In 2012, the Washington Redskins paid a kings ransom to secure the services of Robert Griffin III, their presumed franchise QB for years to come. The trade saw the Redskins send no fewer than six high value draft picks—their No. 6 overall pick that year, their second-round pick in 2012, and their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014—to move up 4 spots and grab Griffin. Two-and-a-half years, and 33 starts later, the RGIII era seems to be over, with Griffin expected to be a healthy scratch in place of Colt McCoy for the Redskins upcoming game against the Indianapolis Colts. We take a look at how this happened, and ask what comes next for the former number 2 pick.
What has happened?
Robert Griffin III, the former number 2 draft pick, will be benched against the Colts, in favour of Colt McCoy, a third round pick and career backup. Griffin is reportedly healthy, and his benching is due to his recent performance, not due to injury concerns, which have also plagued him throughout his career. This is not the first time RGIII has been benched while healthy, the same thing happened in 2013, though this was reportedly to “protect” their investment in the final weeks of the season once the Redskins were already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Team officials have indicated that this may not be a permanent switch, and there is reason to believe that they may go back to Griffin, or Kirk Cousins, who started several games while Griffin was injured, if McCoy doesn’t work out.
How did this happen?
A combination of factors have all come into play here, though the three main ones are injury, inconsistency, and coaching changes.
First of all, injury opened the door. Had Griffin not missed time due to injury, perhaps fans and coaches would be a little more forgiving of his recent sub-par performance. However, his injury really let the world see exactly what they had in Griffin. It’s not that Cousins was so great during his time under centre—he was actually decidedly average—it’s just that Griffin was not obviously better than the fourth-round pick who replaced him—indeed, in many ways, Griffin looked worse.
Next, there is his inconsistency. Griffin has put in some MVP caliber performances over his career. In 2012, he appeared to be worth every pick the Redskins gave up to get him, however, since then appears to have regressed. Although he had some good solo performances in 2013, these were rarely enough to lift his team above their opponents, and he also had several games where poor decisions and lackluster passing play cost his team in important situations.
Finally, there is the change of coaching staff. Griffin was a holdover from the Mike Shanahan era. His acrimonious fallout with his former coach was well documented by the media, but in spite of the concerns, RGIII and Shanahan were intrinsically linked, given everything Shanahan convinced the Redskins to give up to get him. While his relationship with new head coach Jay Gruden initially seemed much better, Gruden does not have the same ties to Griffin that Shanahan did.
Gruden can cut ties with Griffin, and simply blame his predecessor for Griffin’s failure, knowing Griffin was never his quarterback. So while Gruden was more than happy to give RGIII a shot, the head coach, who is now coaching for his own career, doesn’t have a lot of patience for failure, and sees no reason to give Griffin the chance to learn on the job when Colt McCoy was 2-0 starting in his place.
Those things, coupled with rumours that the QB has lost the confidence of his locker-room, and persistent risk of a season- or career-ending injury even if he was playing at a high level, due to his playing style, made it easy for Gruden to decide to go in a different direction.
What happens next for RGIII?
Griffin will likely spend the remainder of the season backing up Colt McCoy and Kirk Cousins. If either men fails to perform consistently, or goes down to injury, Griffin could see action again this season, but that eventuality looks pretty unlikely as things stand. Gruden has laid all his cards on the table, and stated in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t believe RGIII gives the team the best chance to win. To start him again, barring a complete collapse by McCoy and Cousins, or unforeseen injury, would be disastrous for his coaching career.
Going forward, Griffin will likely be trade bait this offseason. His 2015 salary is less than $4 million, with a 2016 option available too. Teams would likely not need to give up very much to secure his services—perhaps a late second or early third round pick—which could be seen as tremendous value given what the Redskins once paid for him. If any coach believes that Griffin is better than his recent performence, and is a victim of circumstance, they could be willing to kick the tires on the young QB.
Potential trading partners could include the Oakland Raiders, who remain in need of a franchise QB, in spite of some promising signs from Derek Carr, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where almost anyone would be seen as an improvement, and perhaps most interestingly, the St. Louis Rams. The Rams could have taken Griffin in 2012, but decided to stand by Sam Bradford, and received near unimaginable riches from the desperate Redskins. While no-one would fault them for taking the Redskins offer, it is beginning to appear that Bradford will not be the dependable starter they need, especially in a tough NFC West, and to walk away with all of the Redskins draft picks, and they man they so desperately wanted would be a huge win for the Rams.
One way or another, Griffin will get another shot in the NFL, but he is no longer the automatic starter he once was. He will have to earn his spot on the roster of whichever team take him, but it appears his time as a Redskins starter is over.
What’s next for the Washington Redskins?
If the Redskins can not work out a trade, the team have two options. At less than $4 million per season, RGIII would be a very affordable backup in 2015, and the Redskins could even pick up his 2016 option—they would need to do so by next May—knowing the $18 million (approx) one year deal is only guaranteed against injury, and they could actually cut him right up to the start of the 2016 season without it costing them anything extra.
However, there is an implicit risk to this. Griffin is known to be injury prone at this point, and any injury, even a minor one in training camp could force the team to keep him, and his 2016 salary, around for a full season.
There is also the fact that, as long as Griffin is around, there will always be a reminder of what they gave up to acquire him, and a pressure to give him one more shot to earn it.
Cutting Griffin at the end of the season, then, would be the most obvious option for Gruden and the Redskins organisation. It would mean admitting that Griffin was a bust, for sure, and would reflect badly on General Manager and team President Bruce Allen who had a major part to play in the trade which brought Griffin to Washington. But both Allen and Gruden can legitimately claim that Shanahan was the driving force at the time, and can easily play this off as shedding themselves of the final remnant of his failed experiment.
There would be no real penalty for cutting Griffin at this point, other than obviously the memories everything they gave up to get him. They could either go out and get a proven veteran, either by trade or through free agency, or could spend their first round pick—their first since acquiring Griffin—on one of the numerous QB prospects currently considered potential starters—we think Jameis Winston could be the best fit—or even continuing to run with McCoy or Cousins while they evaluate future prospects.
However, shedding themselves of Griffin seems the most likely scenario.
Of course, all of this assumes Jay Gruden keeps his job—which we assume he will. If he is let go, which would be a surprise, but is not impossible, Griffin’s future very much depends on who replaces Gruden as head coach. Some may see potential in him, and consider him their starter, others may insist on keeping him as a high-upside backup, while others still will undoubtedly have their own ideas about who they want to start, but right now, we assume Gruden keeps his job, and it appears that their current staff don’t need to see any more from Griffin at this point.
What does this mean for the league?
The fall from grace of RGIII may be one of the most dramatic NFL busts in recent memory. Only Vince Young, that we can think of, has been so impressive during his first season, only to regress so dramatically during his subsequent seasons.
Teams will undoubtedly think twice before handing over so much to take a QB prospect, and the read-option style of QB play which was so prolific a few seasons ago already seems to be falling out of style due to the injury potential it has for QBs. While a few QBs have been able to sustain the extra toll that regularly running the ball puts on their body over a prolonged period—Seattle’s Russell Wilson chief among them—most teams have been forced to significantly scale back their designed run plays for QBs.
Griffin’s perceived value came from his dual-threat running abilities, but his body has been vulnerable when asked to run regularly. Numerous serious injuries have forced him to evolve into a pocket passer, and this has exposed his weaknesses in this area.
Going forward, teams will likely revert to valuing more traditional passers higher than those who are dual-threats, and will place more emphasis on numbers like completion percentage, and passing TD-INT ratios than rushing numbers when those dual-threat QBs do come along.
It seems very unlikely that we will ever see the sort of trade that sent the number-two pick from the Rams to the Redskins again. Draft pick trades in recent year have already cooled, and the failure of Griffin will likely see them become even less tempting going forward.
While some teams will wish to move up in most drafts, these sort of blockbuster trades now seem to be a thing of the past.