Philadelphia, PA – The St. Louis Rams haven't experienced too many enjoyable weekends over the past few years. This past one would qualify as one of them.
As expected, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was the star attraction of the NFL Combine, with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner putting on a captivating performance by showing off both his extraordinary physical gifts and a magnetic personality that may be even more impressive than that exceptional skill set. But while the blistering 4.41 seconds that Griffin was officially clocked in the 40-yard dash was the talk of Sunday's workout, the most important number pertaining to his ever-soaring draft stock may have been 72 3/8 -- the charismatic 22-year-old's measured height in inches upon his arrival in Indianapolis.
A perceived shorter-than-ideal stature had been the most concerning potential negative for a player who possesses every other attribute (arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, leadership) teams seek in a franchise quarterback. With that hurdle now cleared, Griffin's status as a can't-miss talent is further solidified, while the Rams' chances of expediting their latest rebuilding project have become greatly enhanced as well.
St. Louis may have been bridesmaid in the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes that became one of the most enthralling subplots of the 2011 season, but it's shaping up as the clear winner of the "Plea for RGIII" campaign that will be one of the most-followed storylines of the coming months.
With Sam Bradford already entrenched as a long-term operative under center and an abundance of glaring needs, the Rams have put a very visible "For Sale" sign on the No. 2 overall pick they presently own in April's draft with the goal of reaping a massive bounty from quarterback-starved clubs that are drooling over the idea of Griffin running their offense for the next decade.
And the increasing likelihood of Indianapolis spending the top choice on Stanford prodigy Andrew Luck, who reinforced his own advance billing as an elite prospect with a rock-solid showing in his possible future home stadium over the weekend, would seem to boost the chances of St. Louis accomplishing that objective as the beneficiary of a heated bidding war for Griffin's services.
The Rams are holding some awfully good cards at the table. However, they still need to be careful of overplaying their hand.
The cost to move up to the No. 2 spot figures to be somewhere in the neighborhood of what the New York Giants paid San Diego in the famed Eli Manning-Philip Rivers trade of 2004. Big Blue gave the Chargers the fourth overall pick and its third-round selection (No. 65 overall) of that draft, as well as the following year's first-rounder plus a 2005 fifth-round choice. That's an exorbitant price most teams will be either unable or unwilling to pay, thereby limiting the list of legitimate suitors.
Cleveland, Washington and Miami, all of which sport top 10 picks and concerns at the quarterback position, are the teams most frequently associated as favorable matches, with Kansas City (which picks 11th) and Seattle (12th) also mentioned as possibilities. It would be surprising if both the Dolphins and Seahawks were realistic candidates, however, with Miami appearing more inclined to make a hard run at either Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn to satisfy the win-now mentality of owner Stephen Ross, and the Rams understandably reluctant to fork over a potential difference-making quarterback to a division rival.
The Browns have been anointed the early favorites in the race by virtue of occupying two first-round selections in this draft, including the fourth overall pick, and they also have an extra fourth-rounder as part of last April's blockbuster deal with Atlanta which netted the Falcons young wide receiver Julio Jones. That surplus of options puts Cleveland in the best position to pull off a swap, but the tendencies of the organization's higher- ups indicate such a move may be more fantasy than reality.
Though team president Mike Holmgren doesn't run the Browns' draft, the esteemed former Super Bowl champion coach still has considerable pull in personnel decisions, and especially so when it comes to quarterbacks. The Seahawks never took a signal-caller in the first round during Holmgren's 10- year tenure there, nor did they ever move up the board early on when he was general manager from 1999-2002. In fact, Seattle had multiple first-round picks in three of those drafts, but elected to trade down on two of those occasions while standing pat the other time.
Current GM Tom Heckert also doesn't have a history of taking quarterbacks with premium selections. He spent nine seasons as a personnel director in Philadelphia prior to joining the Browns, and the Eagles also never plucked one in the first round. Heckert also brokered last year's pact with the Falcons that enabled Cleveland to obtain its excess picks by relinquishing the No. 6 overall choice.
There's also a theory that Holmgren has yet to throw in the towel on Colt McCoy, attributing the former University of Texas star's uninspiring sophomore season in part to being handcuffed by arguably the league's worst group of receivers.
If that's the case, bringing in a proven veteran playmaker through free agency such as Vincent Jackson (whom new offensive coordinator Brad Childress nearly acquired while Minnesota's head coach two years ago) or staying put and taking Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon at No. 4 could be a less prohibitive alternative than meeting St. Louis' large demands.
Coming off a second straight subpar season under Mike Shanahan, the Redskins will likely make a strong push for Manning once he's set free by the overhauling Colts, though Washington may not be among the four-time league MVP's preferred destinations due to the absence of a No. 1 receiver (the Dolphins have Brandon Marshall, Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald) and the presence of younger brother Eli's Giants in the division. Snaring Griffin may be more plausible, however, as they do own some draft assets that could greatly interest the Rams.
The Redskins also have an additional fourth-round pick that gives them a bit more flexibility. Plus St. Louis may find the 2013 first-rounder that Washington would have to part with more appealing than the No. 22 slot in this draft that it would get from the Browns, considering the Redskins would have to make the playoffs this coming season to select that low next year.
And unlike Holmgren, Shanahan has shown an affinity for moving up in the first round, having done so in three of his last five drafts while still with Denver. One of those instances involved a 2006 trade with the Rams that enabled the Broncos to grab quarterback Jay Cutler.
Of course, Washington slid down in the first round in last year's draft, and it's not out of the question that it targets a less-expensive rookie triggerman such as Oklahoma State's over-aged but pro-ready Brandon Weeden, whom Shanahan and his staff coached in the Senior Bowl this past January, at a later spot.
So as you can see, there are still a whole lot of moving parts to the process, and how free agency plays out will determine just what exactly what the market will be to land Griffin.
No matter what the scenario, the Rams are going to be better off. Then again, it's not hard to improve when you've won a total of 15 times over the last five years. But how sturdy that new foundation is set in this repair attempt depends on how a franchise that's botched nearly every major decision in recent memory handles what may be its most crucial one yet.