Robert Griffin III signs with Redskins; analysts say not missing practice improves chances of success

July 18, 2012

It doesn’t guarantee success, either immediately or down the road, for a team to get its prized rookie quarterback into the fold a week before veterans show up for training camp. But it doesn’t hurt either, especially when many other teams are scrambling to get their top picks to camp on time.

The Washington Redskins removed another obstacle to Robert Griffin III’s long-term success and — they hope — their own resurgence when they signed Griffin to a four-year, $21.1 million contract Wednesday.

“It can be just money thrown away if you don’t get a young quarterback signed to get him there on time,” former NFL coach Dan Reeves said. “It’s so important for him to get there and get his timing down with his receivers and everything. There’s so much of it that’s mental.”

The team also signed third-round pick Josh LeRibeus, an offensive lineman, to a four-year deal, putting all its drafted rookies under contract a week before training camp officially opens. LeRibeus should earn about $3 million, based on a comparison with contracts awarded to 2011 draft choices.

Griffin, the second overall choice in the NFL draft in April, missed two days of conditioning workouts and classroom work for Redskins rookies this week. But he didn’t miss any practice time. Redskins veterans report to training camp next Wednesday and the opening practice of camp is scheduled for next Thursday.

Griffin agreed to the deal late Tuesday night, according to his agent, Ben Dogra, signed the contract Wednesday and joined the team’s other rookies at Redskins Park.

His fully guaranteed contract includes a signing bonus of $13.8 million and a salary for the 2012 season of $390,000, the rookie minimum.

Under the terms of the sport’s rookie pay system, the deal contains a team option for a fifth season.

There still are no guarantees that Griffin, who already has been named the Redskins’ starter by Coach Mike Shanahan, will thrive in the NFL as he did in college, where he won the Heisman Trophy last season at Baylor. He has participated in spring organized team activities.

But Griffin and the Redskins improved their odds of success by completing the contract before the team’s opening practice of training camp, analysts said.

“It’s a huge step,” said former NFL quarterback Warren Moon, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I’m surprised it took even this long. The earlier that you can get in as a young quarterback and get involved — every rep is going to help him.”

Redskins officials declined comment beyond the written news release issued by the team that announced the signing. They also declined to make Griffin available to comment.

The team and Griffin appeared to benefit from the second year of pro football’s rookie pay system, which was designed to reduce the amount of guaranteed money in the contracts of unproven players entering the league and simplify contract negotiations in order to get rookies to camp on time.

Before Griffin’s deal, the top eight 2012 draft choices were unsigned. Some in the league were surprised that Griffin signed his contract before fellow rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the Stanford product drafted first overall in April by the Indianapolis Colts.

“He wanted to get there and give himself the best chance to be successful for his rookie year,” Dogra wrote in an e-mail.

Now the Redskins know at least that Griffin won’t follow the paths of Heath Shuler and JaMarcus Russell, former quarterbacks who had disappointing NFL careers after missing training camp time as rookies because of stalemated contract talks. Shuler, the third overall pick in the 1994 draft by the Redskins, missed 13 days of his first training camp.

He played only three seasons in Washington. Russell, the top overall selection by Oakland in 2007, missed his entire rookie year training camp and lasted only three seasons with the Raiders.

“Not only do you miss the physical work and the mental work, but you put more pressure on yourself and more pressure is put on you from the outside,” Moon said. “You have to talk about your contract and explain why you didn’t get to camp on time. You don’t need that as a young player, especially a player like [Griffin], where there already are so many expectations placed on him. It’s a big relief to get it out of the way, not only for the player but also for the organization and the fans, for everybody.”

Said Reeves: “This is not like a running back, where you can maybe miss some time and it doesn’t always matter. With a quarterback, it’s timing. It’s mental. It’s invaluable to get him signed and get him there on time so he doesn’t miss anything.”

Griffin’s contract contains no “offset” language, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because all the contract’s details were not announced. If the Redskins release Griffin, they would owe him the full amount of his guaranteed contract, even if he signs with another team.

The offset language has been a stumbling block in negotiations for many of the league’s top picks.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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