One of the finest moments of Robert Griffin III’s brief NFL career occurred Wednesday amid the Washington Redskins’ latest crisis. By taking the high road about his season-ending benching, Griffin displayed maturity and the team-first attitude he’ll need to attempt to lead the franchise out of this mess.
Clearly, Coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to demote Griffin in favor of backup Kirk Cousins for Washington’s final three games — ostensibly to protect Griffin, which is laughable — didn’t sit well with last season’s NFL offensive rookie of the year. Griffin never hid his disappointment about being stuck in the middle of a high-stakes showdown between Shanahan, who essentially is begging to be fired, and owner Daniel Snyder, who would rather burn the $7 million Shanahan is contractually owed next season than pay him.
But after a disappointing season during which he appeared to point fingers rather than shoulder blame, Griffin provided hope for the organization with his stand-up performance in a news conference at Redskins Park. He supported Cousins and vowed to remain focused on trying to become the best quarterback he can be. And that’s exactly what Griffin needed to do.
Despite Griffin’s growing pains as a pocket passer this season, he still possesses the arm strength and work ethic to become a longtime successful NFL quarterback. What had come into question recently, though, was Griffin’s willingness to work within the team dynamic.
Before the season, Griffin pushed for changes in Washington’s spectacularly productive offense, in part, to advance his career. He has had he-said, he-said news conferences with Shanahan during which he questioned the coach’s plans. The team’s most important player has criticized play-calling and the performance of his wide receivers.
In only one season, Griffin went from being a crowd favorite to one of the biggest targets of frustrated fans. Finally on Wednesday, Griffin looked good again.
It would have been easy for Griffin to blast Shanahan, who is using him as a pawn in his battle with Snyder, many in the organization believe. The quarterback switch is perceived as nothing more than Shanahan’s attempt to provoke a fight with Snyder that could result in his dismissal and a final payday before he slinks out of town.
Snyder, however, didn’t bite. Griffin will be inactive for the remainder of the schedule, and Rex Grossman will be the No. 2 quarterback.
Griffin isn’t stupid. For weeks, he has heard Shanahan maintain he needs as much work as possible to improve in the pocket. (I can’t count the number of times Shanahan privately told me Griffin must stay in the game.) Shanahan didn’t publicly express concern about the hits Griffin was absorbing until the Redskins appeared to quit in Sunday’s 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Shanahan’s newfound concern for keeping Griffin injury-free entering the offseason program is another example of the type of duplicitous double-talk that led Griffin to stop trusting Shanahan in the first place. Think about it: Griffin will remain with the Redskins this offseason; does anyone believe Shanahan will?
Although Griffin previously expressed frustration about being part of an organization in which off-field drama is the norm, he’s determined to stay as positive as possible because “my teammates don’t need me to think about” the situation negatively. “They don’t need me to bring that type of environment in the locker room. I’m not going to.
“I’m going to take what Coach has decided and roll with it. Just try to find ways to help this team win during this process.”
A few weeks ago, Griffin likely would have been more forthcoming about the toxic situation. But Griffin has grown wiser from the criticism he has weathered for being too candid in interviews.
Griffin knows Shanahan’s scorched-earth exit plan has stirred tension at Redskins Park. The tension in the main building has never been worse in the Snyder era, one person with longtime ties to the franchise told me. That’s really saying something. Griffin has no desire to become a bigger part of the problem. Eventually, he wants to help produce a solution.
Griffin believes he must remain professional and set a positive example for a team that still has games to play. “It’s not like these games are just going to go away,” he said. “Guys have to play. . . . You got to keep it rolling. You have to keep doing things.”
Griffin plans to help Cousins while watching from the sideline as the 3-10 team completes its schedule against the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Griffin has been as fiercely protective of his job as any starting quarterback would be. The third-stringer wants Cousins to lean on him now.
“The biggest thing for him is he just can’t let all this distraction affect” him, Griffin said. “I promise you: I’ll be there for him every step of the way.”
As bleak as things seem for the Redskins again, Griffin hasn’t given up hope. His main message to the team’s long-suffering fans is that they shouldn’t, either.
“If I allowed [the situation] to break my spirit, then I wouldn’t be the person I think my parents raised me to be,” he said. “Although . . . it’s a down time for us as a team and as an organization, we’ll rise out of this. I believe that.”
The Redskins don’t offer much to believe in. But Griffin’s growth as a leader is at least something they can all feel good about.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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