Robert Griffin III holds the keys to Mike Shanahan’s future

Mike Wise
Columnist August 14, 2013

It’s nice of the coach to take a load off Robert Griffin III and oversee his star’s recovery plan because let’s be clear: Since January, Griffin has been busy overseeing whether Mike Shanahan gets a contract extension.

When the dust from dueling news conferences in Richmond settled this week and the coach tried to assert authority after his quarterback went all RG-Me on him, one hard truth emerged: For one of the few times in plug-in-the-next-body NFL history, a single player has NBA-like star power. Griffin is LeBron, Kobe or Michael right now. He has 100 percent job security.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Shanahan is merely the coach who needs to prove he is the right man to guide a healthy Griffin through the best years of his career. Heading into the fourth year of his five-year deal, Shanahan needs Griffin more than Griffin needs him. It’s a dangerous power imbalance for any leader of a 53-man roster.

It’s further complicated by Daniel Snyder’s peculiar need to strike up deep friendships with his most valuable employees and how that curiously results in the owner always having a coach right where he wants him: at the whim of a name player, losing leverage by the day. (Hello, Jim Zorn.)

This is where I absolve a 23-year-old for all training-camp sins involving the flapping of his gums.

The Post Sports Live crew discusses whether Robert Griffin III should have said that he disagreed with coach Mike Shanahan's plan for his rehab. (The Washington Post)

I mean, if I was Griffin, and the owner of my company kept his family in Dallas to spend Thanksgiving with my family, if he was at my bedside after I awoke from surgery, if we were hanging at White House correspondents’ dinner parties together — where the owner made sure he told people yelling “RGIII” that, “His name is Robert” — and we were jet-setting off to Hollywood to see Morgan Freeman and Tom Cruise in a movie premiere, and he made it to my wedding — I’d feel pretty confident in showing up my direct supervisor, too.

What’s Shanahan going to do? Hold me out of practice one more day?

See, Snyder has always worked on a two-tier system when it comes to his stars and the other players who carry water to the pharaoh’s tent. Griffin has become his new best friend — just like Clinton Portis and LaVar Arrington used to be his best friends.

Yes, Shanahan was given total control of personnel when he was hired, and the days of a Portis circumventing his coach and going straight to Snyder were said to be over. But then the messiah in cleats arrived from West Texas and all bets were off. Dan had a new man-crush.

Cruel irony, no? Shanahan took a celebratory trip to the Bahamas with Snyder and Bruce Allen after trading up to acquire Griffin in March 2012, and a little more than a year later his best personnel move has made him more expendable than the quarterback.

The Post’s Mark Maske reported at the end of last year that Snyder was seriously weighing the possibility of extending Shanahan’s contract after the 2012 season. One person with knowledge of the deliberations told Maske he thought it was likely the team would pursue the extension this past offseason rather than waiting until next January.

Coincidence or not, since Griffin went down, since Shanahan let the kid talk him into playing injured Jan. 6, not a peep has been uttered about a contract extension.

It’s as if the owner has taken a wait-and-see approach on how Shanahan deals this season with Griffin, who is not just his main bread-winner but his new best friend on the roster.

“When you have that relationship with your player and you care about him to a large degree and you’re the owner of the team, I think it still becomes difficult sometimes to make decisions that could alter that friendship,” Arrington told me Tuesday, adding that he believes Snyder has learned from past mistakes.

“It’s more so that Robert has to be careful,” he said. “When you have an owner that’s befriending you and you’re sitting with him on the airplane and you’re playing chess with him and you’re exchanging pleasantries — I mean I was a pallbearer for that man’s father, that’s how close we got . . . you always have to be mindful that this is still a job and this is still your employer. If he can keep those lines clear, he’ll be fine.”

Is he?

“It seems as though those things may be getting a tad bit blurred. I don’t know if it’s his relationship directly with the owner or if it’s just the way he feels about the way things have been handled. I’m not really clear on that.”

Look, I don’t know whether Shanahan should be the coach for the next three to five years. I don’t believe the seven-game run to end the season was a mirage, but I want to see how his refurbishing plan works when it comes to the defending NFC East champions handling prosperity instead of just adversity.

I do know if Shanahan isn’t extended before the season is over, the power imbalance is going to grow.

In almost every other NFL locker room the onus is on the player to show he is the right person for the job. But here in Washington, where the owner befriends his best players, it’s always on the coach.

Snyder may just have to grit his teeth like Shanahan did the other day at the lectern and sign his coach up for more years and more millions. Whether Griffin likes it or not, it might be the only way to ensure Shanahan can effectively now govern a franchise with Super Bowl aspirations.

For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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