The decision to go with the more experienced Grossman indicates that the Redskins believe they can compete now instead of merely building for the future.
The move comes as somewhat of a surprise after an offseason during which Shanahan spoke glowingly of Beck and Beck essentially pronounced himself the starter. Instead, Grossman, who led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season but hasn’t began a season as a starter in four years, will call the signals for Washington.
Beck appears to be more athletic than Grossman, and Mike Shanahan favors quarterbacks who can run side to side in his zone blocking scheme. Shanahan has also admired the 30-year-old Beck since he played at Brigham Young University and was drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins in 2007. But Grossman, 31, has considerably more pro experience, having played in 41 NFL games to just five for Beck.
This is Grossman’s third season in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system after backing up Matt Schaub in Houston in 2009 and starting the final three games last year for the Redskins after the benching of Donovan McNabb.
Kyle Shanahan likes his quarterbacks to pass deep, often and then look for shorter throws. When Rex is on, he can throw long as well as the top 10 quarterbacks in the league.
Speculation by media and fans has centered around the fact that Shanahan would start Beck, because Grossman is a known commodity and Beck has more upside. Since the Redskins are commonly perceived as being far away from winning, conventional wisdom says Washington should go with Beck, who may have more potential than Grossman. The thinking goes that Grossman has been streaky and inconsistent throughout his career. The nine-year veteran out of Florida has thrown 40 touchdowns but also tossed 40 interceptions.
Meanwhile, the unproven Beck, who didn’t get to the NFL until he was 26 because of a three-year mission to Portugal before entering BYU, hasn’t played an NFL regular season game since 2007 with Miami. That year, the Dolphins finished 1-15.
After Grossman said he expected the Redskins to win the NFC East this summer, he was ridiculed by much of the national media, some of whom have picked Washington to win only two or three games. This perception comes after nearly two decades of mediocrity, a time when this once proud franchise has lost most of the respect it had after going to four Super Bowls in 10 years.
However, the Redskins are better than their national perception. People forget that despite all the turmoil of last year, the Redskins beat the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, NFC Central division leading Chicago and NFC East leading Philadelphia.
In the NFL, teams don’t always make incremental jumps. A 6-10 record like the Redskins had in 2010 can often lead to a quick turnaround. In fact, from 2009 to 2010 Kansas City improved from 4-12 to 10-6 while Tampa Bay went from 3-13 to 10-6.
A short ride up I-95 to the home of the team that wears purple shows that the NFL can stand for “Not For Long” when it comes to losing. It’s a myth that Baltimore has been consistently good for the past decade. The Ravens improved from seven wins to 10 from 2002 to 2003, from six to 13 from 2005 to 2006, and from five to 11 from 2007 to 2008.
This offseason the Redskins got younger and faster through the draft, resigned key veterans, and acquired right guard Chris Chester, running back Tim Hightower, and receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth. On defense Washington added solid linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield and safety O.J. Atogwe. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, a first round draft choice, should help out a defense in the second year of a 3-4 scheme.
The distraction of Albert Haynesworth is gone, and while the Shanahans bungled their handling of quarterback Donovan McNabb, his departure quiets another controversy. Maybe these no-name Redskins will begin a run of success like the Redskins had in the 1980s. In 1980, the Redskins finished 6-10, then in 1981 they went 8-8 and exploded the following year to win their first Super Bowl.
Both quarterbacks played well in the preseason, with the slight edge going to Grossman. Shanahan has done something that is becoming all too rare in sports. He gave the job to the better player rather than the player with the better potential.
In Washington, teams build for the future so much that they forget about the present. The youth movement of the Wizards will be useless without at least a few solid veterans. The Caps’ dominance in the regular season hasn’t translated into playoff success, no matter how many stars they have, largely because almost the whole team has been in their 20s. Finally Ted Leonsis has acquired a few 30-somethings for the upcoming season. The Nationals' motto may as well be “Wait ‘til next year.” The Nats are on their way to a seventh straight losing season.
While the Redskins have mortgaged their future for too long, in the NFL the future comes fast. The Redskins are finally assembling a team the right way, through the draft and with solid, unspectacular moves. The culture of getting paid to come to Washington has changed, and with it, the Redskins may be at least on burgundy and gold-brick road to returning to their glorious history.
While the Redskins’ motto may not be “the Future is Now,” a phrase former coach George Allen was associated with, unlike other Washington sports teams, this team is not going to throw away the present in favor of the future. It’s time to win, even if that means barely getting above .500.
Last year’s 6-10 finish could easily turn into a 9-7 wild card berth with a little luck during the second year in the offensive and defensive systems of the Shanahans and Jim Haslett. The NFC East is tough, but the Redskins also get to play against teams from the worst division in football, the NFC West. So if things fall right, a playoff berth is not out of the question.
Beck will eventually get his chance, and it may even come later this year. But for now, Shanahan has made the right decision in starting Rex Grossman.