By: Chris Wells, Staff Writer
Diehard fans of the Washington Redskins continue to reminisce about what was and argue over what could have been.
It has been nearly half a decade since an electrifying young quarterback was selected by Washington as the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. The nimble phenome from Baylor had fans of the Redskins jumping for joy. In his first season, he took them to the playoffs, narrowly losing to the Seattle Seahawks in a wild card game that would alter the trajectory of his career in more ways than one.
Today, Robert Griffin III (or ‘RG3’, as he came to be known) is leaving D.C. to a mixed chorus of “good riddance” and “we apologize.” The top prospect became a perennial bench-warmer, suffering a string of injuries which led Redskins’ management to work through a rotation of backup passers.
Griffin is now tasked with resurrecting not only his own career, but the franchise hopes of a city which in the past decade has been little more than a graveyard for wayward quarterbacks.
Griffin signed a two-year contract to join the Cleveland Browns Thursday, according to a press release from the team. The deal is worth $15 million, with $6.75 million in guaranteed money.
For Griffin, it could be the beginning of a much healthier relationship. Former promising Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has produced controversy off the field and mediocrity on it; with the specter of substance abuse and possible suspensions hanging overhead for Johnny Football, the Browns recently cut ties with him. The timing for Griffin’s deal could not be better.
In the past quarter century, the Cleveland Browns have run through more starting quarterbacks than the average high school football team. Since rejoining the league in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have tried and discarded 24 professional passers, while posting an abysmal record of 87-185 and recording only one playoff appearance [a loss in the first round].
But maybe Cleveland’s lucky number is 25.
The difference this time around may lie in the circumstances of the team’s latest addition. In Washington, Griffin had the misfortune of being paired with two successive coaches who did not care for him and who neglected to build a capable offense around him.
Mike Shanahan made his views clear enough when, in a controversial move, he signed off on drafting another quarterback after Griffin, one Kirk Cousins (who is now the starter in Washington).
His successor, Jay Gruden, frequently butted heads with Griffin, whom he accused of being
“buddy-buddy” with the Redskins’ much-maligned owner, Dan Snyder. Gruden seized on the first opportunity to bench Griffin, and from that point forward the writing was on the wall.
Hue Jackson, current head coach for Cleveland, was the driving force behind signing Robert Griffin. Jackson and new quarterback coach Pep Hamilton aim to reinvent the Brown’s lackluster offense.
A dream scenario for Griffin and the Browns involves superstar wide receiver Josh Gordon returning to the field. Gordon was suspended for the entirety of the 2015 season due to a third consecutive substance abuse violation. In 2013 Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 yards receiving, despite starting only 14 games.
Gordon’s return has a gained special significance with the signing of RG3. The two players were teammates at Baylor and have remained friends since joining the NFL. The joint potential they bring is impressive. Gordon is a notorious deep threat, and Griffin excels at throwing downfield.
Griffin definitely has elements of his game which need improvement, such as his pocket-passing and general awareness. His powers of risk assessment also require some tuning, because he has already sustained a long list of injuries from reckless scrambling and diving.
Cleveland has a promising tight end in Gary Barnidge, who posted career high stats last season with 79 receptions, 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. Between Barnidge and Gordon, the potential exists for Griffin to cause some serious headaches.
The Browns also will have the second overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft. For Griffin’s sake, a quality offensive lineman (or two) would be most beneficial.
It is somewhat ironic that Griffin has ended up in Cleveland, considering it was once possible that the Browns would select him with their third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But after Washington traded up to get the second slot, the Browns chose running back Trent Richardson, who is currently an unsigned free agent. Griffin now finds himself suiting up for the team that could have taken him back in 2012.
If there is one particular game worth watching this season for either team, it is Cleveland at Washington. The opportunity to play in this game was certainly not decisive in Griffin’s decision to sign with the Browns, but it will be loaded with significance nonetheless. His painful experience in Washington seems to have humbled him, and hopefully convinced him to refocus his football priorities. Attempting to recapture the magic of his rookie season will no doubt be the leading aspiration.
In some cases, a change of scenery and company can reignite a passion which has been long absent. Only time will tell if Griffin has the ability to write a better legacy for himself. In a city where the football team mostly takes a backseat to LeBron James and his Cavaliers, Griffin will have a chance to concentrate on his craft, and save what’s left of his career.