The End of Robert Griffin III

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How the hell did we get here?

It’s tough sometimes to think that it was only four years ago that Robert Griffin III was the prince of Washington, DC. There was hardly an athlete more beloved, more revered, and more readily embraced by a fan base desperate for change. For a savior. For someone, anyone to pull them into football relevancy and, perhaps, finally get them back to the promise land.

How did we get from that, to people openly decreeing that they can’t wait until he leaves, and that they hope he takes anyone who dares talk about that electrifying 2012 season with them?

Four years ago, Robert Griffin III left an ACL on the battle ravaged, painted green dirt of FedEx Field. That moment — Griffin, in a heap, while millions at home had been screaming all day for then head coach Mike Shanahan to pull him out — is the moment when everything changed. The moment the savior became fallible, and the selfish sought to cover their own backsides, and the fans began to pin decades of frustration, anger and anguish on him.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. Griffin’s fall has been recapped over and over, but it always positions him as the architect of his own downfall. He was done in by his own ego, the story goes. He figured that he knew it all, that those around him knew nothing. He was weird, too quiet. He spent too much time in the weight room, not enough in the film room. He was too close to ownership, he was the product of a “gimmick”, flash in the pan offense that he needed to develop out of and yet needs in he’s to have a career going forward.

The blame, it goes, falls squarely on Griffin’s shoulders.

RGIII went from GOAT to goat in four short years. How?

It starts with how he, and the organization, dealt with his ACL injury in the first place. In the immediate aftermath, the question that was asked was simple; “who was to blame?”

Was it head coach Mike Shanahan, who, after the Redskins ran up 14 unanswered points, failed to pull a clearly injured Griffin out of the game while the Seahawks mounted a comeback? Was it Griffin himself, who stubbornly refused to come out of the game, and who had told Trent Williams not to tell Shanahan he was hurt? Was it Dr. James Andrews, who watched on as Griffin struggled and Shanahan seemed to not know how to handle it?

The answer is, as it was then, “yes, to all of it”. It was, as so many things are in Washington, a total organization failure.

But the bigger mess was that no one wanted to accept responsibility. Not the player. Not the coach. Not the doctor. No one.

In a better organization, this controversy would’ve been nipped in the bud. The public relations department would’ve found a way to spin it. The head coach would’ve been made to assume his fair share of the blame, even in the most bland, coach speak terms imaginable. The quarterback would’ve taken his share, and backed his coach.

Instead, the festering feud between Griffin and Shanahan intensified, as neither chose to concede that they’d had a role in the injury. That was the beginning of the end. If Shanahan had become so incensed with Griffin’s relationship with Dan Snyder that he was ready to leave a team in the midst of a playoff run, he sure as hell wasn’t about to take the heat. And when Griffin awoke from surgery and saw the general manager and the owner standing in the room, but not the coach, a young man who seems to pride himself on trust seemed to feel that non-existed between him and Shanahan.

It was the beginning of the end.

—–

An interesting facet to how Griffin’s fall from grace is how his first two seasons in the NFL have been deconstructed and reconstructed to fit a narrative that defies reality, but gets talked about as though it was conventional wisdom.

Griffin won the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year with, perhaps, the greatest rookie season from a quarterback ever. His electrifying plays on the field were backed up with his stats. He did things that no other quarterback had done before, and many of which may never be duplicated.

That season has largely been deemed a fluke. A one off. It was not a glimpse of things to come. It was Kyle Shanahan taking Baylor’s offense, putting it in the NFL, and catching everyone off guard. It was a gimmick offense that utilized the best asset Griffin had (in the minds of some people); his legs. Once the league caught up to it and Griffin couldn’t run, that was it. He was done for.

The story that’s told is that Griffin lobbied for changes in the offseason that he was not prepared for. That’s why his 2013 was so wretched and horrible, and ultimately that’s what got Shanahan fired.

…Except that’s wrong on several levels.

Kyle Shanahan didn’t bring Baylor’s offense to the NFL. Quite the opposite, actually. Kyle Shanahan took Chris Ault’s Pistol formation, and the offense he built around it, and grafted the principals of his zone-based West Coast Offense scheme onto them. You’re far more likely to see concepts from Baylor run by Darrell Bevell or Andy Reid than now than if you go back and watch any film from 2012.

And the offense wasn’t a gimmick. The concepts the offense used were just off shoots of things Kyle Shanahan has always run, and runs to this day. The zone-read and options were additional ingredients to a dish that had always been made.

The truth is that Griffin operated an offense that guys like Brian Hoyer and Matt Ryan — quarterbacks considered much more conventional — struggled to comprehend, and he operated it at high level. And he did it more so with his arm than he ever did his legs. Griffin has never been the most dynamic runner. He’s not Michael Vick, he’s not Russell Wilson, he’s not  Cam Newton. Griffin’s greatest asset was his straight line speed, not his ability to avoid defenders and make them look silly. If that were the case, his leg wouldn’t have gotten mangled by Haloti Ngata when he awkwardly tried to slide.

He beat teams from the pocket. He didn’t do it in a traditional 3-5-7 step offense, but in the PA, pistol and shotgun based offense, he killed teams. 2012 wasn’t a fluke. It was Kyle Shanahan doing what good coaches do; finding what their players do best, and accentuating it. Griffin posted one of the best rookie seasons ever, and it happened because he was good enough to play in the NFL, and because he was good enough to execute an NFL offense.
****
And then the knee injury happened. And there is not a person on the planet who didn’t agree that Griffin didn’t need to become a “pocket passer” in the more traditional sense.

A lot of that has to do with being a black quarterback who happens to be able to run in a league that historically demands that any and all quarterbacks conform to their antiquated, long held belief in the pocket passer. No matter how many quarterbacks seem to die in the pocket, it is believed that eventually, you have to excel there to be a “real” quarterback in the NFL.

Much of Griffin’s desire to become a pocket passer seemed to be bourn from that outside pressure. Some of it came from the mistrust that had developed after Griffin injured his leg, and the Shanahan’s insisted on still utilizing his running ability.
It’s only natural for black quarterbacks to not want to be put in the “running quarterback” lane. That is what plagued Donovan McNabb for so long; he wished to take the running facet out of his game, to prove he could hang out of the pocket. Quarterbacks like Michael Vick were redeemed when they seemed to master the ability of staying in the pocket to get sacked like all good QB’s do.

Russell Wilson’s ability to scramble has saved the Seahawks’ numerous time, but the most positive press he’s gotten in recent years has been the December hot streak he had in 2015, where he functioned as a much more “traditional” quarterback. Cam Newton’s MVP candidacy has more or less hinged on whether or not you believe his ability to run is an asset or a crutch. Colin Kaepernick is likely out in San Francisco, after they unsuccessfully signed a bunch of wide receivers and tried to turn him into a pocket passer.

In recent years, quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith have been praised for “being able to run, but not having to”, because, again, be able to run is considered a crutch for black quarterbacks. (Ironically, someone like Jameis Winston gets dinged for not being “athletic” or enough a gym rat, despite being able to run about as well as his white contemporaries)

All this is what makes it so weird that, four years later, people have taken to chastising Griffin for not wanting to run the offense he ran in 2012.
“He’s got to find a coach and a staff that will somehow convince him that the way he played in 2012 is the best way for him to play,” Kevin Sheehan of ESPN 980 said. “And maybe he realizes that now. You still have many teams around the league that have a lot of that incorporated in their offense. Some of those teams are still alive. He’s got to find that team. If he’s going to find a team that says hey, I think I can develop you into a drop-back passer but you’re going to have to sit behind this guy for a couple years, I don’t think it will happen for him.”

It’s curious, how the narrative shifted from “Griffin must be a pocket passer to succeed” to “Griffin must find a coach who will use him like he was used in 2012”. It suggests that Griffin’s biggest problem was trying to conform, after being shouted at for the better part of 3 years for not conforming.

It suggests that Griffin really can’t win. If he wants to be a drop back passer, he will get dinged for not realizing his limitations. (I.e that all he’s good at is running.) If he finds somewhere that runs an offense more like the 2012 version, he’ll be dinged for going back into a gimmick offense instead of learning how to properly play the position.

As if often the case with black quarterbacks, there is no real winning.

***

Griffin’s 2013 wasn’t as bad as anyone would have you believe.

Granted, it wasn’t good. But in someways, it was absurd to think that Griffin could duplicate the success of 2012 — which, again, was probably the best season for a rookie quarterback in NFL history — all while recovering from ACL surgery and learning how to play the game in a different way.

Part of that was Griffin’s fault. Griffin not-so-famously lived off his endorsement deals, while putting his NFL paychecks into the bank. That led to a deluge of offseason commercial deals. The now infamous “All In For Week 1” campaign was a doomed idea from the beginning, as it set an unreal precedent. There was no way Griffin could be fully healthy in that amount of time, and even if he had, there would be no significant time for him to spend an offseason in what was functionally a new offense.

He pushed to become a pocket passer, though, mostly through his father. Those two things, plus a meddlesome owner, put the Shanahans in a bind, a bind that was only made worse buy that whole “no one wants to take responsibility for ‘breaking the franchise quarterback'” thing.
Lying underneath all that was a team — or more over, a group of Shanahan loyal players — who bristled over the idea that RGIII had been the sole reason for the team’s 2012 turn around. Granted; he kind of was. But the team rarely got recognized for their efforts in winning the division, and the constant public in-fighting between coach and quarterback started to wear them out.

If the task of replicating an historic first season wasn’t hard enough, Griffin wasn’t cleared to practice with the team until very late in camp. By the time he was cleared, Shanahan had declared that he would not play in any of the team’s four preseason games.

A young quarterback, coming off his second ACL surgery, trying to learn a new way of playing, with a head coach who was fed up with him, an offensive coordinator who was caught in the middle, an overbearing owner gassing him up, and a rabid fanbase that was ready to repeat as division champions. It was a recipe for disaster from the start.

…Which makes it all the weirder that Griffin was merely “okay” in 2013.

Again, he had some truly awful games. His last four games played, which included two primetime games, were particularly bad, as he completed 57.8 percent of his passes, with 4 TDs and 3 INTs, with a passer rating of 77.5. Versus the Kansas City Chiefs, on a snowy field, Griffin looked as though he’d forgotten how to play the position altogether, missing wide open receivers and seeming timid, as though he was afraid to slip in the snow on his repaired ACL.

But before that terrible four game stretch…Griffin played okay. Not up to the level he had previously, but okay. Granted, the first two games of his season were helped by some late game stat padding…but from there, he looked to be having an average-ish year.

An overturned touchdown versus Detroit seemed to be the difference in a game where everyone though he was rounding back into form. He had decent first half outings versus Dallas and Denver before falling off in the second half. He played well enough to win in Oakland, and pretty very well against both Chicago and San Diego that year; all three of those were wins. He played very well versus Minnesota and the Redskins had a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime, but couldn’t convert.
His twelve touchdowns and nine interceptions, 60% completion and 83.8 passer rating over that nine game stretch were certainly nothing to write home about…but he wasn’t terrible. In fact, it seemed he was having a fairly typical sophomore slump. The four game drop off was really, really bad, and the Kansas City game was abysmal.

But the idea that his 2013 season was the beginning of the end just doesn’t hold water. If anything, he had a rookie season, only slightly delayed. He looked, for all intents and purposes, like a young quarterback, adjusting to the complexities of the league. They even had a chance versus the Giants during that four game stretch.

But it didn’t matter. By then, the writing was on the wall. Shanahan was out, and he needed to save face. And so he benched Griffin, to “protect his health”, and started Kirk Cousins in his place.

The Redskins lost the last four games of the season. Griffin was a convenient scapegoat; he’d become overexposed throughout the season, and very easy to hate. His use of social media to air his grievances was grating, his press conferences seemed less charming and more aloof. He bought a healthy amount of criticism on himself.

But 2013 was about a lot more than Griffin. With the salary cap restrictions in full effect, the team couldn’t afford to upgrade through free agency. Instead, they retained as many players as possible from the 2012 season, most of whom were marginal starters that got caught in a hot streak. London Fletcher was re-signed, despite his arrow trending down. The offensive line wasn’t upgraded, and struggled to pass protect. Jim Haslett’s defense was flat. The Redskins had seven draft selections in 2013; only two of them remain on the team in 2015.

The behind the scenes turmoil, combined with a team that didn’t improve from the year before, had far more to do with the Redskins falling off than just Griffin’s poor play.

But the damage had been done. And Mike Shanahan’s brilliant damage control in the two years after have positioned him as an innocent bystander who’s team was ruined not by his inability to build a solid roster despite personnel control, or by his unwillingness to part with the yes men he kept on the staff, or just plain old NFL parity.

Shanahan has done a great job framing Robert as everything that is wrong with the Redskins. An idea far too many fans latched on to, as animosity and frustration to Griffin grew to be too much.

****

All this isn’t to make Griffin out to be some poor, misunderstood saint. He has undoubtedly made missteps. His ego at times has grown too big. His self-awareness has seemed too small. Many times I have screamed for him to simply put down Twitter (there’s the pot calling the kettle black) and not allow the outside word to bother him.

He’s a self-described loner in a sport that preaches team over everything. If he played basketball, or stayed in track, or even played a sport like baseball, him being an individual would be fine. But being a loner in an NFL locker room is a difficult task, especially if you’re the quarterback, and especially if you’re the quarterback and the owner takes a liking to you.

Griffin fell too deep into the marketing of his image, of his shoes, of creating catchphrases and mottos, all without being able to see that sometimes, you need to step back and allow that stuff to fall to the way side.

He was, at times, too forthcoming with information, to a media culture that is driven completely and utterly by the quest for clicks. And in some ways, him being so newsworthy is why the media — particularly local media — seemed to turn on him as well. The reason why coverage seemed lighter for Cousins was because Cousins was easier to deal with. He was less controversial, less likely to say a thing that had everyone talking and Twitter feeds exploding. His greatest asset was being able to give everyone a unique answer, when sometimes, the best answer was no answer.
Which is crazy in a media culture that demands less canned responses and more personalities. But, those are the rules.

The NFL doesn’t know how to handle “different”, and Griffin was certainly different. A lot of where his career currently is can be placed on his shoulders.

But just as much can be placed on everything around him. It can be placed on the fans who christened him the chosen one before he was even drafted. People lined convention center floors to get his autograph well before the Redskins made the blockbuster trade to move up to get him. Those same fans helped inflate the ego. It was thought Griffin could do no wrong. And for a while, he couldn’t. He was THE MAN before he was actually “the man”.

It can be placed on Daniel Snyder, who can’t seem to help but get involved with his star players. Maybe it’s the fact that Snyder is still a fan at heart, or maybe it’s because Dan couldn’t leave well enough alone. But he undoubtedly crossed lines; he once berated Kyle Shanahan for not opening up the offense enough for Griffin. He had Thanksgiving dinner with Griffin, which, on one hand, isn’t a big deal, but on the other, created more animosity and tension between coach and quarterback. More over, he went full steam ahead with marketing Griffin as aggressively as possible. And when Griffin’s media image got too big, he didn’t reign it in, and he didn’t empower the coach to reign it in.

It can certainly be placed on the Shanahans. Kyle Shanahan is, was, and probably always will be high strung. Even with a franchise caliber quarterback in Matt Ryan and the games’ best receiver in Julio Jones, he still can’t help but rub people the wrong way. His inability to put his ego aside leads to him not being willing to truly adapt, and he’s got a bizarre sense of entitlement.

And Mike Shanahan. The second Mike Shanahan felt Griffin becoming a bigger part of the organization than he was, was the second he started planning his escape. He’s gone out of his way to insist that he never wanted anything to do with Griffin, which is a lie wrapped up in half-truths. He may not have wanted to give up the entire farm for Griffin, but he was certainly willing to part with the barn and a few cattle. Watch any old pre-2012 NFL Draft interview footage, and you will not see a man who is being forced by ownership to take a quarterback he has no faith in. You will see Shanahan smiling, and practically giddy at the thought of drafting Griffin. Shanahan did not fly to Baylor and watch Griffin work personally and have dinner with him after the work out because he didn’t want to draft RGIII.

At some point, someone had to step up and be the adult and take some sort of responsibility. But no one did. Shanahan’s pitch to teams looking for new head coaches this year is “I’m the guy who drafted Kirk Cousins, by the way, I never wanted that RGIII guy”. That idea has been solidified by a media culture who fatigued of having to deal with Griffin (and who grew tired of a national media wondering why they weren’t asking tougher questions), and was bought as gospel by fans who had been hurt one too many times. And some of whom — not all, but some — who weren’t altogether thrilled with the idea of a black quarterback who could run to begin with.

Griffin is certainly a big part of the reason why he won’t be in Washington next year. (Probably.) But a whole lot of people helped get us here. That much is for sure.

****
Jay Gruden started looking to save his own ass more or less the second he saw Griffin.

Gruden was bought in to be the guy to “fix” RGIII. He’d been credited with developing Andy Dalton into a Pro Bowl quarterback, and despite Dalton’s hiccups, he was whispered about as a “quarterback guru”, at least as far as TV media goes.
There were a few more voices that expressed that Gruden wasn’t held in the highest regards league wide, and Bengals fans certainly weren’t dreading losing the guy. Some questioned if Griffin could be a fit in Gruden’s offense, but Gruden had come in and stated that if there were things Griffin was uncomfortable with, they wouldn’t run those things, and he’d build his offense around the talent he had.

So it’s a bit curious that Gruden seemed frustrated that he couldn’t move to start Cousins. And even curiouser that he seemed to lobby for Colt McCoy to start. All before the first preseason game.

RGIII was raw. Hell, is raw. And despite it all, he’d still never really played in a conventional, drop back system in the NFL. Conventional wisdom was that a West Coast Offense takes three years to master. Griffin had been in a version of one that heavily utilized play action and augmented some of the footwork by placing him in the pistol. Him adjusting to the new offense should’ve been expected.

But in the NFL, a coach rarely gets three years to wait around and see if a guy improves. And so Gruden tried making a self-preservation move, moves that were shot down by ownership and a far-too-powerful Bruce Allen.

Griffin barely played in the preseason that year, getting only a handful of snaps in the first two exhibition games, and then getting a truncated appearance in the “dress rehearsal” game, a game wherein he looked decidedly uncomfortable.

Griffin played a mediocre game versus the Texans. Versus the moribound Jags, he got off to a fantastic start, but went down to an ankle injury.

Cousins entered the game and played well. The following week, Cousins played well again in a loss to the Eagles. And almost immediately, the rumors began circulating that, if Cousins continued to play well, the job of starting quarterback was all but his to take.

Jay Gruden never gave Robert Griffin III much of a chance. Maybe he figured Griffin was a lost cause. Maybe the locker room really had turned on RGIII, and he was a man on an island. Maybe Cousins was really that much better a quarterback. But Gruden had zero investment in trying to make Griffin better, or in trying to forge a connection with his quarterback. He instead tried to protect his own hide by moving on to Cousins, and then essentially begging him to take over.

RGIII was left to develop with a head coach who seemed to not want him (again), a first time offensive coordinator who’d spent much of his NFL career coaching tight ends, and no quarterback coach. It’s no wonder Cousins looked better in shorts.

But that didn’t translate to games. Cousins wilted under the pressure of being a starter, going 1-4. His lone “win” came in a game he didn’t finish, as he was benched for Colt McCoy versus the Tennessee Titans, in a game where Cousins seemed to lack confidence.

McCoy got the team over the hump by defeating the Cowboys on a Monday Night, before the teams handed the reigns back over to Griffin versus the Minnesota Vikings. And in that game, you could still see the potential there. He was far from perfect, but he was still okay, completing 64% of his passes with a touchdown and interception. Far less impressive was the Redskins defense, which squandered a first half lead to give way to a big second half comeback from the rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

But the next two starts for Griffin were abysmal. Griffin looked as though he’d never played the position before. There were no flashes of “good RGIII”, only the one that everyone had made him out to be; completely incapable of running an NFL offense that didn’t rely on his legs.

Griffin got benched for Colt McCoy. He returned and played a mediocre game versus the Giants, and managed a win versus the Eagles to knock them out of the playoffs, before losing at home to the Cowboys, the team he’d beaten to win the NFC East Division Championship just two years before.

Griffin certainly didn’t do himself any favors in 2014 when it came to locking down the starting job. But, lost in all the mire of Griffin’s bad season; all the quarterbacks played poorly. Cousins looked to be the best fit for Gruden, but his confidence issues worsened as his starts when on and Griffin got closer to returning after his injury. Colt McCoy was the most well-versed, but he’s Colt McCoy.

Not having a quarterback coach to manage the room and really develop any of the quarterbacks hurt, but it hurt no one more than Griffin, who needed it more than either McCoy or Cousins. In addition, Griffin had lobbied to have Andre Roberts signed, and was one of the key figures to bring DeSean Jackson to Washington. Once again, he’d set himself up for a fall, and yet again, there was no one in the organization that could catch him.

2014 was really the beginning of the end. It was clear that Griffin wasn’t going to be around long with Jay Gruden, or Jay Gruden wouldn’t be around long with RGIII.
Or at least that’s how it seemed.

*****
If Gruden learned anything from Mike Shanahan, it was to pin as much of the team’s failures on Griffin as possible.
Jay Gruden concluded that season stating that he wanted an open competition between all three quarterbacks to become the starter. The Redskins demoted-by-promoting general manager Bruce Allen and hired Scot McCloughan, a guy with a trouble past but a talent for roster building.

Not long after McCloughan was hired, the Redskins chose to extend Griffin’s 5th year option.

Where things get fuzzy is in who’s decision was. The easiest thing to suggest is that Dan Snyder, meddlesome as ever, forced the decision on McCloughan and Gruden. A suggestion that makes little sense, as one imagines McCloughan wouldn’t have taken the job if he could be so easily forced to do something by Snyder.

So here’s my theory. Dan Snyder, obviously, had a lot invested in Griffin from a business standpoint, and from a personal standpoint, wanted Griffin to get one more chance. From a football standpoint, McCloughan saw a young kid who had struggled early on in his career, not unlike the quarterback he’d drafted in San Francisco, Alex Smith, but none the less had great potential.

The fifth year option was, in effect, an offer of good faith, a way to get Griffin to buy in and trust people in the organization again, to give him a little something to fight for.

It was a situation that probably put Gruden in a bit of a bind, since he really did want to given Cousins and McCoy a shot. Never the less, Gruden went along with it, because he didn’t have a choice. To a locker room that at various points the previous season had rallied around both Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy, it probably looked like more coddling from ownership than anything.

Griffin opened training camp in 2015 as the starter. And the initial reports out of Richmond were that Griffin looked much more comfortable in 2015 than he had in 2014. Those training camp reports weren’t effusive in their praise, but it was hard not to read most of them as positive, especially from a guy who’d gotten benched for Colt McCoy the year before.

And those some reports often painted Kirk Cousins as a guy who was locked in a battle for the number two spot. In fact, at some points it seemed Cousins was struggling so hard that he might not even make the roster as the number three quarterback. Being locked in a genuine battle with Colt McCoy would make anyone seem expendable.

The first preseason game didn’t feature many impressive plays from Griffin, but he was able to drive the team into the red zone with some good decisions. (He also took a dumb, unnecessary hit on a third down scramble). Cousins showed out against 2nd and 3rd teamers, and it seemed like a QB controversy was ready to brew all over again.

The second preseason game versus the Lions is the one where everything went south. The one where “Robert Griffin III; Redskins franchise quarterback” died. The one that everything most people feel about Jay Gruden on either side hinges on.

Griffin was massacred in the game. He was hit relentlessly by the Lions, sacked numerous times.

Watching at home, it was a complete horror show. It was merciless.

And Gruden never considered taking Griffin out of a preseason game, a game where nothing of value was on the line, a game where the offensive line played so poorly there was no game film that could be extracted as a learning experience. It wasn’t some evil plot by a mad coach trying to get a quarterback hurt; it was a neglectful coach, who wasn’t enamored with Griffin and didn’t see the value of pulling him when it counted most.

Nothing was done to alleviate the rush. No screens, no rollouts, no bootlegs, not the token read-option to back an aggresive defense off. The argument was that Griffin had to be left in the game to learn, that he had to stay in the game and in the pocket, facing long down and distances. The argument was that Griffin was fine on bootlegs and roll-outs; he needed to learn to play in the pocket, and that was a justification for, essentially, leaving him to die.

Griffin finally left the game with a head injury. Joe Theisman would later report that Griffin did not have a concussion; after the game, Gruden would say that he did.

One of Colt McCoy’s first pass attempts versus most of the Lions starters? A play action bootleg.

Gruden would name Cousins the starter for the team’s third preseason game, and eventually, he’d name him starter for the entire season. Griffin never attempted another pass in a Redskins uniform, and probably never will.

***
They keep asking me why I can’t get over it. Why can’t I move on. I’m an RGIII apologist. I care about him more than the team. I carry a personal vendetta because of how Gruden handled RGIII.

“Can’t you get over it? Griffin is no good. He can’t play in the NFL. Cousins is the future, why can’t you see that? Move on. In 2012 he played in a gimmick offense. Move on. You’re happy to see the team lose just so you can be right about Griffin. Move on, get over it.”

I sit here, having written nearly 6000 words on his time in DC, trying to see if this will be the thing that gets me, as they say, “move on”. Even as I tried to celebrate winning the division, there was a thing that nagged a gnawed at me, a thing that I can’t get over.

Cousins was given three opportunities to claim the starter spot. The first time, Mike Shanahan benched RGIII to prove a point, and Cousins lost every start. That was excused by saying that the team had already quit on him. The second time, Gruden tried to hand him the keys again, but his confidence was so rattled and his paranoia about Griffin breathing down his neck was so bad, he ended up getting benched. Despite seeming to struggle during camp and shining against back-ups in preseason, Cousins was given a third chance to start. And, had Cousins not made a miraculous comeback versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, instead of screaming “YOU LIKE THAT!”, we’d all probably be watching Colt McCoy start a game.

This isn’t to suggest RGIII wasn’t handed the reigns. But it seems that Griffin’s struggles were met with scorn, anger, and dismissal of his raw talent, while Cousins’ struggles were pardoned, excused, and otherwise supported.

When RGIII had a bad game in 2014, Gruden ethered him. He emasculated him in a fashion that had not been seen by many people. And Gruden never really had to answer for doing so, at least not on a local level. When Cousins had a bad game, it was hard to hear Gruden take it easy on Cousins.

You could say “Well he learned from his mistakes”, but it seemed that Gruden still had no problem throwing the occasional barb at other players.

The reason the I, and many others, have yet to “get over it”, is because we’re constantly reminded of how dumb it is to have believed in him. There’s a healthy chunk of fans and media who act as though expecting more out of Griffin is insane. They’ve retroactively made Griffin out to be a bust from the start, who only succeeded because he caught everyone by surprise.

Griffin made the Washington Redskins culturally relevant again. Not just relevant in football, but culturally relevant, as in the Redskins were important enough to be acknowledged not as a walking, talking punchline, but as a viable football franchise that was going places. Even the name debate became a national topic of conversation because Griffin made the team impossible to ignore.
And for African-American fans, the sight of a black quarterback succeeding at a high level, in a league that so often throws guys that look and play like him away, for their football team, was gratifying in ways that are impossible to quantify.

That’s all gone now. 2012 is gone. Griffin’s locker has been cleaned out. Unless Dan throws a Hail Mary and decides to throw himself on the sword to keep him, Griffin will be in a different uniform next season.

And why? Because of a single torn ACL? Was that enough to throw the franchise back into chaos? Were the Redskins such a shoddy organization that an injury that dozens of football players come back from and play well for the team after could send us into turmoil?

Is past is prologue, what does happened say about us now, and where we go from here. Cousins stands to make a ton of money going forward. But if he struggles, will he be so readily discarded for the next guy? Or will he be clung to, and defended until it ends.

It shouldn’t have ended this way. That, I think, is what makes this all hard to get over. In 2012, at long live last, it felt like anything was possible for the Redskins. That playoff wins and NFC Championships and Super Bowls were once again in sight, that the glory days were here, that the team had finally found a direction and a captain that could steer us back to the promise land.

Now, four short years later, in the dead of winter, those of us who choose to remember that feeling, are laid bare on the turf, clutching at figurative ACL’s, wondering if we’ll ever recover from this injury like the last one.

Sorry, people. I can’t over it. I can’t move on.

And it’s hard to imagine I ever will.

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