Less than a year after a showdown over Robert Griffin III, another appears to be brewing. Jay Gruden’s desire to part ways with the ineffective quarterback may put him at odds with owner Daniel Snyder and President and General Manager Bruce Allen, potentially leaving the Washington Redskins searching for a coach yet again.
Late last week, battle lines were drawn between the coaching staff and senior management at Redskins Park after multiple team employees revealed Gruden is done with Griffin, as much because of the 24-year-old’s spotlight-craving antics as his shortcomings in the pocket. Prompted by the news of Gruden’s position, an unnamed Redskins official told ESPN that Griffin could start again during the team’s final four games, lending credibility to the notion that Gruden’s bosses still are committed to the league’s 2012 offensive rookie of the year.
The dueling anonymous reports brought to mind last season’s he-said-he-said battle in which Snyder and Allen backed Griffin, firing two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan and his talented play-caller son, Kyle.
Although it’s unknown whether Snyder and Allen eventually will agree to trade Griffin, what has become clear from recent conversations with Redskins officials is that Gruden believes he needs a clean break from Griffin to focus on fixing Washington’s 3-9 mess. And if Snyder and Allen commit to Griffin as the starter in 2015, Gruden could be “one and done,” a team official said, alluding to Gruden possibly being fired despite four years remaining on his guaranteed five-year contract.
How did the Redskins find themselves in such a quandary so soon after resolving their last one?
Like Mike Shanahan before him, Gruden quickly identified Griffin’s problems reading defenses and getting the ball out of his hand on timing passes and bristled at his off-field approach. Hired largely to rebuild Griffin following the quarterback’s ugly breakup with the Shanahans, Gruden benched him after just three starts in the preseason and five in the regular season. Gruden also has been brutally honest in his public assessment of Griffin, often showing his frustration during news conferences.
From watching film with Gruden and questioning other football people in the organization, Snyder realized Griffin should not remain the starter this season, team officials say. As of last week, however, Snyder had not accepted that it’s time to give up on Griffin completely. It’s easy to understand why.
Snyder supported the risky move to trade four high-round picks in order to select Griffin second overall in the 2012 draft. A former high-ranking team official said at the time of the trade the move would weaken the franchise for as much as a decade if Griffin failed to become a longtime superstar.
Considering his substantial investment in Griffin and how well the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner played in his rookie season, it wouldn’t be surprising if Snyder took a wait-and-see approach. Also, Snyder and Griffin developed a personal relationship, sharing high-dollar dinners and mingling with Hollywood stars. For Allen, trading Griffin could be a career-killer.
Allen strongly encouraged Shanahan, who had roster control, to move up in the draft to select Griffin, people within the organization say. Internally, Shanahan expressed major reservations about giving up so much for a college quarterback who did not play in a pro-style system.
But Shanahan agreed to the deal, in part, because of Allen’s persistence. After botching his first offseason in charge of the roster, trading Griffin would signal yet another failure on Allen’s part.
Allen had no role in hiring Shanahan and benefited from Shanahan being ousted from power when Snyder gave him final say over the roster and added team president to his title. In contrast, Allen handpicked Gruden to lead Washington after they worked together in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ organization.
Although Allen is tied to Gruden, they could have competing agendas where Griffin is concerned. And if Gruden parts ways with the organization over Griffin after only one season, what coach in his right mind would want to be part of this long-running soap opera?
As for the players? As always, they’re stuck in the middle, trying to keep their focus on the field as the circus continues off of it. Griffin, who hasn’t won a game in more than a year, has become a polarizing figure in the organization who might have even less support in the locker room than in the coaches’ offices.
For Snyder, trading Griffin would mark a crushing defeat. But if Snyder keeps Griffin, he could wind up losing a lot more.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.