The quarterback who two years ago was better than Andrew Luck, who dined with the team owner and had him on speed dial, is now an afterthought. If that.
When the Washington Redskins (ugh, there’s that obnoxious name again) reached out this month to their season-ticket holders, they did not include Robert Griffin III as part of the team’s “nucleus.”
The marketing department sent out this message: “Head coach Jay Gruden, new General Manager Scot McCloughan and Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry will lead a nucleus of Ryan Kerrigan, DeSean Jackson, plus Pro Bowlers Trent Williams and Alfred Morris.”
To many recipients of the mailout, these names did not stir the emotions. Scot What? Joe Barry Who? And since when does a left tackle (in this case the very good but hardly Hall of Famer Williams) take billing over the starting quarterback?
It shows how far Griffin has fallen. The club wants nothing to do with the RG3 brand.
In 2012 Griffin was Rookie of the Year and the ultimate dual quarterback, ranking ahead of Luck, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick in passer rating and rushing yards.
Mike Shanahan, masterful strategist that he is, took the zone-read offense Griffin ran at Baylor – to Heisman effectiveness – and adapted it to the NFL.
But Shanahan, showing an uncharacteristic blindness, allowed Griffin to talk him into continuing to play for several weeks with a “strained” knee in a brace. The knee became totally unhinged in Washington’s one playoff game.
At that moment the magic of RGIII vanished, never to return to all that it was.
Griffin’s sophomore season got off, almost literally, on the wrong foot, with Griffin tweeting like a magpie and holding daily press conferences to update the world on the progress of a knee being rehabilitated from a second reconstruction.
The knee never got right, and the team went 3-13, with Griffin benched near the end. Exit the coach, Shanahan.
So enter the new coach, a/k/a/ The Wrong Gruden (Jay, younger brother of Super Bowl champion Jon), and the 2013 record repeated at 3-13.
The 2014 Griffin was about the same as the 2013 edition and even less popular with teammates. On one occasion when he was being interviewed by reporters, a roar burst from the rest of the locker room. It was a group effort to drown him out.
Outside the Redskins’ camp, their fans and media critics bark and seethe. It’s not just the self-promotion or the millions that Griffin cost against the salary cap. What continues to hurt is the boatload of draft picks shipped to St. Louis to acquire the rights to Griffin.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher rubbed it in the Redskins’ faces in December when he presented for a coin toss in FedEx Field the eight players acquired as a result of the trade of Griffin (Not that Fisher had so much to brag about. His team would finish 6-10).
At any rate, Griffin has become the face of a failed franchise. After being 10-6 as a rookie starter, he’s 4-15 since then.
It’s not that he’s inaccurate. He completed 68 percent in 2014, a better number than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers put up. His 2.8 percent interception rate was close to the average for the league.
His problem was sacks: a dizzying 33 in 214 pass attempts, projecting to 70 if he could ever play a full season. That he fumbled nine times last year, losing four, is another major concern.
Gruden faulted Griffin for clumsy footwork, illiteracy at reading defenses, slowness in returning to the huddle after being hit, and then blaming teammates for his inefficiency. The coach said he was “not even close to being good enough for what we expect from the quarterback position.”
It’s almost unprecedented for an NFL coach to heap so much criticism on a quarterback. Griffin was polite enough not to return the volley. It had to have stung, and it had dubious inspirational value. It’s unrealistic to expect players to follow a leader who’s under fire from above and from the back.
Neither Gruden nor Griffin accepted their fair share of responsibility for the shipwreck of a season. Both showed their immaturity, Griffin being 23 and in his third year in the NFL, Gruden being 47 and in his first season as a head coach.
He’s that rare football coach who welcomes a quarterback controversy.
Gruden in a December team meeting apologized for his treatment of Griffin, but not everyone was mollified by his explanation.
As Gruden put it, in an interview with ESPN’s John Keim, “All hell broke loose.”
The Gruden/Griffin union may have been doomed from the start. Gruden never could excuse Griffin in his sophomore immaturity undermining the revered Shanahan, winner of two Super Bowls.
Jay should be grateful to Griffin for doing his part to create – or should we say add to? — the mess in Washington. Owner Dan Snyder basically sided with Griffin in the head-butting with Shanahan rather than work out the issues.
McCloughan, who is now Gruden’s boss, said it was too soon to give up on Griffin. There’s not much choice. Griffin is heading into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, with $6.7 million guaranteed. No other team will want that contract, considering Griffin’s mediocrity in 2013- 2014.
Further, the free-agent market offers the slimmest of pickings: Jake Locker may be the best available quarterback.
And despite their death spiral this past season the Redskins couldn’t dive low enough to secure Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the QB prize of the next draft.
So they will make do with Griffin, who may not be as hopeless as Gruden seems to think. We’re not talking Geno Smith or Christian Ponder here. Sam Bradford? Perhaps. Going back to his college days, Griffin has been unable to stay healthy consistently, which is Bradford’s problem and the reason all those Griffin-generated draft picks haven’t boosted the Rams.
Griffin insists it wasn’t a knee that slowed him last season but a dislocated ankle in the second week. “I had never suffered an ankle injury of that severity before,” he said on ESPN 980.
“So I didn’t know what to expect. . . . I could have sat out the rest of the year. . . . Last year I wasn’t healthy, and it sucked.”
For all you hear about his failure to interpret defensive alignments, Griffin graduated a semester early in high school, posted a 3.7 GPA in pre-law at Baylor and was in grad school by his fourth year. If he’s not learning defenses, it’s because he’s not trying very hard or isn’t properly coached.
Gruden fancies himself as a quarterback guru (he did so well with Andy Dalton in Cincy) and did not see the need to hire a position coach to work with Griffin.
Sean McVay, the 28-year-old offensive coordinator, is, shall we say, unobtrusive. The offense, for better or worse, mostly worse, seems to be Gruden’s. Not that anyone would want to claim a scheme that in only four of 16 games produced more than 20 points.
Gruden may have effectively addressed the issue by hiring a respected quarterbacks coach, Matt Cavanaugh, who helped develop Hall of Famer Steve Young in San Francisco and was credited with making Josh McCown serviceable in Chicago.
Gruden might show more patience with Griffin now that it’s clear Snyder won’t fire him and get nothing for the $15 million guaranteed on his contract. So for business purposes (they both cost too much to hire and replace), the unfortunate Gruden/Griffin marriage of convenience continues.
With Cavanaugh’s support – if not Gruden’s – Griffin could improve his footwork and continue the difficult transition from the shotgun/spread offense of Baylor University to the more diversified and complex pro game.
Griffin’s college coach, Art Briles, advised Gruden, via ESPN, to “adapt to what his abilities are.”
Perhaps Cavanaugh can design some rollouts or bootlegs to free a rejuvenated Griffin from the pocket. He’s unlikely to flourish – or even to survive — by planting himself behind a line that has but one reliable pass blocker, Williams.
Gruden said he wanted competition at quarterback, but no more than two in camp competing for first-team snaps. Given that the interception machine Kirk Cousins is under contract and journeyman Colt McCoy is not, the fight is likely to be Griffin vs. Cousins.
It’s hard to see how Griffin can lose this one. Unless Gruden wants him to.