Robert Griffin III shouldn’t play against the Browns Sunday, because it’s the right call

Post reporters debate whether Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan should start Robert Griffin III over backup quarterback Kirk Cousins this weekend in Cleveland. (The Washington Post)
December 11, 2012

This is a good indication of where Mike Shanahan’s priorities really are in his dual-purpose job: Is the Washington Redskins coach/architect beholden to winning this week’s game or the long-range future of the franchise?

I believe it’s the latter. It’s why I think rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III won’t play Sunday against Cleveland in a game the Redskins desperately need to win to continue their playoff push.

It’s why the coach, acting in the best interests of the player and the club, should opt to rest his prized rookie, whose sprained ligaments in his right knee made him collapse on the field against Baltimore and was later diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain of the lateral collateral ligament.

Griffin won’t like the decision. He has said he would only leave a football field when he is “carted off.” And when that happens, he said he will jump off the cart and get back on the field. In sports, playing hurt is analogized as having heart, a champion’s resilience, guts, fortitude.

In life, playing hurt — twisting your muscles, cartilage and bone when they are medically deemed unstable — is just short-sighted and foolish.

Young, elite athletes are allowed to be short-sighted and foolish. When you’re 22 and the new “It Guy” in American sports — and RGIII, with a grin that spans from Copperas Cove to Loudoun County, is that guy — a genuine feeling of invincibility is expected. Griffin will give his right leg to play. We get it.

But 60-year-old, football lifers like Shanahan who still proudly enunciate “National Football League” aren’t allowed to be short-sighted and foolish. Or they can’t do both the job of a coach and a primary franchise decision-maker anymore.

In a way, Shanahan will be off the hook for this decision. It will largely be made by some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world, including Redskins team physician James Andrews, who should really change his name to Renowned Andrews because that’s what everybody says about the most prominent knee doctor in sports.

But Tom Brady’s knee surgeon has already told The Post, based on his experience with the same type of injury, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Redskins “protect [Griffin] and don’t rush him back.” Given that these type of knee sprains take anywhere from a week to a month to heal properly, it would seem like a no-brainer — especially for an athlete like Griffin, who underwent anterior cruciate ligament surgery on the same knee at Baylor in 2009.

Maybe the only wild card is whether Griffin’s health dramatically improves during the week. If he takes the practice field and he can plant and throw and move without risk of further injuring the knee, then the decision becomes harder.

Here’s whose opinion I wouldn’t put too much stock in if I were Shanahan: Griffin’s. I know. No one can know his body more than the quarterback himself. And his opinion is worth hearing and factoring into the equation. But, again, if we know anything about RGIII we know he is about as hyper-competitive and immune to obstacles as any young athlete in pro sports today. He would play on one good leg if he could.

It’s not his job to make decisions on his physical well-being for the long haul. It’s the medical staff’s. It’s the coach’s. And, more important, it’s the franchise decision maker’s. This is where Mike Shanahan, the Redskins’ coach, needs to listen to Mike Shanahan, the Redskins’ vice president of football operations, before anyone.

With the right medical advice, he will come to the sanest decision: Rest the kid this weekend. Let him recover for Philadelphia on Dec. 23.

If Kyle Shanahan is the offensive guru he is purported to be, he will find a way to conform the offense in a week to Kirk Cousins’s talents. And the defense will need to again have Griffin’s back like he has had theirs all season.

Long term, that’s the best plan at the moment, the plan I believe Mike Shanahan will endorse.

For previous Mike Wise columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.
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