Two years ago the Redskins and 49ers were healing from varying degrees of disappointment. The Redskins had won four games under the recently-fired Jim Zorn, with 2005 first-round pick Jason Campbell. The 49ers had won eight games under Mike Singletary, with fellow ’05 first-rounder Alex Smith. Both franchises, bastions of greatness in the 20th century, continued to muddle through the 21st. Then they diverged.
The Redskins traded two picks for Donovan McNabb and shipped Campbell to Oakland. They struggled in ’10 before realizing what they’d done, cutting their losses and starting to rebuild in ’11, finally. The 49ers stuck with Smith, who improved slightly in ’10 before improving mightily in ’11.
What happened in San Francisco Saturday was not only a great game but perhaps the crescendo of Smith’s career. It was the manifestation of what I hoped Campbell would become, and the success Washington could have had they stuck with him. San Fran won 13 games this season and plays in the NFC Championship this week.
The 49ers have a top-shelf defense, very good special teams, a reliable running game and a quarterback who doesn’t fuck it up. That’s who Alex Smith is. He’s not Aaron Rodgers, and he’s not Tom Brady. He’s not Drew Brees either, but he did beat Brees, and he had a hell of a game in the process. This was always Jason Campbell’s ceiling, if the Redskins hadn’t pulled the rug out from underneath him.
Today, the Redskins are at another quarterback crossroads, but this time there’s no gradually improving first-rounder on the roster. There’s Rex Grossman, the draft and an offseason crop that includes Rodgers’ backup Matt Flynn and possibly Peyton Manning. Many picks need to be given to draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, and not much is known of the nearly unknown Flynn, so it’s Manning that seems to be the most likely option. Redskins reporter-turned-SportsCenter anchor Bram Weinstein even says it’s “VERY likely,” with caps lock and everything.
Manning turns 36 this offseason and is recovering from neck surgeries. It will take big money to sign him. The only way in which he’s right for a rebuild is that he wouldn’t cost draft picks.
The Redskins have been down this road before, though. McNabb was 33 when they got him, and his rating his last season in Philly (92.9) was higher than Manning’s in ’10 (91.9). McNabb never again played up to his Philly form, not in Washington and not in Minnesota either, not even close.
That isn’t the road to winning Super Bowls or even making the playoffs year after year, either. Of this season’s 12 playoff teams, 11 drafted their quarterback. The 12th, New Orleans, signed Brees when he was 27. Of the 48 teams that have made it to conference championship games since ’00, four were led by signal-callers acquired at age 30 or older: the ’02 Bucs (Brad Johnson), ’02 Raiders (Rich Gannon), ’08 Cardinals (Kurt Warner) and ’09 Vikings (Brett Favre). Of those, only the Gannon-led Raiders had multiple 10-win seasons. None of those quarterbacks were as old then as Manning is now.
The Redskins shouldn’t go with Manning, is my point. Beyond that, I’m not sure who they should go with. Just give him time, whoever it is.
Update: @jktipton said that getting Manning would be more like the Chiefs signing 37-year-old Joe Montana in 1993 than the Skins trading for McNabb. He’s right, and the Chiefs did make the playoffs twice with Montana. They haven’t won a playoff game since.