media, however, have the luxury of a different line of thinking. But just because the Redskins are slated to pick 7th overall as of now, doesn't mean that most people's crystal ball predictions of missing out on a franchise quarterback will come true in April.
Especially when those predictions are made in December.