Giv­ing up 1st-rounders not the end of the world

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

No NFL team to give up three first-round picks for a player. High draft picks are the ce­ment blocks with which cham­pi­onship clubs are built. But sac­ri­fic­ing that many No. 1s (along with a No. 2) for this year’s sec­ond se­lec­tion — and the chance to get Heis­man Tro­phy-win­ning quar­ter­back Robert Grif­fin III — doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to dam­age the Washington Red­skins’ long-term prospects.

How do we know this? Be­cause the Red­skins, in the not-too-dis­tant past, got by quite nicely with­out first-rounders. A whole bunch of them. From 1971 to ‘91, they had ex­actly four No. 1 picks . . . and traded away the other 17. And these, I’ll just re­mind you, were the glory years, years that saw them go to five Su­per Bowls and win three. No­body thought more out­side the box in that pe­riod than Ge­orge Allen and Bobby Beathard, the ar­chi­tects of those teams. While Allen and Beathard didn’t bat 1.000 in the wheel­ing-and­deal­ing depart­ment, their record speaks for it­self. In those 21 sea­sons, no fran­chise won more games than Washington did (223, count­ing the play­offs).

So, yes, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble the Red­skins will sur­vive this lat­est ex­trav­a­gance, as costly as the sec­ond pick was. It isn’t, af­ter all, some­thing they’re likely to do again soon. (So far, they’ve done a swap of this mag­ni­tude — three first-rounders for one — once in 81 years.)

Be­sides, trad­ing a No. 1 doesn’t mean as much now as it did in Allen and Beathard’s time. When Ge­orge and Bobby dealt all those firstrounders, re­mem­ber, there was no free agency — ex­cept, briefly, in 1976, when a fed­eral court lib­er­ated a hand­ful of play­ers. Granted, there was Plan B free agency from ‘89 to ‘91, but that was ba­si­cally a yard sale of sec­ond- and third-tier guys. So when you gave up a No. 1 back then, you knew that, out­side of sign­ing some CFL star like War­ren Moon, there was lit­tle you could do to make up for it. Your best hope was to draft well in the lower rounds and try to fill the void that way.

But nowa­days we have quar­ter­backs like Pey­ton Man­ning, de­fen­sive ends like Mario Wil­liams, wide re­ceivers like Vin­cent Jack­son (al­ready signed by Tampa Bay) and cor­ner­backs like Cort­land Fin­negan (snapped up by St. Louis) — among many oth­ers — avail­able to the high­est bid­der. If a club is will­ing to pay the price, it can ad­dress just about any need, and do it It doesn’t have to wait a year or three for a draftee to get his legs un­der him. The trick, of course, is to spend your money wisely, be­cause prices tend to be in­flated in the quick-fix world of free agency. If you make a mis­take, it can come back to bite you.

Just ask Dan Sny­der, whose pa­parazz­i­like pur­suit of name-brand play­ers has left him with more teeth marks than Robert Shaw in “Jaws.” But the Red­skins have done bet­ter in free agency since Mike Shana­han and Bruce Allen came aboard, stay­ing away from the glitz and fo­cus­ing on piece-of-the-puz­zle pro­duc­ers like Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and, in Tues­day’s frenzy, Pierre Gar­con and Josh Mor­gan.

If they can con­tinue to get good value for their cap dol­lars, they can do much to com­pen­sate for the loss of sev­eral high draft picks.

The Red­skins’ No. 1 pick last year, for in­stance, Ryan Ker­ri­gan (who went 16th), got a four-year deal worth a re­ported $8.72 mil­lion. Since the team won’t have a first-rounder the next two years, it can put those mil­lions into free agency — or into re­struc­tured con­tracts that would im­prove its salary cap sit­u­a­tion down the road. The picks are lost, but the money isn’t. And the money can do the Red­skins plenty of good.

That’s not to say that first-round picks aren’t im­por­tant . . . or that trad­ing three No. 1s for a player is ideal. Heck, with the new rookie wage scale, No. 1s are more af­ford­able than they’ve been in decades — and less ex­pen­sive than many free agents. But if Allen and Beathard could win with­out firstrounders, in a much more re­stric­tive en­vi­ron­ment, there’s no rea­son Shanny and Allen’s son can’t so the same, can’t have their cake and RG3, too. The op­por­tu­ni­ties will be there for them.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Red­skins wide re­ceiver Pierre Gar­con posted ca­reer highs of 70 catches and 947 yards last sea­son with In­di­anapo­lis. He signed a five-year, $42.5 mil­lion con­tract with Washington on Wed­nes­day.

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