The Washington Redskins made a difficult decision last week, trading three first-round picks and a second-rounder to the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft. But owner Daniel Snyder and executive vice president/head coach Mike Shanahan felt the chance to have Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, who led Baylor to its first back-to-back bowl appearances in nearly 20 years, was worth the steep price.
The Redskins could have stayed put at the No. 6 spot in the draft and been in good position to select a promising prospect in Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, using the picks they saved to build the team around him. But a recent development in Washington's own division might have helped the franchise take the more aggressive course of action.
The Philadelphia Eagles began the 2010 season with fourth-year quarterback Kevin Kolb leading the offense. However, Kolb suffered a concussion in the season opener against Green Bay and was replaced by Michael Vick, whom the team signed before the 2009 season after his prison stint for partaking in an illegal dog-fighting ring.
The difference between the play of Kolb and Vick was immediately noticeable. Kolb completed five of his 10 passes for 24 yards in the first half of the game, and the Packers pushed ahead to a 20-3 lead early in the third quarter. Vick, after taking some Wildcat (mostly) snaps in the first half, finished 16-of-24 for 175 yards and one touchdown. He also gained 103 yards on the ground and nearly tied the game late. The Packers ended up winning 27-20, but everyone in the league had instant flashbacks to Vick's days as a dangerous playmaker for the Atlanta Falcons.
So, despite head coach Andy Reid's vehement preseason statements that Kolb was the Eagles' No. 1 QB, Vick abruptly highjacked the starting gig and went on to enjoy his finest professional season to date, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors. With Vick leading the charge in the majority of the season -- Kolb did start four more games due to Vick injuries, but didn't perform very well -- Philadelphia won the NFC East. Thus, it wasn't too surprising when the Eagles traded Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick.
It's not a stretch to compare the games of the similarly sized Kolb and Tannehill. Both are considered to have strong enough arms to make any NFL throw, and both have very good mobility that can be used inside and outside the pocket.
There's also no denying that Griffin's athleticism is reminiscent of Vick's. And scouts have some of the same durability concerns with Griffin that they did with Vick coming out of Virginia Tech, as RG3 missed most of Baylor's 2009 season with a non-contact right ACL injury.
This is not to say that Tannehill and Griffin are carbon copies of Kolb and Vick, respectively. Tannehill started just 19 games in college, while Kolb ran Houston's aerial attack for four seasons. But playing for former Packers head coach (and current Dolphins offensive coordinator) Mike Sherman at A&M, Tannehill ran more of a pro-style system. Meanwhile, Griffin's mechanics and ability as a pocket passer are superior to Vick's coming into league, but he does not quite match Vick's explosiveness as a runner or arm strength. Griffin's football and general character grades, however, are likely to be much higher throughout the draft process.
As far as a case study goes, though, it's difficult to ignore how large a difference Vick made in the 2010 Eagles' playoff run. And this coming from a player who had been in Philadelphia's system one year after being out of the league for two seasons; whereas Kolb had spent three seasons learning the same offense behind McNabb.
Even though Vick's 2011 season was clearly not as good as the Eagles had hoped, it's tough to argue at this point that keeping Kolb would have been a better move. Kolb lost five of six early-season starts with the Cardinals and missed time due to a turf toe and another concussion.
Tannehill appears to be a strong quarterback prospect who could have a long NFL career if placed in the right situation with good talent around him. But after seeing how things played out for the rival Eagles, it's not difficult to imagine that Vick/Kolb decision factored into the Redskins making such a bold trade.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter