No question everybody has been seeing it for weeks. And now that the playoff push is officially over, this has become the argument for Kirk Cousins to take over. Griffin has taken a pounding, and these players have nothing left for which to play other than respectability and a place on next year’s roster — or a fat paycheck on the free agent market.
I’d be surprised but pleased to see Griffin get a rest, even if it were just for a few series or the second halves of the remaining games, to save him some wear and tear and to give Cousins some reps that matter. If Mike Shanahan wanted to shop Cousins, he would have a choice: keep him on the bench, where he remains an alluring mystery, or play him and let him succeed or fail. But if he failed, his trade value would decrease.
However, I don’t think a trade is what Shanahan wants. It has been almost miraculous that Griffin has remained as healthy as he has this season given the constant pounding and the way he flirts with the sideline, defenders and occasionally walls. No one can accuse Griffin of being faint of heart — and no one can blame Shanahan for wanting to hang on to a viable replacement in case that near-reckless behavior eventually wins Griffin a free ride on the Golf Cart of Doom.
Forget the Griffin-Cousins debate for a minute, and let’s agree on a larger issue: The offensive line needs to be a priority in the offseason. The line is still undersized, still a patchwork that includes a few guys who wouldn’t start elsewhere. It has performed admirably at times, but it lacks heft: Think of the number of times Griffin has been all but enveloped by his own linemen, losing ground. If he wasn’t as fleet of foot as he is, he would have been sacked by his own teammates more than once.
Washington no longer will have the excuse of the salary cap hit this offseason, and its poor record at least ensures a high first-round draft pick. Oh, wait. Never mind. (St. Louis, however, should be thrilled.) At least good offensive linemen can be picked up after the first round. But the chances of getting, say, a big-play receiver diminish considerably. But give Shanahan and Co. credit: They have found a few jewels in the later rounds, such as Jordan Reed (third) and Alfred Morris (sixth).
Free agency, however, has sometimes been a weakness for Washington. The checking account will be replenished, but the downside of a season like this one — other than the obvious — is the chilling effect it can have on free agents. Yes, players are generally going to take the most money, but when the offers from several teams are fairly equal, the intangibles, such as the coaching situation, come into play. Players also talk among themselves and are aware of locker room tensions and coach-player frictions. And they can see for themselves the way a team treats those players who find themselves in the doghouse. (Fred Davis is a perfect example).
So when March 11 begins, Washington again will look for those elusive missing pieces. At least the team can look forward to a little more depth. But who will be deciding which pieces are missing seems to be in question — although Shanahan has not received the dreaded “vote of confidence” from owner Daniel Snyder.
Snyder has largely kept his hand off the tiller since Shanahan arrived, although conspiracy theorists believe he is still pulling the strings, especially those attached to Griffin. If Shanahan departs, will Snyder go back to — how to put this? — a more active role in team decisions? And who in the world will look at the current situation and think, “That’s the coaching job for me!”
This is why it’s much more comforting — and much less depressing for the fan base — to debate Griffin vs. Cousins. Why look ahead to January or March or May when there is still December angst to be had?
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.