As soon as Robert Griffin III decided to go pro, he officially became the most volatile commodity in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Everything the Indianapolis Colts have done to this point indicates they intend to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. The St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings, with the second and third overall choices, have already invested first-round picks on quarterbacks. With Matt Barkley and Landry Jones returning to school, Robert Griffin III and your quarterback starved Cleveland Browns, at the fourth pick, become the crux of the draft.
If Griffin were to fall to the Browns at four, they could draft him, or trade down with a team behind them who covets his skills. However, rumors have been swirling that either St. Louis or Minnesota would auction their pick to a team hoping to land Griffin before the Browns could take him.
Sports Illustrated put that to print yesterday, speculating it would be the Browns who make the daring trade up for Griffin, given their superior stock of draft pieces to offer.
And yes, we know it’s too early to speculate on draft day trades, but SI started it.
Browns fans would probably shudder at the prospect of the team spending its hard-earned picks on a high-risk prospect like Griffin. The fans are smart and they can sense, that while everything the Colts have done suggests they’re taking Luck, everything the Browns have done suggests they are keeping all their picks and stocking up. The front office has stated its intent to build a foundation through the draft.
They didn’t scalp their roster and suffer through a boring 4-12 season to NOT take multiple playmakers and bulk up the roster, right?
Griffin does not have the stature of a Cam Newton-style mobile quarterback; what if he goes the way of Akili Smith? Wouldn’t the Browns be better suited to evaluate the young Colt McCoy by adding three players from the draft’s top 36 picks around him?
These are all good questions, and ones the Browns should think on, but the most important question in this fun little trade-up scenario is this: If the Browns think Robert Griffin III is that rare player who can change their team around, will they have a better shot than this to land a player like that?
After taking a look around the league, I say the Browns have to pull the trigger and trade up if St. Louis does indeed look to auction that pick. Here’s why:
Exhibit A: The Atlanta Falcons
An organization at an uncomfortable crossroads. They traded up with the Browns last year to select Julio Jones, the missing piece they felt they needed after getting blasted by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
Browns fans are screaming for playmakers, but even with Jones the Falcons scored zero points on offense in this year’s playoff game against the New York Giants. That’s less points than they scored last year, so it’s obvious their missing link wasn’t at receiver.
The reason Atlanta lost is because Matt Ryan is not as good as Eli Manning, and the reason they lost last season is because Matt Ryan wasn’t as good as Aaron Rodgers.
The Browns can spend their picks on playmakers until the cows come home, but you are only going to go as far as your quarterback will take you. Like it or not, that’s just the way it works now.
Do you think Falcons fans are pining over their team’s lack of playmakers? Are they wishing they had all those picks back so they could draft more weapons? I mean, what more can you give Matt Ryan? He’s got a Hall of Famer playing tight end, two dynamic wide receivers, and a Pro Bowler at running back. He’s 0-3 in the playoffs because of how good he is, not the players around him.
The Falcons aren’t any closer to winning a title with Jones and his five catches for 67 yards.
If the Browns think Robert Griffin can take them to that other level – not just making the playoffs, but winning games against good teams like Eli Manning does – the number of picks you spend to get him is irrelevant, because those picks are irrelevant without a good quarterback anyway.
Exhibit B: The New York Giants
This, for my money, was the best throw made in the first round of the playoffs (With all due condolences to Tim Tebow, his game-winning touchdown pass made me squeal like a happy pig, but more technically, it was an expertly timed play-call which fooled the defense, a 15-yard slant with a healthy 65-yards after the catch and a stiff arm tacked on. Manning’s touchdown throw here is all him).
So is the Giants team surrounding Manning really 25 points better than the Falcons? No way – they’re pretty much even. The difference there was home field advantage and Manning making throws that Ryan can’t.
You see, the Giants are on easy street. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli and Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers – those are the only Super Bowl winners still active in the NFL, and the Giants have one of them.
And how did they find themselves in such an enviable position? Answer: They traded up in the draft to get their quarterback.
Not only that, but they did it from the same draft position the Browns have now.
In the 2004 NFL draft, the Giants drafted Philip Rivers with their fourth pick, and then traded him to the San Diego Chargers for the No. 1 overall pick in Manning. They did this because the Manning camp had warned the Chargers that Eli would never play for them.
So everyone knew the Chargers had to deal, and even with no leverage they still received the Giants’ 2004 third-round pick and their 2005 first-round pick in exchange forManning.
That trade will differ from the theoretical one the Browns make with St. Louis in other ways. SI’s example has the Browns parting with the later of their first-round picks, No. 22 overall. The first-round pick the Giants gave up turned out to be No. 12 overall. The Chargers used it to draft Shawne Merriman, who was a nice player, but didn’t win the Chargers a Super Bowl and no longer plays for their team.
And St. Louis doesn’t even have a coach or general manager right now. They would be auctioning their pick instead of being forced to move it, but still, would these newcomers be able to get maximum value for Robert Griffin III? Did Eric Mangini get maximum value for trading the Mark Sanchez pick? (answer: of course not)
Robert Griffin III is the consensus second-best player in this draft, while Manning was the top player. However, the 2004 draft was loaded with quarterbacks. If New York stood pat, they could have taken Rivers, or even Ben Roethlisberger (wouldn’t that have been sweet?).
Either way, the package of players teams give up for Super Bowl winning quarterbacks pretty much evens out in the end, and that’s because the package is irrelevant to that ultimate goal.
The Browns very well may stand pat this year too, let some other team go after Griffin, and wait for another answer at quarterback to come along. But if they do that, there’s no guarantee that this future guy falls in their lap. There’s no guarantee they’ll have the fourth and 22nd overall picks to package for him.
There are no guarantees in the league, period. Sure, Griffin could get injured or become the next JaMarcus Russell. All fans doubt their quarterback until he’s holding the Lombardi trophy.
They’re doubting Mark Sanchez in New York, Matt Ryan in Atlanta, and Philip Rivers in San Diego. They’ll be doubting Joe Flacco in Baltimore if he loses this year. They doubted Peyton Manning too, until he finally defeated Tom Brady and won his Super Bowl.
So no matter what the Browns do, we’ll have our doubts. The point is, if the Browns believe in Griffin, there’s no reason to wait.