Washington Football Team: A history of quarterback trades
By Jonathan Eig
Modern Washington QB trades
Since that run of success, the Washington Football Team’s trades for quarterbacks have returned spotty results. By my count, there have been nine more actual trades for QBs (not counting trades for draft picks, as in the case of Robert Griffin III).
Some have been for aging vets who usually proved to be past their prime. Players like Donovan McNabb (for whom Washington gave up a second and a fourth-round draft pick in 2010) and Mark Brunell (who was acquired for a thirrd-rounder in 2004) had some good moments but never lived up to their hype. Brunell at least managed to take the Washington Football Team to the playoffs under Joe Gibbs, the last time before 2020 that Washington advanced so far.
Alex Smith cost Washington current starting cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick in 2018. Evaluating that deal is made difficult by Smith’s injury. There’s no question that the team was playing well before he got hurt, and that he was a major reason they were able to make it back to the playoffs in 2020, but given that he will most likely conclude his Washington career having played in just 18 games, the price paid was too high.
Most of the other trades were for below-average quarterbacks who were brought in to provide depth and with the hope that maybe one of them would flourish above expectations. This was true of Rich Gannon in 1993 (many years before he would take the Raiders to the Super Bowl), the ball coach’s fair-haired (and weak-armed) boy Danny Wuerffel in 2002, and John “John Beck” Beck in 2010. Each got a handful of starts and were rather quickly dispatched. But at least they didn’t cost much.
In the past two years, Washington has made low-level deals for both Case Keenum (currently riding the bench in Cleveland) and Kyle Allen (who may or may not be starting for Washington opening day, 2021).
None of these past experiments teach us anything about Washington’s current situation. Had Washington been able to acquire Detroit’s Matthew Stafford this offseason, the previous trade it would have most resembled would be the one Washington made with the Minnesota Vikings to acquire Brad Johnson back in 1999. The Washington Football Team gave up three draft picks – a first, second, and third – to get Johnson.
In the 1999 offseason, not unlike today, the Washington Football Team was left without a solid option at QB for the upcoming year. Uncertainty over the team’s ownership was proving to be very cumbersome. The quarterback who probably should have been the team’s starter in 1999 was the emerging Trent Green, but Green chose to sign with the St. Louis Rams largely because of the unsettled Washington ownership. That left Washington desperate.
Johnson had several very good seasons for Minnesota, but injuries had always plagued him. In 1998, he got injured again and would lose his starting job to Randall Cunningham. The Vikings were ready to move forward with Cunningham in 1999. Baltimore also needed a quarterback and a brief bidding war drove the price to those three picks that Washington gave up.
Johnson not only stayed healthy in 1999, but made the Pro Bowl and led the team on an improbable playoff run that saw them score their first playoff victory since the days of Joe Gibbs. Johnson did not have the league’s strongest arm, but he was a smart, accurate veteran who more often than not made the right play.
Alas, Johnson may be part of the first cautionary tale of the Dan Snyder era. Despite his success in 1999, Snyder’s penchant for bringing in big names led to the free agent signing of Jeff George the following year. The coach wanted Johnson. The owner wanted George. You know the rest. Johnson would leave Washington after the 2000 season and go to Tampa Bay, where he would lead them to a Super Bowl victory one year later.
Again, nothing to really learn from this history. But if the Washington Football Team should acquire a player like Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota this offseason, let’s hope that certain parties within the Washington Football Team hierarchy do not begin second-guessing and sabotaging the decision before we see how it all plays out.