It wasn’t just NFL owners, coaches and general managers who coveted Robert Griffin III heading into the 2012 NFL draft.
Subway, Adidas and EA Sports wanted a stake, too, so eager to be linked with the electrifying athleticism and infectious joy that Griffin brought to the field that they signed Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner to endorsement deals before he had thrown an NFL pass.
Three-and-a-half years later, the player who seemed destined to transform the Washington Redskins has been reduced to an afterthought, a third-stringer denied the privilege of suiting up for all but one game this season.
The indignity figures to worsen at 4 p.m. Tuesday, when the NFL’s trade deadline is expected to toll with little or no interest in Griffin from other teams.
The disinterest is partly because of skepticism about Griffin’s ability and durability after two seasons of erratic play in which he suffered two major lower leg injuries, a third concussion and was twice benched for performance after leading the Redskins to the playoffs as a rookie. Since the Redskins mortgaged their future to select him second overall in 2012, Griffin is 14-21 in 35 NFL starts.
It also reflects the albatross that is his fifth-year contract, worth roughly $16.2 million. Any team that trades for Griffin inherits that deal, which is guaranteed against injury. In other words, if Griffin suffers an injury that prevents him from passing a physical at season’s end, the Redskins — or a team that acquired him by trade — would be obligated to pay that salary in 2016.
Griffin has the prerogative to renegotiate that guarantee if it proved a sticking point in a trade offer that appealed to him. But it would make far more sense for an interested team to wait until the Redskins release him at season’s end, as appears certain, and has no contractual baggage.
That’s why Griffin is widely regarded as having “minimal” trade value, in the view of several current and former NFL executives.
Former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, now an NFL Network analyst, said he’d be “very surprised” if any team traded for Griffin by Tuesday’s deadline.
“You’d have to get [the $16.2 million guarantee] negotiated out of the contract,” Casserly said. “Why would you take on a guaranteed injury contract for a player you don’t know when he can play?”
Said a front-office executive with another NFL team, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Griffin is under contract with the Redskins: “You’re in the season. He’s not a guy that would be ready to jump in and play well for you even if you have a need [at quarterback]. He has been benched. He has had injuries. He has an unfavorable contract going forward. I don’t see how anyone looks at him and says trading something significant for him right now would be a good idea.”
Griffin, 25, hasn’t commented on his present or future with the Redskins. Team officials aren’t commenting either but have maintained privately since Coach Jay Gruden named Kirk Cousins the starter Aug. 31 that the plan was the keep Griffin on the roster rather than trade or release him.
That seems wise to former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, with the team 3-4 entering its bye week.
“I don’t think the trade deadline affects the Redskins when it comes to Robert,” Theismann said in a recent interview. “Look at last year. All three quarterbacks played. We’re only seven games into the season. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Robert can play. He has things to learn. But he can play. The Redskins have to see how Kirk plays, see what happens the rest of the season and then get into the offseason and figure out where to go from there. I don’t think this trade deadline has any effect whatsoever.”
That leaves Griffin an anomaly. He is the NFL’s highest-paid No. 3 quarterback and surely its most beloved, with legions of Redskins fans still sporting his No. 10 jerseys and rooting for him to get a second chance, whether in Washington or another market.
What Griffin thinks and feels about this is unclear. Outwardly, he has gone about his work as a consummate professional, steering clear of controversy and betraying not a trace of resentment.
No doubt, being marginalized is alien terrain for an athlete who has been celebrated at every stage of his career — the pride of Copperas Cove, Tex.; a hero at Baylor, where a 9
Griffin clearly misses the game-day spotlight, taking the field in his Redskins-issued track suit during pregame warmups to share a high-five, pat on the helmet, fist bump or encouraging word with each of the 46 players in uniform.
No doubt, he misses playing more but has accepted his scout-team duties, tasked during practice with mimicking opposing quarterbacks to help the Redskins’ defense prepare for upcoming opponents.
After practice, Griffin typically remains on the field for as much as an hour at a stretch, working on his footwork and throws with a member of the coaching staff. In doing so, he also misses the 45-minute locker room sessions with reporters. Whether by design or coincidence, the upshot is that Griffin has avoided interviews since being benched two weeks before the season opener.
On the rare instances when Griffin passes through the locker room, he is shadowed by a member of the team’s public relations staff tasked with warding off interviews. And he has curtailed his forays on social media, which on occasion have triggered controversy, commenting mainly on the triumphs and trials of his Baylor family.
A person familiar with Griffin’s thinking said he is focused solely on becoming a better player and leader. With no expectation of being traded before the season is over, his only option is to keep in shape and continue honing his quarterbacking skills, even if it’s against a coaching assistant rather than a bona fide NFL pass rush.
As bleak as that may be, Griffin’s fortunes should brighten once he’s released. Despite his recent struggles and demotion, Griffin remains an intriguing option — or at least one worth bringing in for a closer look — in the view of some NFL teams looking to bolster their quarterback ranks.
According to Casserly, NFL coaches and executives generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to Griffin’s potential.
One group points to his accomplishments at Baylor and the fact that he led the Redskins to the playoffs as a rookie. They see a raw talent who might yet thrive in the NFL, given the right circumstances — particularly for a team with no young quarterback in the pipeline.
Casserly tossed out Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco as possible examples.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is on record as a Griffin admirer. Just last week, former Cowboys running back Herschel Walker publicly urged the Redskins to send Griffin to Dallas.
The Jets might suddenly join the list of teams needing quarterback help in light of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s thumb injury, but there was no indication as of Sunday night that they were in pursuit of Griffin.
The other NFL camp, Casserly notes, has concluded that he simply can’t handle a traditional pro-style offense.
“It’s one of those two mind-sets,” Casserly said.
All Griffin can do now is wait. Once he is released by the Redskins and on the open market, he will have more say in where he lands, free to structure a contract that might suit him and his next employer better, perhaps with performance-based incentives.
Once Griffin is let go by the Redskins, the dynamics completely change, according to the NFL executive who spoke with a promise of anonymity.
“He has talent,” the executive said. “He has played very well in this league at one point. He’s certainly a guy you’d look at and consider if you don’t have to give up anything for him and you can negotiate a more favorable contract.”