Remember when Robert Griffin III captured the imagination of college football fans everywhere with that cannon arm and blinding speed that made opposing defenses wish they had wings? Can you still picture the emotional night he accepted the Heisman Trophy, or the day the Washington Redskins made him their second overall draft pick?
Griffin’s Heisman speech was almost as inspiring as his play on the field. He talked about hard work being the key to making great things happen. a�?The hotter the heat, the harder the steel,a�? he told the crowd. a�?No pressure, no diamonds. You compete, you win.a�?
Seems like a hundred years ago, huh? But it’s actually been less than four years since that magical season at Baylor, and over three years since the Redskins were convinced the player known as RGIII would be their savior.
Little did Griffin know just how hot the heat would get. Injuries, inconsistent play, and growing dissatisfaction toward him from his teammates and coaches have clouded his once-bright future.
Is it time for the team to move on? Or, to put it more bluntly, is RGIII considered aa�� dare I say it?… bust?
I’m sure if you polled Washington fans, many would be ready to pin that label on his chest right now. Ditto the Washington media. However, before we send RGIII to the mythical Land Of Discarded Quarterbacks, where castoffs like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell now roam, let’s look at how he went from a rising star to a falling one, and entertain the possibility that his NFL career can still be salvaged.
Griffin’s rookie season started off as if he would live up to all the hype. The Redskins, who won just five games in 2011, jumped to 10-6 in 2012, winning the NFC East before bowing to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card game.
Some of the magic Griffin had in his senior season at Baylor rubbed off on the Redskins in 2012. He completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also rushed for 815 yards and sevenA�touchdowns, was named Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was voted to the Pro Bowl. Coach Mike Shanahan’s read-option offense seemed to be working splendidly.
Then it all came to a screeching halt in December, when Griffin strained his knee against the Baltimore Ravens. At first, the injury didn’t appear to be too serious, and he tried to continue playing. Things became worse, however, when he suffered a more serious knee injury in the playoff game against the Seahawks, requiring him to have reconstructive surgery.
While Griffin rehabbed the knee during the offseason, both he and the Redskins received a great deal of criticism for not taking his initial injury seriously enough. Shanahan and his coaching staff then changed the offensive scheme in an effort to make him more of a pocket passer.
The 2013 season was a disaster for both Griffin and the Redskins. Shanahan benched him after a 3-10 start in favor of backup Kirk Cousins. Griffin’s completion rate fell to 60.1 percent. He threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He was unable to run as effectively, as his rushing total dipped to just 489 yards with no scores.
As a result, Shanahan and his entire coaching staff were ushered out the door by team owner Dan Snyder, who brought Jay Gruden in to try to fix Griffin.
Gruden had done well working with quarterback Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, so it seemed like a good fit. But Griffin missed six weeks in 2014 after injuring his ankle in Week 2. His passing yardage fell to 1,694, and he threw more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (four).
The downhill slide has continued into this season. Griffin suffered a concussion in the third preseason game. After initially being cleared to play, an independent neurologist suddenly reversed the original decision, and Gruden has appeared to run out of patience with the quarterback he was hoping to fix. Cousins has officially been named the starter for Week 1.
RGIII isn’t without fault in this drama. He played through his initial injury in 2012 when he probably should have been resting it for the playoffsa��although it’s hard to blame a player for letting those competitive juices rule over caution. His relationship with Shanahan began to deteriorate following his rookie season. The coach felt his quarterback was not studying the offense as thoroughly as he should, a sentiment also expressed by Gruden.
Griffin also raised eyebrows during the miserable 2013 season by publicly criticizing his teammates for not playing well. This is a huge no-no for any player, but especially one who’s supposed to be a leader in the huddle. Recently, Griffin tweeted he was the best quarterback in the NFL, a puzzling statement considering his injuries and erratic play the past two seasons.
A young quarterback like Griffin probably would have benefited from being a backup his first year, adjusting to life in the NFL and being groomed by a veteran quarterback. But neither he nor the Redskins had that luxury; the team gave up multiple draft picks to the St. Louis Rams for the right to move up in the draft and take him. They also placed him in an offensive system that put him at a higher risk for injury, and he has yet to grasp Gruden’s pocket passing offense.
At this point, it might be best for both sides to cut their losses and move on. But even that has its complications. The Redskins can’t cut him until he’s cleared to resume full workouts. Trade rumors have circulated, but teams aren’t exactly lining up outside Redskins headquarters begging to make a deal. Griffin is still set to make $16.1 million through the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, a figure fully guaranteed for injury this season.
But parting ways may be the only way this soap opera will end. Too much damage has been done to mend fences and start over. The Redskins have to hope that either Cousins or Colt McCoy can lead them where Griffin could not. As for the once-prized first-round pick, a fresh start with a new team may be what’s needed to keep the a�?quarterback busta�? label from haunting him, as long as he is in a system with a strong supporting cast and is able to play to his arm strength.
The Jets, Texans, Bills and Browns are hardly set at quarterback, so there’s bound to be a team that would be willing to give him a shota�� for a bargain, of course.
Whatever happens, let’s hope for a happy ending.