In an effort to trade the benched quarterback, team management will do its best to prop him up publicly — but the Griffin era in Washington is over. Colt McCoy’s time is just beginning, and it may last longer than you think.
After opening the season third string, McCoy will return to the starting lineup Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Jay Gruden believes the journeyman has what it takes to succeed in a lead role — “He could be [steady], and that’s something we haven’t had,” Gruden told me recently — and the coach needs McCoy to deliver.
With crater-sized holes throughout the roster, the Redskins have no shortage of problems they could attempt to address in the draft. Getting good news at quarterback for a change would make Gruden’s task a little easier. For McCoy to provide some, he will have to follow Gruden’s script, which he already has proved he can do.
Signed to be Washington’s long-term backup, McCoy quickly impressed Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay in the offseason, displaying a good grasp of Gruden’s offense and the type of lock-himself-in-the-film-room work ethic coaches want. Given an opportunity, McCoy immediately delivered.
Pressed into duty in Week 7 after Kirk Cousins was yanked for adding two more turnovers to his already long list, McCoy engineered a comeback victory over the Tennessee Titans. When a backup only has one incompletion in 12 attempts, passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers and directs a winning drive, coaches figure he possesses something on which to build.
A week later on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, McCoy took another step forward.
He replaced Cousins as the starter against the NFC East leaders and made the most of his first week in a long time practicing with first teamers. McCoy shook off a slow start — he finished with an 83.3 completion percentage, 299 yards passing and rushed for a touchdown — and showed great command of the offense, especially down the stretch. On Washington’s final drive in overtime, McCoy was perfect in five attempts for 49 yards, setting up Kai Forbath’s 40-yard, game-winning field goal. With his fine work, McCoy made a strong impression around the league.
“He made great decisions” against the Cowboys, Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said. “When you go on the road, hostile environment, play a [then]-6-1 team and lead your team to a victory, you’re obviously capable.”
And like Gruden, McCoy also is a grinder. Since entering the league in 2010, the former University of Texas standout has played for three teams . Briefly, McCoy’s career was derailed by concussion problems. Until Gruden turned to him to start the second half against the Titans, McCoy had not appeared in the regular season since Dec. 15, 2013. The last time he threw more than one pass in a regular season game was Dec. 23, 2012. Despite everything that had gone wrong for McCoy, he stayed positive. Gruden noticed.
“He’s smart, he understands what you’re trying to do and he’s tough,” said Gruden, explaining in a recent interview he would be confident with McCoy as the long-term starter. “He has been through some [adversity], and he kept fighting. That’s easy to like.”
McCoy’s high accuracy rate is appealing as well.
In practice, McCoy often has shown he’s better than Griffin at throwing in rhythm. McCoy has displayed much better decision-making than Cousins, which, admittedly, isn’t hard to do. Gruden was particularly upbeat after McCoy’s first two outings, people in the organization say, largely because he realized Cousins lacked the confidence to remain the starter and Gruden had major doubts about Griffin since the preseason.
Right about now, I know what most of you are thinking: Then why did Gruden go back to Griffin? Here’s the answer: Follow the money.
In 2012, the Redskins gave up three high-round picks for the right to draft Griffin. By the end of this season, Washington will have paid Griffin more than $17.8 million. By May 3, the Redskins must decide whether to exercise Griffin’s contract option for 2016, expected to be about $16 million.
With all the questions surrounding Griffin, he had to play after missing six games with a dislocated ankle. His performance provided the answers.
Of course, none of that means McCoy is more physically talented than Griffin. If Griffin were in top form, no one could argue that the 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year would be a better choice to lead the Redskins.
Griffin, though, hasn’t been in top form for a long time. And Griffin is such a mess right now, he may never climb the mountain again.
That’s the painful reality owner Daniel Snyder and President and General Manager Bruce Allen finally accepted, Redskins officials say. For Snyder and Allen, the blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a watershed moment. Even they saw what Gruden has been telling them for some time: Griffin is broken and can’t be fixed in Washington.
Among other things, the Redskins have major problems at safety and along the offensive and defensive lines. For the first time since 2012, they will have a first-round pick and flexibility in free agency. But if Gruden is right about McCoy, he could buy the Redskins what they need most after their latest debacle: time.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.