Redskins' Mike Shanahan puts legacy on line with blockbuster deal to draft QB Robert Griffin III

Yahoo Sports

By late Friday night, Mike Shanahan made the most important move of his coaching career, tying his team, his legacy, his whole coaching name to a quarterback who might not have been a first-round pick before the college football season began. But what other choice did he have?

His first two years as coach of the Washington Redskins put him in a position where the team was doomed if he didn't find a way to get the second overall pick from the St. Louis Rams and draft Robert Griffin III.

[ Related: Rams, Redskins pull of major trade ]

The Redskins reportedly traded this year's first- and second-round picks and their first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 with the Rams for the No. 2 pick this season.

Shanahan has always wanted the Hall of Fame, understanding that two Super Bowl titles won with John Elway would never fully define coaching brilliance. His failure to find his way back to the big game with the procession of quarterbacks that followed did more than those two championships ever could to shape his image. It made him the man who could never win without Elway.

Now, for better or for worse, he has a quarterback around whom he can build the way he tried at the end in Denver with Jay Cutler. Griffin has the arm, the speed and the savvy to be a great NFL quarterback. Washington is desperate to have a football star again and Griffin can finally end that longing talk about the 1980s and '90s, back when D.C. had a football team that mattered.

But Griffin will have to be great. There is no margin for mediocrity here. Shanahan bet heavily on a quarterback who hasn't dominated the talk for years the way Andrew Luck has or Peyton and Eli Manning did. Three first-round picks and a second-rounder is a massive price to pay for anyone let alone a quarterback you can't possibly know to be your true answer.

Maybe it wouldn't have come to this had Shanahan not gambled on Donovan McNabb or forced John Beck into the Redskins' lineup. Perhaps if he had focused on the idea of a young franchise quarterback when he first took over as Washington's coach in 2010, he wouldn't have to ship so many top picks to the Rams. Yet Shanahan never seemed to realize how much of a mess the Redskins were in when he first took the job. It wasn't until he settled in, examined the roster depleted of talented young players because of management's previous obsession with dumping first-round picks for broken-down players in hopes of jumping ahead of the rebuilding process, that he finally knew how bad this was.

On Friday night, Shanahan dumped the future on Griffin. And he will be the player who defines how the coach is to be remembered. If the experiment works out and Griffin leads the Redskins to a Super Bowl, Shanahan can be the man who won with different quarterbacks in different generations. But if Griffin turns into a bust, Shanahan will live forever as the man who needed Elway to complete him as a coach. There's no haziness to the legacy. The price was so steep for RG3, the quarterback must learn from Shanahan and come to thrive quickly, otherwise the Redskins will be left with a lot of empty first nights of the draft and a mountain of fury from their fans who have long tired of throwing drafts away for something less than a sure thing.

The Redskins are going to have to wade into free agency to give Griffin a chance. They have to solidify an offensive line that has been flimsy in recent years and find him an elite receiver. They have to hope tight end Fred Davis and tackle Trent Williams won't blow up another end of a season on failed drug tests. But now the Redskins have a quarterback who can give everyone a reason to believe, to be inspired and to rebuild.

[ Related: Rams huge winners in dealing No. 2 pick ]

Shanahan has bought himself another year with owner Daniel Snyder, maybe two. But bigger than the Redskins owner is the legacy Shanahan will leave behind. Is he the guy who could only win big with Elway? Can he get to Canton?

It's all on Robert Griffin III now. The price was steep. He will have to be worth it.

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