This post was previously written on 12/6/2014.
The National Football League’s acronym, the “NFL” is often referred to as “Not For Long.” This nomenclature seems appropriate for the once ballyhooed Robert Griffin III, who has once again been unceremoniously benched. However, this time RG3’s future in Washington as the Redskins’ franchise quarterback is in tremendous doubt.
To appreciate the full extent of RG3’s rising star and crashing satellite you must consider his career at Baylor University as well as his still very young professional career. From making the Baylor football program relevant, to winning college football’s most distinctive honor (the Heisman Trophy), to being apart of an NFL Draft Day blockbuster in 2012. RG3 took the NFL by storm in his rookie season leading the Washington Redskins to a division title and a playoff berth after a lengthy drought. However, an ACL injury in that playoff game apparently marked the beginning of the end of RG3’s reign, as fellow members of the same draft class, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck continued to ascend. Meanwhile, RG3 has battled injury, ineffectiveness and head coaches alike as his career has plummeted. Just for the hell of it, we’ll work our way backwards through RG3’s triumphant and tumultuous “Rise and Fall.”
So…RG3 was benched last week and apparently for the foreseeable future. After yet another week of ineptitude, compounded by poor pass protection and Griffin’s inability to read a “pro” defense which led to just over 100 yards passing, a fumble lost and taking five sacks rookie Head Coach Jay Gruden has turned to Colt McCoy, a fifth-year journeyman quarterback who is playing for his third team. Recent reports suggests Gruden is “done’ with RG3. As if the coach’s most recent undressing of the signal caller publicly and the benching weren’t enough to illustrate his frustration and desire to move on from Griffin. Gruden is right, McCoy does currently give the Redskins the best chance to win. He has done a better job of moving the offense and protecting the football than both RG3 and Kirk Cousins. In fact, McCoy should be credited with two of the three Redskins’ wins this season. However, I’m sure Gruden thought Cousins gave Washington the best chance to win early in this season when he filled in as starter while RG3 was out with injury. Unfortunately, Cousins has never won a game he has started and finished in his pro career and was spectacularly ineffective and careless during his stint as a starter this and last season. This of course is only a snippet of what has transpired in RG3’s career as we go in reverse chronological order to examine RG3’s reign and collapse.
Make no mistake RG3 is culpable for his failures. Mechanically, he is still out of sorts. His footwork in particular has improved slightly but it’s obvious that he’s thinking about it while the bullets are flying. He has no chance of reading a defense if he’s “counting” his steps as he’s dropping back to pass. This has led to late and often missed throws or no throw at all despite the receiver being “open” by NFL standards or WIDE open by anyone’s standards. He can’t protect himself. RG3’s exploits rehabbing some type of injury are as lengthy if not more so than his tenure as a starting quarterback. They have also been covered and documented as much as his actual play on the field. It’s hard to work towards mastering your craft if your body and style of play doesn’t afford you the opportunity to stay on the field . He remains more athlete than quarterback. See Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill or Cam Newton. Historically, the NFL’s most accomplished quarterbacks do not possess one iota of RG3’s or the aforementioned quarterbacks’ athleticism. In one of RG3’s most recent press conferences he mentioned that the great quarterbacks don’t play well unless their teammates play well around them. He’s not wrong, but he did fail to mention that those great quarterbacks can’t hope to have sustainable success without mastering the ability to consistently make plays within the confines of the offense and inside the pocket. He can’t keep his foot out of his mouth. I’m not going to debate and try to read between the lines regarding his comments about the play of his teammates or his opinions of the coaching staff. What I do take issue with is that RG3 talks entirely too much. Some of his teammates certainly think so and you already know how Gruden feels. On the outside looking in there just appears to be too much social media lip service and emphasis on his brand off the field as opposed to greater focus on his preparation and on-field performance. But can all the blame be placed squarely on Robert Griffin III? Me thinks not. But I maintain that he is most culpable.
For all intensive purposes RG3’s forgettable 2014 season is over. The success he experienced during his rookie season in 2012 is old news and the cache’ that rookie campaign afforded him in 2013 is also a memory. And while he has done entirely too little to help himself his coaches and owner have done him no favors. What was it that Jay Gruden told Daniel Snyder when he benched RG3? And how incredibly different was that conversation compared to when Snyder interviewed Gruden for the position vacated by Mike Shanahan? I’m certain RG3 NOT being a part of the equation for the Redskins’ success was NOT a topic broached during the interview process. Wasn’t Jay Gruden the hottest coaching prospect heading into the 2014 off-season? Wasn’t he supposed to not only get the most out of Griffin but address his mechanical issues and put him in a position for sustainable success? I certainly thought so. Gruden did an excellent job with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati considering Dalton was a less accomplished passer compared to RG3 coming out of TCU having played in a full-blown option offense. Mind you Dalton is clearly still flawed but he exceeded all of my expectations. However, I still think Gruden deserves a lot of credit for developing Dalton into what he is today. A decent NFL quarterback that has never thrown fewer than 13 interceptions in a season and seemingly has never won a “big” game. You mean to tell me that after five starts as his coach Gruden has seen enough of RG3 to throw the towel in on Snyder’s huge investment? Something doesn’t add up. What about those seven games this season in which RG3 didn’t play? I certainly have not witnessed any offensive genius from Gruden as Alfred Morris is having his worst season as a pro and the head coach/offensive coordinator has failed miserably to get the ball to his best offensive player Pierre Garcon, instead force feeding it to the limited albeit incredibly fast DeSean Jackson. When RG3 was in the lineup I expected more traditional formations this season, more snaps under center. Instead, it was more of the same. Read option and shotgun which does nothing but retard the mechanical development of a quarterback who has always run a spread option system. My point is growing pains were to be expected but the quarterback and head coach were supposed to work together to make the quarterback better and make the head coach look good. Fail on the part of Gruden and RG3, thus the 2014 season is lost and both the quarterback and head coach sit on uncertain ground. Is RG3 an irreparable project? Or is he a scapegoat for Jay Gruden’s failures as a head coach?
The 2013 season was a tumultuous one for RG3 as well. Benched by then Head Coach Mike Shanahan in the season’s final weeks that ended in a 3-13 record with no Top 2 First Round Draft Pick (because of the trade for RG3) to show for it. The “love” triangle between the Owner Daniel Snyder, RG3 and Mike Shanahan fell apart and Snyder ultimately decided to end the relationship with Shanahan firing him at season’s end and reaffirming his commitment to Griffin. Snyder and Griffin’s relationship was too much for Shanahan to bare. Mike felt under minded at every turn due to Snyder’s overt coddling of RG3 despite his inconsistent play. If you’ve ever been in a football locker room you would know that the “favoritism” RG3 enjoyed at some level was/is held against him with respect to his teammates. Obviously, there is some level of this in every professional football locker room but the Redskins weren’t winning which makes it a much more difficult pill to swallow. Snyder could have certainly been more discreet regarding his love affair with Griffin but on the heels of a tremendous 2012 season led by RG3 and having suffered a traumatic knee injury during the Redskins’ first playoff game in some time Snyder was undoubtedly overwhelmed with concern about his franchise quarterback and went out of his way to make Griffin feel comfortable and seemingly excused Griffin of all culpability regarding a failed season. As for his on-field performance Griffin wasn’t terrible he just wasn’t as good as he was in his rookie season. Many will point to the fact that Griffin was not the same player because he had not regained his speed and edge after suffering an injury during that home playoff game against Seattle. It was certainly obvious that RG3 wasn’t as dynamic but as Hall of Famer Warren Sapp never fails to correctly point out, “The fastest adapting organism on the planet is an NFL Defense.” The opposition had a year’s worth of film on Griffin and he wasn’t 100% healthy. That didn’t stop both Mike and Kyle Shanahan from making him a primary ball-carrier each week. More read option, it worked so well until Griffin got hurt the year before so why not do it again? Well….because that’s not the way you sustain success at the quarterback position. Nor is it the way you keep your quarterback healthy. The read option should be used as a changeup not your primary offensive scheme. Exactly how many quarterbacks have played at a high level year after year in the NFL when asked to be both quarterback and running back? I’ll wait….So Snyder created a monster and the Shanahans stunted Griffin’s growth but I won’t let RG3 off the hook. RG3 let his previous success and Daniel Snyder’s unwavering support go to his head. He started to buy-in to the hype that surrounded him. Often noted for his charisma and smile RG3 began to believe he could do no wrong as he took to the podium loss after loss. RG3 had the built-in excuse that instead of focusing on developing as pocket passer (I maintain the Shanahans had no intention to do so) he had to focus on rehabbing. The question remains, to this current day. Did RG3 demonstrate the same level of tenacity throughout the season in improving and mastering his craft as he did rehabbing from injury in order to be ready at the start of the 2013 season? My colleague Headley made an astute observation during one of our numerous conversations regarding RG3. RG3’s ability and work ethic to rehab from an ACL injury in the pros as well as a broken leg in college did NOT demonstrate his mental toughness in Couch Potato GM’s estimation. It spoke to his physical work ethic. Thus making the question whether or not RG3 is mentally tough and can overcome playing poorly for an extended period of time a legitimate question. RGIII’s mental toughness was weakened when Shanahan decided to bench Griffin in favor of Kirk Cousins. A healthy scratch if you will. Shanahan knew he was out at season’s end but he was going to “stick it” to Griffin and Snyder before he was relieved of his duties. I’m not sure Shanahan was ever a fan of RGIII. The Redskins made no effort to bring in a veteran presence to help guide Griffin. In fact, instead of adding sorely needed depth on both sides of the ball particularly along the offensive and defensive lines Washington chose Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the very same draft Griffin was selected in. I’m not completely convinced that Shanahan wasn’t counting on RG3 to fall flat on his face in his rookie season so that he could make the case for Cousins as his starter. Just imagine those crazy little beady eyes Mike has. You may think I am a conspiracy theorist but I wouldn’t put it passed his burnt orange flesh.
In 2012, Griffin’s rookie season, he was fantastic. A 20:5 TD/INT passing ratio. A litany of highlight reel throws and scrambles. RG3 had arrived. Just like Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick these uber talented, super athletic quarterbacks took the league by storm in year 1 as a starter. Seemingly unstoppable and indestructible this was the “new” age of quarterback in the NFL. Every bit as effective a runner as passer. The accolades were many. On the heels of a Heisman Trophy campaign at Baylor University RG3 led the Redskins to an NFC East crown and home playoff berth. He was named rookie of the year and for all intensive purposes outplayed the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft Andrew Luck. Luck and Griffin’s circumstances during their respective rookie seasons aren’t tailor made for an apples-to-apples comparison but the numbers certainly favored Griffin. But, there were a number of things that concerned me. First, the Shanahans were not using the read-option to ease Griffin into NFL play. They were using it as the focal point of their entire offense routinely putting their quarterback in harms way. Second, Griffin spent the majority of the time in the shotgun or pistol, as customary of a read/spread option offense which meant he was not taking enough snaps from under center thus limiting the need to practice proper mechanics. Third, he had instant success. The novelty of RG3 overwhelmed the NFL in his rookie year and now that the league had a book on him what adjustments would he or his coaches make from year 1 to year 2? None. And just like so many quarterbacks before him and quarterbacks sure to come after him, the sophomore slump followed his triumphant rookie season and served only to snowball into a third year meltdown with whispers of “bust.”
To sum it up RG3 can no longer rely solely on his physical gifts. Considering how intelligent and physically gifted he is I was sure that he could overcome his lack of experience running a prototypical offense given proper coaching. But he has not received that. I also thought that his apparent maturity (only 24-years-old in his third NFL season) at such a young age would be of the utmost value when he did encounter adversity not of the physical nature but the mental hardships that accompany being a quarterback in the NFL. I can’t say that Griffin has passing marks in this category. I thought that same maturity would keep him level headed when he did have success. I was completely wrong on that one. So what has to happen in order for Griffin to right the ship and reinvigorate his career?
He needs a new start. Washington isn’t conducive to RG3’s long term success. The Redskins’ organization has had limited success under Daniel Snyder’s ownership and what some might call “meddling.” I personally think Mike Shanahan erred in trying to completely adopt a collegiate offensive system into the professional game. I believe Jay Gruden is in over his head as both play caller and head coach, the responsibility being too great in addition to having to develop a young quarterback. Both coaches basically phased out one of the most decorated wide receivers in Redskins’ history, Santana Moss who despite being long in the tooth is the type of veteran presence/security blanket that can help a young quarterback transition from college to the pros. Furthermore, the Redskins are below average defensively, their offensive line is porous and they continue to be awful on special teams. As is customary with quarterbacks, RG3 received too much credit when the Redskins were successful and too much blame when they have struggled. However, that does not exonerate Griffin. He must humble himself and address the basics. RG3 must consider that rookie season a distant memory and move forward with a focus on improving as a pocket passer every day. His confidence has been visibly shaken and it appears to have manifested into complacency and apathy. He has to take his mental and physical preparation to a higher level. A new organization with a QB coach and offensive coordinator that will teach him and demand that he play within the structure of the offense while exercising patience with the young QB is warranted. I cannot stress how important coaching is and frankly Griffin has either not received said coaching or he is not coachable in which case he should not be on anyone’s roster. I will venture a guess and say he is coachable and still worth the investment and considering what has transpired in Washington he could possibly be had for a bargain.