The 'Skins, after all, had already paid a massive price to move up four spots and land a Heisman Trophy-winning passer with the second overall selection, trading three first-round picks and a second-rounder to the Rams last month. The quarterback of coach Mike Shanahan's affection, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, so clearly holds the fate of a franchise in his magical right hand that any notion of competition seems absurd.
[ Jason Cole: NFL draft winners/losers: Washington Redskins qualify as both ]
Yet 18 years ago in the nation's capital, an even more stunning scenario played out, as Washington picked Heath Shuler with the third overall pick, only to watch him get upstaged and run out of town by seventh-round afterthought Gus Frerotte. If you think Cousins, a promising prospect who ESPN analyst and ex-NFL QB Trent Dilfer (the sixth pick in that '94 draft) sees as a future starter in the league, faces long odds in supplanting Griffin, consider the improbability of Frerotte's ascent.
"I had no idea the Redskins were thinking about drafting me," Frerotte recalled Friday morning at a Clayton, Mo., breakfast diner, shortly before I headed off to the St. Louis Rams' war room. "I was a 'combine arm' and didn't really do any of the other draft-prep stuff, and when they took me it was a complete surprise. I didn't really spend a lot of time worrying about whether I had a chance to win the job. I just went out there and let it rip."
Frerotte, taking advantage of a protracted contract dispute that caused Shuler to miss much of training camp, impressed coach Norv Turner enough to make Shuler's presumptive hold on the franchise quarterback job a bit more tenuous. Frerotte, who'd signed for the league minimum, started four games in the middle of his rookie season, when Shuler was injured, and another 11 the next year. In '96 he defeated Shuler in a training-camp competition and responded with a Pro Bowl campaign that put the matter to rest.
Shuler was traded after the '96 season to the New Orleans Saints and lasted one more year before retiring to pursue a career in politics, ultimately becoming a three-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Frerotte signed a four-year, $18-million contract and, though he'd eventually wash out in Washington, played 15 NFL seasons.
He now coaches prep football at the St. Louis-area high school that two of his three children attend, and he does it rather well, having guided John Burroughs to the Class 3 Missouri state championship game in his rookie season last fall. And he still believes that, for all the politics within pro football and the inertia that compels coaches and general managers to favor players with lofty draft pedigree, the purity of outplaying one's peers can sometimes prevail.
"Heath was Norv's pick; the guy who chose me was [then-Redskins general manager] Charley Casserly," Frerotte said. "So I don't think Norv was thrilled with the idea of playing me. But as soon as we got there and I saw Heath in action, I knew that I was better. Then he held out, and I kept getting all the reps, and I got more and more ahead. I felt like eventually, they were going to play the guy who gave us the best chance to win."
[ Dan Wetzel: Done with draft, Andrew Luck and RG3 now face the pressure ]
This is not to say that Cousins will necessarily be given the same opportunity to beat out Griffin, who would seem to be so tethered to Shanahan's hold on his current job that second-string status is unthinkable. Most likely, Cousins will be groomed as a trusty backup who, if successful, can eventually emerge as a starting prospect for another franchise. A current example would be recent Seattle Seahawks free agent signee Matt Flynn – who, as the Green Bay Packers' seventh-round pick in 2008, beat out Green Bay's second-round selection that year, Brian Brohm, for second-string status behind Aaron Rodgers.
Then again, as hardened NFL observers are well aware, nothing in this league is sacred. Griffin has no reason to be intimidated by his fellow rookie passer, but RG3 shouldn't get overly complacent, either.
Shortly after Cousins' selection on Saturday, I asked Frerotte if he had any advice for the less-decorated of the Redskins' two rookie QBs.
"Take every rep you can and go the extra mile," Frerotte replied. "And hope RG3 holds out."
Speaking of holdouts, it has been a few months since we've taken an inquisitive trip around the league that sells promise like no other. After three days of immersing myself in the draft's transformative power, here's how I see the NFL's food chain – more than four months before the real games begin.
You'll notice that, as is customary, the defending champs are respectfully lodged in the penthouse, while the league's reigning doormats are disrespectfully stashed in the cellar.
As Frerotte can tell you, however, everyone is just renting; it's where you finish that matters.
2. New England Patriots: If Bill Belichick pulled off a trade in which he managed to swap picks with himself, would his reputation for masterful maneuvering reach an unprecedented plateau?
4. Baltimore Ravens: When second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw lines up across from new teammate Michael Oher in training camp, will their biological and surrogate parents be there to cheer them on?
6. Houston Texans: With the drafting of Wade Phillips' newest pass-rushing toy, will the Texans' defense be Mercilus in 2012?
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Got beef?
[ Les Carpenter: Draft picks spend more time in Radio City than anticipated ]
8. Detroit Lions: If the decision-makers in the Lions' war room "listened to our board" and started speaking in Matt Millen's voice, would the team's medical staff pass out handfuls of clozapine?
10. Philadelphia Eagles: After assuring offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg that Philly's plan to use a third-round pick on former Arizona quarterback Nick Foles was "a great one", was Michael Vick tempted to add, "By the way – who's Nick Foles?"
11. New Orleans Saints: When Saints general manager Mickey Loomis called in his third-round pick of Regina defensive tackle Akiem Hicks Friday night, was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tempted to grab the phone and interject, "Yeah, we know – we've got your war room wiretapped …"
12. Denver Broncos: Will Brock Osweiler become the tallest-ever teammate to bend down and polish Peyton Manning's dress shoes before a Quarterbacks' Night Out at training camp?
13. Dallas Cowboys: What was the Wonderlic score of the Dallas Morning News website editor who posted this headline about first-round draft pick "Morrris" Claiborne?
14. New York Jets: Am I the only one who wonders whether, based on their 2011 performance, the Jets should have drafted an offensive lineman before the sixth round?
15. Cincinnati Bengals: After Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu got a prank call telling him the Bengals were taking him in the first round Thursday night, shouldn't Redskins tight end Chris Cooley have been considered the prime suspect?
16. Arizona Cardinals: If I'd been at Larry Fitzgerald's house for the first round of this year's draft, would he have reacted to the selection of Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd by racing jubilantly through his open-air living room and jumping into the pool?
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17. San Diego Chargers: After learning that Chargers GM A.J. Smith had called him a "mean, nasty man", shouldn't first-round pick Melvin Ingram have extended his hand and retorted, "Pot, meet kettle"?
19. Buffalo Bills: When general manager Buddy Nix described the Bills as "riverboat gamblers" after trading up to get North Carolina State wideout T.J. Graham in the third round, why did I immediately picture this body of water?
20. Chicago Bears: Will the new receiving tandem of Brandon Marshall and second-round pick Alshon Jeffery cause more havoc in opposing secondaries, or in the Bears' locker room?
21. Washington Redskins: When the 'Skins released quarterback John Beck on Saturday, was he humming my altered-lyric version of this iconic '90s tune from his alt-rock namesake?
22. St. Louis Rams: In an effort to help veteran Cortland Finnegan mentor newly drafted cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, will coach Jeff Fisher provide the former Titans standout with a Taser gun?
23. Tennessee Titans: After NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described second-round pick Zach Brown as "allergic to contact", how awesome would it have been to see Brown fly across the set at Radio City Music Hall, slam Mayock into the orchestra pit and yell "Gesundheit"?
24. Seattle Seahawks: What's more surprising – that Pete Carroll and Jon Schneider drafted a quarterback in the third round, or that Wisconsin's Russell Wilson is the team's highest-drafted passer in nearly two decades?
25. Oakland Raiders: How disconcerting is it that post-Al Davis Raiders are resolutely boring on draft day, and can't new GM Reggie McKenzie just indulge us with one ultra-swift, lowly regarded "reach" pick per year?
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If the Muscle Hamster runs wild at Raymond James Stadium, will they put a large, spinning wheel next to the pirate ship in Doug Martin's honor?
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Do Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel seem overly optimistic in their assessment of the Chiefs' talent level – or am I just so pessimistic about K.C.'s quarterback situation that it completely clouds my thinking?
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: To realize value as the 70th overall pick, would Bryan Anger have to figure out a way to get footballs to explode upon making contact with a punt returner?
30. Minnesota Vikings: Yo, Matt Kalil – while proclaiming how much more Minnesota than California you are, were you neglecting to account for the possibility that the team which drafted you might soon be West Coast-bound?
32. Indianapolis Colts: Now that former Stanford tight end Coby Fleener has successfully convinced an NFL team he was worthy of being selected with the 34th overall pick, will he grow his hair out and lose the whole Rob Gronkowski impersonation bit?
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