Four years removed from winning the Heisman and three years after winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Robert Griffin III is now a forgotten man in Washington.
On Monday, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden demoted him from his starting role and gave the job to Kirk Cousins, the former fourth round pick out of Michigan State. The relationship between Washington and RGIII is a complete mess: Coaches are reportedly trying to ship the quarterback out of the Beltway, while ownership wants him to stick around, not that his $16 million plus salary for the 2015 season will have many teams beating down their door.
For Griffin’s sake though, we can all hope that he’s played his last game as a member of the team that drafted him, because the man deserves better.
In his 2012 rookie year, Griffin was the quarterback everyone though he could be, laying waste to opposing defenses with every part of his body. He led his team to the playoffs and racked up 20 passing touchdowns along with seven rushing touchdowns. For woeful Washington fans, it was glorious. Here's just one of the hype videos they made:
But then his knee happened. After suffering a sprain a few weeks before the end of the season and sitting out only one game, Griffin was under center for the Redkins playoff game against the Seahawks. His knee was fragile and after a small knock in the first quarter, even more so. But Griffin kept playing with the blessing of coach Mike Shanahan and the team’s doctors. He would go on to tear his ACL.
That was the first time Washington failed its quarterback. The trend would continue as he was rushed back into the starting the lineup the following season, put under the tutelage of a coach who wanted him gone a few months into their first season together and given an offensive line with the protective powers of saran wrap.
The disastrous relationship between Washington and Griffin reached its tipping point a few weeks ago when Griffin was concussed in a meaningless pre-season game. His coach, Jay Gruden, shouldered the blame: not only did he continue to let his starter get battered, but he kept calling pass plays that left him vulnerable.
Not that we should be all that surprised by Gruden’s behavior. He's never liked Griffin: Gruden reportedly wanted his quarterback off the team less than a year after he was hired, in part because he thought Griffin made decisions with the goal of “enhancing his brand,” rather than improving as a player. How dumb. Of course Griffin is worried about “enhancing his brand”: he plays a game that destroys his body and brain. Gotta make that paper while he can. But more importantly, if every talented young player was sent to the scrap yard because his coach thought he had misplaced priorities, we’d have legions of phenoms who never were.
Some say Griffin has brought much of this turmoil on himself, that he’s arrogant, not good at reading defenses and a bad teammate. All of which might be true, but the way to handle those problems is to either fix them or quietly bench the player, not to let him get repeatedly hammered or publicly besmirch his character.
An unnamed NFL head coach recently told Bleacher Report that he’s “never, ever, on any level, seen a head coach treat his quarterback with such a lack of respect” as Gruden's treated Griffin. It’s hard to disagree, and on a selfish level, it’s hard to not be bummed. Through a series of awful moves and poor decisions, Washington has deprived fans of an athlete who was able to put together one of the greatest rookie seasons ever for a quarterback. For his efforts, he was given a cantankerous coach and a franchise that seemed to wish for his failure (it should be noted he got a lot of money, too). With the right team, Griffin could be the amazing player we always hoped he could be.
The silver lining to all this is that his benching will almost certainly get the one thing we’ve all been wishing for since he and the Washington Redskins started down this shit-strewn path: a new team. Here's hoping we finally get to see Griffin in all his glory under the auspices of a coach who knows exactly the talent he's working with — and how not to screw it up.
Photos by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images