A Different Path
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A trade for quarterback Jay Cutler would have lots of consequences for the Redskins.
Cutler is a fine quarterback, one with the rarest of skills -- a wonderful ability to throw deep downfield with great precision. At this point he is a better quarterback than Jason Campbell, the current Redskins starter, and despite the fact both have a similar completion percentages and passer ratings the comparison isn't even close. Cutler knows how to play the position; he is a superior talent. A Pro Bowl talent. A superstar talent.
But this isn't about superstar talent. This is about sticking to a plan, building a team, bonding pieces for a prolonged run of success, and ultimately a march toward the Super Bowl -- not another random slapping together of players in hopes of squeezing out a wild card and a first-round playoff loss every other season.
Campbell, for his presumed failures, is a stable figure, a once-quiet leader who is slowly finding his voice. For the past year he has been working with a head coach in Jim Zorn who has a record of taking flawed and unknown quarterbacks, stripping them of poor habits and building them back better than they were before. It's a process that takes more than a year and a half. Currently Zorn is in month 13.
The Redskins players are accustomed to Campbell. They've had time to accept him as their leader, to grow around his deliberate style, which is perfect for a franchise that built around its defense. If history holds, the coming season should be Campbell's breakout year, the season he establishes himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
And now the Redskins want to destroy this. For a gunslinger no less. Cutler is a quarterback for a passing offense, for a team with a strong offensive line and a fleet of receivers who can fan across the field, waving arms, waiting for the bullet passes. Last year he threw to Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley, as well as tight end Daniel Graham, and wound up with more than 4,500 yards passing and 25 touchdowns.
As a Redskin Cutler will be looking downfield at an often double-teamed Santana Moss (when healthy) and Chris Cooley standing open in the flat. After that the options trail off:
This is significant because the book on Cutler is that he needs things to be just right. He needs protection, he needs lots of receivers, he needs an offense that will be pass first. If he doesn't get all of this, things start to fray. Where Campbell is balanced, Cutler is combustible. Much of the blame for Cutler's Denver divorce needs to go to the Broncos' new coach, Josh McDaniels, who made a horrible mistake in trying to trade Cutler while all the time assuring the passer he was the team's quarterback of the future. But Cutler did not handle the situation well. He pouted, he complained. Ultimately he stormed off.
And for this the Redskins are willing to blow up whatever remains of a draft they desperately needed to add depth and fill holes? Gone is any thought of further fixing a still-broken offensive line, or finding a pass rusher or adding the critical players necessary for the time when the aging starters begin to break down. Special teams could become a critical problem come midseason if whatever skilled players at the bottom of the roster are forced into starting positions.
Not that drafts or building projects matter now. The Cutler pursuit probably signals the end of Zorn, for you don't get Cutler if you're not going to pursue Mike Shanahan, the coach who developed him in Denver, as well. The Shanahan-Cutler to Washington package has been rumored from the moment the relationship between Cutler and the Broncos deteriorated. Zorn will, of course, get this year, but already he is being stripped of his greatest trait -- his integrity.
By allowing him to continue working with Campbell, bonding with the player, constructing trust, the Redskins have made him appear to be less than honest -- both to Campbell and to the fans whom Zorn assured just a few days ago that the team was not in pursuit of Cutler.
The one man in the organization who preached building the team right has been trampled.
And that might be the saddest consequence of all.
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