The media circus that follows the Redskins reached epic proportions on Wednesday, when Mike Shanahan did what many speculated: The benching of Daniel Snyder’s prized charm, Robert Griffin III.
In a move that came out of left field when it was first reported after the week 14 “shalacking” to the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, that Griffin could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season, many people were most likely willing to call Shanahan’s bluff.
Wednesday came and the head coach of the Redskins was not budging on his decision.
Shanahan dropped a bomb on the Redskins organization and the fans that will resonate in Washington for the remainder of the season and possibly into the offseason. Obviously, Griffin was not backing the decision 100 percent, stating his claim to Shanahan that he was healthy and more than willing to play.
Shanahan reached out to the press and stated his claim and reasoning for benching Griffin. Health being the key component, he mentioned that it would be crucial for RGIII to enter the offseason healthy as opposed to his 2013 offseason where he was rehabbing his bum knee. Shanahan also referenced the numerous amount of sacks that Griffin has taken as well as his consultation with owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen, who apparently backed the decision as well as his relationship with Griffin–one that has a taken a rocky turn
Regardless of what was said, It would be rather naive to take everything that Shanahan is saying at face value.
We know Griffin and Shanahan have had their disagreements in the past. Griffin regarding the playcalling of Mike’s son, Kyle and surely Griffin may have some angst regarding his injury last season against the Seahawks with the decision to keep him in the game despite the poor field conditions at FedEx Field.
There was also a disagreement between the playing time Griffin would be getting in the preseason. He wanted to play in the third game of the preseason, but Shanahan deemed it too hazardous towards his health.
There has been speculation that he rushed his rehab in order to ensure he could start the season. Kirk Cousins was a more than viable backup last year (100 quarterback rating in the game he started), coming in relief in games against the Ravens and Falcons. Griffin probably felt compelled to come back so he wouldn’t lose his starting job in week one of the regular season and causing a quarterback controversy.
There have been reports of Shanahan’s disapproval of the way Snyder coddles Griffin and provides preferential treatment such as private meetings, pickups and locker room visits post game.
Due to this special relationship Griffin reportedly shares with Snyder, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, it allegedly brought Shanahan on the verge of clearing out his office and resigning from the team amidst the turmoil.. Apparently he had come to this decision prior to the Wild Card game against the Seahawks, but changed course post Griffin injury as he would have been vilified for quitting on the team during a trying situation.
And just yesterday, Kyle Shanahan spoke with the media and disagreed with the decision to bench Griffin, stating that he needs opportunities to learn the offense as the starting quarterback of the team. The younger Shanahan was disappointed to have only learned about it moments before his father made it public. We do not know the father-son relationship between Kyle and Mike, but it would seem worrisome if Mike could not be more upfront with his son and take his council more seriously.
Who knows if Mike keeping his son out of the loop was a calculated decision, or father simply telling son that he is the sheriff and he calls all the shots. It could also be that he is absolving Kyle from the entire backlash that may come from Mike’s decision. Not seeking his council regarding a franchise altering decision and keeping him out of the loop allows Kyle a free pass in case other team’s are weary of the decision by the elder Shanahan and the way he has gone about the situation.
You will notice that I used the word “report” quite often. No one knows where these sources are from. The prevailing thought is that they may be coming from Shanahan. Players such as Santana Moss have denied these leaks coming from any of the players in the locker room.
So now that the decision has been made and Griffin will be riding the pine for the final three games – not just as a third string quarterback, but as an inactive player – one must wonder what will happen next.
For now, it is hard to predict how this shapes up. If Cousins plays well and it is later announced that Shanahan will return for the 5th and final season of his contract, it could cause a full-blown quarterback controversy. If that is the case, the benching by Shanahan of Griffin for precautionary reasons could be more of a wakeup call to the second year quarterback who may feel a sense of entitlement.
If Shanahan is on the way out, then he is planting a seed in which there could be a revolt in the city, let alone the locker room if Cousins plays well, but Snyder still enforces Griffin as the starter due to their buddy-buddy relationship.
It could very well be that Shanahan is truly looking out for the best interests of Griffin and potentially showcasing Cousins as a means to trading him. Remember, the Redskins are tied for the second worst records in the league, at 3-9, and if the draft started today, their first round pick (second overall) would go to St.Louis (by way of the trade of the 2012 second overall pick to Washington for 3 first round picks and a second round pick). Additonally, their offensive line has been porous all season (Griffin has been sacked 25 times in the past five weeks), with Trent Williams not playing up to his Pro Bowl form and Tyler Polumbus getting compromised at the right tackle position. It is not inconceivable that Cousins actually stinks up the joint and shows many of the same issues that plagued Griffin, due to the line play, lack of skilled players at the wide receiver positions as well as questionable playcalling.
Let’s not forget that the Redskins have a bottom five defense as well, which has consistently forced them to move away from their gameplan of running the ball with workhorse Alfre Morris.
My take is that Shanahan will be returning and his son Kyle, whose play-calling as been an eyesore all season, will be forced out of his position as offensive coordinator. It would be hard to believe that Snyder and Allen would back the move on the basis of Shanahan’s suggestion, and not bring him back next season. Yes, Griffin has regressed immensely. Although he matched his passing yardage by three this season (3,200 to 3,203), his interceptions have gone up (12 to 5), his completion percentage has gone down (65 to 60) and his fumbles are up as well. He has trouble making reads, picking up blitzes and his footwork has been atrocious at times which has led to high throws, but the investment that was made makes him a virtual lock to start next season. At this point, the Redskins have nothing to lose with their draft pick being forfeited to the Rams and elimination from the playoffs happening two weeks ago.
A season is not made in three starts, so even if Cousins plays like the second coming of a right-handed Steve Young, Griffin’s job will still be safe.
Griffin was far from perfect in his inaugural NFL season, but his 102.4 passer rating (82 this season), dazzling runs and being a key cog in the Redskins winning their first division title since 1999, made him the toast of the town. Redskins fans are quite fickle and seem already impatient with the circus that has followed Griffin all season. But we must remember that he’s a second year quarterback who had an offseason of rehabbing as opposed to refining his game and honing his core skills as a quarterback. The decision to prematurely shut him down could give him a leg up on being able to work on his deficiencies and become a better player as he will watch from the sidelines and see where he can make improvements.
I understand the rationale of a player being fully healthy (how healthy is someone at this stage of the season?) and cleared by doctors to play, but at times, the big picture for a team and a player must take more credence than the here and now. Like most controversial decisions in the NFL, it is important to take a step back and look at all angles and viewpoints. As long as Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen, who both are well entrenched and All in For Griffin, are completely in favour of the decision, it is really hard to disagree with Shanahan’s assessment. The protection of their asset is currently the most important aspect heading into the 2014 offseason.
And let’s be frank. Griffin has done more than his share of talking, from the Adidas “All in For Week One” Commercials, the “Operation Patience” t-shirts and various tweets regarding his comeback. The benching may infuse some much needed humility into Griffin, who could’ve done absolutely no wrong last season.
Time will tell if it truly was the best decision for the franchise, but fans and analysts should stay pragmatic and realize that health going into the 2014 season is imperative for the long-term success of Griffin.