The Redskins have suffered from a series of unfortunate turns at the most important position in the sport.
Clutching the 15th pick but perhaps willing to trade up or acquire a passer from another team, the NFL's most quarterback-desperate franchise might be the most interesting factor heading into the 2019 draft.
Contenders for the (Unwanted) Crown
Normally a team picking 15th doesn't have the league's biggest problem under center.
But look at the draft order. The Arizona Cardinals right at No. 1 don't have a problem. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury might want Kyler Murray, but it is a self-inflicted "need" and nothing more. Josh Rosen, last year's 10th pick, showed signs of promise despite a lack of talent around him and questionable coaching that ended up getting the lead man in charge fired after one season.
It goes on from there. The San Francisco 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo. The New York Jets have Sam Darnold. Jon Gruden's Oakland Raiders have Derek Carr. Bruce Arians sounds tied to Jameis Winston. The New York Giants, in all their wisdom, continue to clutch only the positive memories of Eli Manning.
Keep it going, right? At No. 7, the Jacksonville Jaguars coughed up what could be north of $100 million for Nick Foles. Detroit still has Matthew Stafford. Buffalo likes Josh Allen. John Elway's repeated quarterback failures have led to Joe Flacco. Cincinnati has a new head coach, but the notoriously loyal organization could keep Andy Dalton as the starter. Green Bay, obvious. Miami brought on Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap. Atlanta, obvious again.
Fourteen teams, no surefire quarterback pick. Or at the least, 14 teams that might invest in a high-upside defender in a defense-loaded class and make do with that they have at quarterback. The 2019 class has always and continues to be uninspiring under center.
But that shouldn't stop the 15th team in the order from making a move.
The Problem in Washington
Where to start?
Rewind to last offseason. The Washington front office didn't want to pay up for Kirk Cousins, who landed in Minnesota on an $84 million deal. Maybe Washington decision-makers viewed Cousins as a steep price for average purgatory, which is fair: Cousins made a habit of crumbling in big games. In Washington, he completed 65.5 percent of his passes with 99 touchdowns and 55 interceptions. In Minnesota, he completed 70.1 percent with 30 touchdowns and 10 picks, but he took 40 sacks and the team finished 8-7-1.
Washington's solution was to trade for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, sacrificing a pick and solid cornerback Kendall Fuller in the deal before giving Smith a—wait for it—$94 million extension.
Smith went on to appear in 10 games, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He was in a difficult position, as second-round back Derrius Guice was lost for the season in a preseason game, Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed again battled health issues—as did the offensive line—and big investments they were trusting to break out, such as Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson, didn't.
Then Smith suffered a season-ending injury, which has put his career in jeopardy. Colt McCoy threw three touchdowns and three interceptions before being lost for the season as well. Mark Sanchez appeared in two games. Josh Johnson played in four, winning a game in the process but throwing more picks than scores.
With Smith likely out for at least 2019, the Redskins moved to address the problem under center again by...trading for Case Keenum, already an outcast in Denver because Elway made the move for Flacco.
In other words, the Redskins coughed up assets to acquire the guy Cousins replaced in Minnesota. Keenum was a one-hit wonder with the Vikings in 2017, completing 67.6 percent of his passes with 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Predictably, losing the supreme coaching tailored to his talents—not to mention weapons Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen—caused Keenum to fall on his face in Denver, where he posted a 62.3 completion percentage with 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 picks.
Jay Gruden successfully groomed Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins early in their careers, which is another reason to draft a QB. To think Gruden can breathe new life into a 31-year-old journeyman passer who has capitalized on the league's desperation for franchise passers would be foolish.
The Other Problem
The word that best describes the relationship between the franchise and fans is toxic. And make no mistake—the Redskins are at fault. Fans have every reason for walking out the door and not looking back.
A strong contender for most of the '80s and into the early '90s, the Redskins have won just two playoff games since 1993. Over that span, they have been better than 8-8 just eight times. Under owner Dan Snyder, the team is 139-180-1, and recent eyesores include the Mike Shanahan-Robert Griffin III debacle and the dismissal of general manager Scot McCloughan.
Things took another turn for the Redskins and their fans in 2018. Attendance dropped a league-worst 19 percent. According to Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, things weren't much better on the television side:
Chris Thompson talked publicly about the team's fans booing them at FedExField. Josh Norman was accusatory, saying, "They're not really behind us," according to Craig Hoffman of 106.7 The Fan. And D.J. Swearinger said in an interview with 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier (h/t Scott Allen of the Washington Post) he would rather play on the road.
"You don't have to worry about fans booing you. You ain't gotta worry about seeing the other team's jersey everywhere. You know it's going to be the other team's jerseys, because you're away. Home games, that's some of the worst things I've seen. I've played on four different teams, never seen it that bad, with other team's jerseys in the stands, the boos, whatever it may be. I've never been a part of nothing like that."
Swearinger, of course, went on to publicly criticize his coaches one too many times, got cut despite his play and ended up landing in Arizona.
The Redskins also fired president of business operations and chief operating officer Brian Lafemina and others on the business side a mere months after bringing them aboard and championing ticket access and transparency with fans. Still in place? The majority of the coaching staff and lighting-rod president Bruce Allen, who will presumably continue to make all the calls alongside Snyder.
Few teams, if any, have this sort of fan-indifference problem. A rookie quarterback could start to mend some of the problems.
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It all sounds like an environment a rookie passer would want to avoid at all costs.
But there is a chance to be a hero as well. Fan indifference usually stems from the thirst for a successful team, and the rookie to achieve that will hit hero status rather quickly.
And the Redskins aren't exactly hiding the fact that quarterback is on the table.
Doug Williams had this to say, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter: "We were able to trade for Case but that does not put us out of the realm of picking a quarterback if there is one there that we like at 15 [overall draft pick]."
If the senior vice president of player personnel doesn't convince onlookers, maybe Gruden will.
"There is no developmental process here. This is not Triple-A baseball where we're trying to develop a pitcher here," Gruden said, according to Kyle Stackpole of Redskins.com. "We're trying to win a game right now. If we feel like we draft a quarterback in the first, second, third or seventh round and he's going to start Day 1, we expect great things from him and the players will expect great things from him."
The Redskins have plenty of options to choose from in the opening round, especially if they are willing to move up.
Oklahoma's Kyler Murray is the obvious first name. The Heisman Trophy winner threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns against seven interceptions last year, adding another 1,001 yards and 12 scores as a rusher.
If Murray falls past the first pick, the Redskins will likely be one of the many teams picking up the phones and exploring trade options. As a disclaimer, though, NFL Network's Steve Wyche reported Murray canceled a late scheduled visit with the Redskins.
Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins is the next passer on Matt Miller's big board after Murray—and for good reason. Like Murray, he had only one year of notable production, but Haskins still made an impression by completing 70.0 percent of his passes with 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
Missouri's Drew Lock is a top-15 candidate as well after compiling at least 3,300 yards and 23 touchdowns in each of his last three seasons. So is Duke's Daniel Jones, though his underwhelming production in college is concerning despite the fact that he had a lack of talent around him. That said, he has pristine mechanics, and NFL Network's Gil Brandt likens him to Peyton Manning.
Haskins is the passer the Redskins are "most interested" in, while Lock had his name come up as well in a report from ESPN's Todd McShay.
Then there is the Josh Rosen angle.
The Redskins have been linked to all of the top passers and some middle-round talents. But nothing official has been said on Rosen other than what Gruden told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay: "We scouted Josh for sure. ... Josh is a good football player, but he's not on our team, so no reason to talk about him, is there?"
If the Cardinals make Murray the top pick, Rosen would presumably be on the table. If the Redskins float, say, a second-round pick this year or the next, Gruden would suddenly have a guy to groom just like he had with Dalton in Cincinnati. The logistics make plenty of sense too considering the Redskins are already cap-strapped, and Rosen would be under contract on a rookie deal for at least three more years.
While nothing is assured when it comes to the NFL draft, the potent concoction of a lackluster depth chart, cap restrictions and fan backlash borderline guarantees Washington will make a splash at the position.
Through their own actions and a dash of bad luck, the Redskins are more desperate for a quarterback than anyone else. The 2019 draft is an opportunity to turns things around, and the Redskins have at least shown a willingness to gamble. So whether the seemingly inevitable move is a brilliant revitalizing fire or another crushing setback makes for arguably the most interesting storyline surrounding the draft, which is rare for a 7-9 franchise, as that space is usually reserved for the team clutching the first pick.