Griffin's benching just the beginning
Posted December 11, 2013
Redskins' head coach Mike Shanahan pulled the trigger on a quarterback switch for the remainder of the season on Wednesday, opting to start Kirk Cousins over the struggling Robert Griffin III. On the surface, the move is very justifiable. Griffin has struggled to get the Redskins into the end zone in a 3-10 season that saw the team effectively eliminated from the playoffs prior to Thanksgiving. To be honest, it was a year in which Griffin never really had a chance. The 2nd pick in the draft and reigning NFL rookie of the year, missed an entire off season of football activities due to the gruesome knee injury that ended his season in the first round of the playoffs last January.
However, this is not just an "on the surface" decision. This will send shock waves throughout the locker room, the city and all through the team's power structure, most notably the owner, the RG3 pom-pom-waving Daniel Snyder. Today, Mr. Snyder is staying out of the discussion. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the weeks to come is an entirely different matter.
Griffin IS the Washington Redskins at this time. He is the face of the franchise, the darling, charismatic, bright, young dynamic quarterback who led the team to a playoff berth -- wait, not just a playoff berth, the NFC East title -- thanks to a 7-game winning streak to close out his rookie year. It was the first playoff appearance in six years and the first division crown in eight for a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning Super Bowls in the 80s and 90s. So, the decision to sit Griffin down -- in fact, the second year trigger-man from Baylor will be inactive for Sunday's game in Atlanta -- is not your run of the mill benching.
This is a statement.
At least until the time when Snyder removes his name from the head coach's office door and they paint over his name on his designated parking spot, Shanahan is taking back the team from the clutches of his superstar (in name only) quarterback. Make no mistake about this, the owner is going to make a head coaching change when the season comes to a merciful close, if not sooner. And, it seems undeniable that Shanahan is essentially trying to force Snyder to do it today. This just can't be about the health of Griffin, who played exactly zero football from the time his knee bent in a very unnatural way against the Seahawks in January until the time he took the field on the first Monday night of the season against the Eagles in September.
If this was about the health of Griffin, the strong-willed, in-control-of-his-team head coach would have held him out of the line up for a few weeks until he really became acclimated to the speed and danger of the game. Changing the way Griffin played, limiting his exposure to violent contact was never going to work because that was never the reason why Griffin was injured in the first place.
Griffin plays the game with little to no regard for his own safety. Imagine your 5-year old son in one of those inflatable playgrounds. The act of running as fast as he can and flinging himself through the air into other inflatable obstacles and barriers is a blast. Of course, in that case it's completely safe, apart from the other children with the same thoughts in mind. But, Griffin isn't playing in those surroundings. He's throwing his body around against bigger, stronger, grown men with nasty intentions and no "change of offensive philosophy" is going to protect him from him.
By all accounts, Griffin today is as healthy as he has been all season long. So why the sudden concern for his well-being? True he's been sacked 25 times over the last five games, but he finished all but the last one, the brutal five-touchdown shellacking by the Chiefs. He's also not the first QB to be sacked an average of five times per game and live to tell the stories. No, this can't be about preserving his health for the off season.
This was about control.
This was about Shanahan proving that he was still in charge and trying to get Griffin's ego in check -- at least to where it's on a par with the super-sized self-image of the head coach. What happens next will be a study in the human condition.
How will the team react? Will there be a division within the walls of the locker room? We already know that criticism of Griffin has emerged from even the offensive meeting room. Wide receivers Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon have each had critical remarks for Griffin, his play or both.
More importantly, how will Griffin react? It's not a stretch to say that he's been a bit selfish throughout this process. Let's be real for just a second, he had NO BUSINESS at all starting the opening week of the season. He had his entire right knee rebuilt in January, didn't even start practicing with the full team until midway through training camp and never took a pre-season snap against live competition. So why in the name of Billy Kilmer was he on the field for the opener.
Kirk Cousins proved last year to be more than competent when it came to being a starting quarterback. Let him start, and work Griffin into the offense gradually. It's a complete fantasy to think that there was ANY quarterback controversy in Washington. Shanahan controls that dynamic while he's the head coach and all he had to do was declare Griffin 'the guy', and whenever he was ready to start he would be in there from the first snap. But, for some reason, possibly due to marketing campaigns with any one of Griffin's many business relationships, Griffin was ALWAYS going to be there against the Eagles on September 9.
Of course, no one was surprised when he looked like a guy who hadn't played a single game in nine months. He was dreadful. He played as though he was afraid of being injured again. The next week it was a little better, but no significantly so. The truth of the matter is that professional sports is a 12-month a year endeavor. There is no off-season, just a break from the games. Griffin was forced to take nine months off from his craft and it destroyed his ability. He should have been smart enough to understand that, or mentally strong enough to know that Cousins was better for the team at the time.
Or maybe Shanahan should have recognized that himself. Frankly, it wouldn't be the first time that the head coach appeared unwilling, or unable to remove his franchise quarterback from harms way. We all remember the playoffs a year ago, right?
There's also a practical reason for letting Cousins play out the season. It's quite possible that Cousins will play well enough so Washington could dangle him in the off season trade market and possibly recoup a few of the draft picks they dealt away to get Griffin two years ago. That would be a smart football decision, and it would have the added benefit of soothing the ego of the embattled franchise quarterback.
Oh, the story might seem to be over in our nation's capital, but it's really just getting started. As that noted philosopher, Terrell Owens might say, "get your popcorn ready."