The knee injury suffered by Robert Griffin III could have wide-ranging ramifications for the Washington Redskins as they begin to plot their offseason moves and look ahead to the team they will put on the field in Week 1 next season.
Before Griffin was hurt in Sunday’s playoff game, it seemed that the 2012 season would have a feel-good quality to it whether or not they beat the Seattle Seahawks.
The Redskins won their final seven regular season games to secure their first NFC East title since the 1999 season. Griffin was one of the NFL’s most celebrated players. Tailback Alfred Morris, a fellow rookie, set a single-season rushing record for the team and capped off the regular season with a 200-yard rushing performance in the win over the Dallas Cowboys that wrapped up the division crown.
With Griffin and Morris, the Redskins had the look of being a built-to-last contender, even with the lack of the draft picks Washington traded to the St. Louis Rams to be able to draft Griffin in April and what remains of a $36 million salary cap penalty imposed against the franchise by the league.
The melodrama of previous seasons during Daniel Snyder’s ownership appeared to have dissipated. Snyder was being praised for staying out of the way of Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen. Shanahan seemed to have redeemed himself for the team’s struggles in its first 21 / 2 seasons with him as the coach.
That all seems like a long time ago.
As Griffin recovers from five-hour surgery Wednesday to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament and repair the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, here’s an early look at the new uncertainties facing the club because of his injuries.
The quarterback’s recovery will be one of the sport’s top offseason story lines. When will he make it back on the field? And will he be the same?
James Andrews, the orthopedist who operated on Griffin on Wednesday, said in a statement that it was hoped Griffin would be ready for the 2013 season. Some medical experts, however, said recovery could take as long as eight to 12 months.
“I would guess he’ll be back in November,” one former NFL executive said. “I knew they’d try to say he’d be back by the [start of next] season. But I don’t see it happening.”
Even on Monday, before it was confirmed that Griffin needed surgery, Shanahan brought up the comparison to Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings tailback who suffered a torn ACL in the final game of last season but returned for this season and fell nine yards shy of setting the NFL’s single-season rushing record. But that’s a high bar to set. And Griffin now is coming back from a second ACL surgery to the same knee, after tearing the ligament while in college at Baylor.
Shanahan has faced widespread criticism for his decision to allow Griffin to continue playing Sunday after aggravating his knee injury in the first quarter. Shanahan and Griffin said that Griffin talked his way into staying in the game. Shanahan said Sunday he might second-guess himself, but then said Monday he believed he made the right decision.
Shanahan has two seasons remaining on his contract. After the victory over the Cowboys on Dec. 30, multiple people familiar with the Redskins’ planning said the team was weighing whether to negotiate a contract extension with Shanahan this offseason or wait another year, and seemed to be leaning toward acting sooner rather than later.
It is not clear whether anything has changed in that regard. But either way, it is likely that Shanahan’s handling of Griffin’s injury will be talked about at least as much as the coaching job that he did in rallying the Redskins from their 3-6 start in 2012.
Griffin’s backup, Kirk Cousins, made his first NFL start and won a key game in Cleveland late in the regular season when Griffin was sidelined by his LCL sprain. There was speculation that Cousins’s solid performance might have elevated his trade value to the point at which the Redskins might consider parting with him in the offseason to recoup a draft choice or two.
Trading Cousins seems out of the question now, given the uncertainty about Griffin’s readiness to play next season.
“You can’t trade Cousins,” the former NFL executive said. “You don’t have your draft picks, and now you’re not gonna have your [regular starting] quarterback.”
Morris went from unheralded sixth-round draft selection in April to 1,600-yard rusher during the regular season. That qualified him as one of the steals of the draft and prompted comparisons to Terrell Davis, the sixth-round pick in Denver who became a standout runner on Shanahan’s two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Broncos.
But the success of the Redskins’ offense this season was based largely, some analysts have said, on having the threat of Griffin as a runner and passer being the focal point for opposing defenses. Morris might have to prove that he can thrive in a Griffin-less offense.
The offensive coordinator drew attention for helping his father design an offensive system that blended elements of the pro and college versions of the game to take advantage of Griffin’s varied skills. But there also were questions raised occasionally by some analysts about whether Griffin was being put at too much risk by how often he was running with the ball.
Assuming that the younger Shanahan stays put and doesn’t get a head coaching job, he and his father might have to scrap those parts of the offense designed for Griffin if Cousins opens next season as the starter, or modify things to prepare for the post-injury portion of Griffin’s NFL career.
The group played relatively well all season after questions were raised in training camp about its ability to safeguard Griffin. But Griffin’s mobility might have contributed to the offensive line’s success in 2012, and now the unit faces the prospect of blocking for Cousins or a version of Griffin perhaps less apt to run around so much in the future.
If the Redskins want to upgrade things here — or anywhere else, for that matter — they face the restrictions of their shortage of premium draft picks and the remainder of the salary cap reduction being enforced next season.
It’s not clear if the condition of the field Sunday contributed to Griffin’s injury. But it was criticized sharply by Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Tuesday that the union would look into the condition of the field. Shanahan said he might be receptive to considering a switch to an artificial playing surface.
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