There’s a lot of awkward crap going on with the Washington Redskins, but one of the most awkward things is probably going to be coming down the pike in the not-too-distant future. You see, two years ago, Washington traded all of the draft picks to the St. Louis Rams in order to acquire the No. 2 overall pick in the ’12 draft, which wound up becoming Robert Griffin III. Later in that draft, the ‘Skins surprised many by taking Michigan St. QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. Seemed kinda weird to take a backup QB that high in the draft, especially when they had just taken one three rounds earlier, but whatever. It’s the Redskins. Nobody really expected them to be doing logical things, anyway.
RGIII was fantastic as a rookie that year, and good times seemed to be on the horizon in the nation’s capital. Washington made the playoffs that year after winning their final seven games of the regular season, including a win over the Cowboys in the season’s final game that gave the Redskins a division title. Griffin won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and Washington had seemingly built a revolutionary offense around their über-athletic quarterback. They were gonna change everything!
Then, unfortunately, Griffin got hurt in Washington’s Wild Card round loss to the Seahawks. He’d gotten injured previously in Week 14 against the Ravens, but head coach Mike Shanahan reckoned he’d try and ruin everything. RGIII had a torn ACL. Then, for some reason, Griffin rushed himself back from that injury in order to be ready for opening day 2013. It was evident from day freaking one that that was a terrible decision. Griffin looked wounded and nothing like the player that had taken the league by storm just months before. He wasn’t running nearly as effectively (6.8 yards per carry in 2012, 5.7 yards per carry in 2013) and looked downright skittish and uncomfortable in the pocket. After throwing just five picks as a rookie, Griffin threw 12 in his second year, and his YPA went from 8.14 to just 7.02. He wasn’t the same guy. Washington had other problems in 2013, but Griffin’s play was a big reason they went from 10-6 in ’12 to 3-13 in ’13.
Fast forward to opening day 2014, and little looked different. The Redskins hired a new coaching staff and spent money during the offseason on a couple of nice toys for RGIII (DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts), but the offense looked abysmal in their season-opening 17-6 loss in Houston. Remember when Griffin could run? He ran three times in that game and gained a whopping two yards. Then, in Week 2 against the Jaguars, Griffin landed awkwardly after a throw and wound up dislocating his ankle. It didn’t require surgery, but he’s now on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
Cousins, who filled-in rather mediocrely for Griffin for a few starts late in the 2013 season, entered the game and was fantastic. Washington’s offense actually looked like it made sense with Cousins in the game as they went on to obliterate the poor Jags 41-10. Cousins completed 22 of his 33 attempts for 250 yards with a pair of touchdowns and didn’t throw a pick. The Redskins then traveled to Philly in Week 3 for a game that many expected would be a rather easy victory for the Eagles. But it was not so. Cousins and the Redskins were with the Eagles all the way to the finish line, but came up short 37-34. Excluding an embarrassingly horrendous interception (my god, it was awful), Cousins was stellar once again, throwing for 427 yards with 3 touchdowns and averaging nearly 9 yards-per-throw. The Redskins are 1-2, but they actually look like a halfway-capable team, which is something that couldn’t be said with Griffin at the helm in Week 1.
So, what do they do? Griffin is probably going to be able to return at some point this season, and the franchise essentially mortgaged the future in order to draft him in 2012. But he’s underperformed since hurting himself, while Cousins appears to (at least right now) be a very solid NFL quarterback. Kyle Shanahan’s dumb read option offense is gone, and many thought coming into the season that Cousins was a better fit than Griffin in Jay Gruden’s new scheme. And it sure as hell looks that way. When asked about the potential QB controversy Tuesday, Gruden said that strange things have happened in the NFL, which basically means that RGIII is toast if Cousins keeps this up. It’s far from unprecedented. The 49ers were on the way to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith at the helm in 2012 before he was Wally Pipp’d by Colin Kaepernick and never regained the starting gig. There are obvious differences between that situation and the current Redskins’ dilemma, but the general idea is the same. Nothing is guaranteed.
However, we shouldn’t forget that the sample size here is incredibly small, and Cousins has put up these great numbers against two of the NFL’s weakest defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia. Washington gets another shoddy defense with the Giants on Thursday, but then things get considerably tougher with matchups against the Seahawks and Cardinals to follow. The way Cousins performs in those games will surely go a long way in deciding what the Redskins should do once RGIII comes back healthy. Griffin was the hottest commodity in the league no more than 18 months ago, and yet he already may be thrown into the trash if Cousins continues to perform at a high level. It’ll be all of the weird seeing Griffin hawking things like Subway and Gatorade as he stands there holding a clipboard on Sundays.
Whatever transpires with this situation this season will probably have a major impact on how the Redskins operate next offseason, as well. Both quarterbacks will have the ability to renegotiate their contracts following this season, but Griffin has an option for the 2016 season that Washington will have to decide upon in March. If they pick up the option, Griffin will earn $16 million in 2016 after earning $3.3 million in ’15. At this point, picking up that option seems incredibly unlikely given his injury history and general ineffectiveness in recent times. If Cousins finishes this season as the starter and plays well enough to where the Redskins think he’s their guy going forward, then they may well work-out a long-term extension with him next summer with Griffin on the books for just the 2015 season. This could also go the other way. If Cousins struggles and Griffin regains his starting job once healthy and looks like the RGIII of old, then they could obviously pick-up the 2016 option or negotiate a contract extension for Griffin and leave Cousins with his current deal that expires after the ’15 season.
In any event, this seems to be headed in one direction: one of them will be traded, if possible. If you polled the rest of the league today, I would imagine Cousins has higher trade value than Griffin. That said, despite the injuries, RGIII is still just 24 and has flashed incredible upside in the past, so it’s not like there would be no trade market whatsoever for him. All it takes is one team to believe enough in him to forfeit future draft considerations. The Cowboys (albeit desperately) traded a pick to the Ravens in order to get Rolando McClain, who was technically retired at the time. Griffin would certainly net something of decent value for the Redskins. While it seems like we’re in some kind of golden age for young quarterbacks around the league, there are still plenty out there in search of their own franchise signal-caller.
Would it look bad if the Redskins were to pull-the-plug on RGIII just a couple of years after moving heaven and earth to get him? On the surface, of course it would. It was a gamble that will have failed to a degree. However, at some point you also have to start acting and performing like a functioning NFL franchise, which is something the Redskins haven’t really done in recent years. If keeping Cousins and trading Griffin is the best and most logical football decision, then you can’t let external noise and perceptions get in the way of that decision. Teams make mistakes and screw up in the draft on an annual basis. At some point, you just have to move on.