Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is RGIII less "franchise" than an expensive gamble that failed?

As a sophomore quarterback for Baylor University, Robert Griffin III tore his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a game against a team—Northwestern State—that would go on to lose all eleven of its games that season. Apparently he believed that he had just “strained” the knee—a decision made easier by the chanting of his name by fans who wanted to see him back on the field. With knee heavily bandaged, he obliged and led four scoring drives before halftime; this was, however, not much of a feat against a hapless team going up against a “run and sometimes gun” offense. One may surmise that RGIII caused further needless damage to the knee by continuing to play on it.

This was the same knee that RGIII re-injured in his rookie NFL season, during the first quarter in a playoff loss to Seattle. His obviously substandard play the remainder of the game was clearly a factor in the Redskins eventual loss of the game, completing 10 of 19 passes for only 84 yards; RGIII’s  refusal to take himself out of the game was based on his personal decision that he was the team’s “best chance to win.” This was plainly not the case and showed a lack of judgment—his “interests” came before the teams. 

Once more RGIII foolishly played on a badly injured knee that also saw his lateral collateral ligament torn out of “pride”—or perhaps the fear that his backup would demonstrate a better command of the offense. After undergoing surgery, the fear that this player that cost owner Dan Snyder dear to acquire might potentially be another expensive mistake, RGIII did not play a single snap during the 2013 preseason, only to be far less effective in his second season, with a QB rating 20 points less than his rookie season. Coach Mike Shanahan effectively benched him late in the reason, apparently to the ire of Snyder and was likely the final nail in the coffin for Shanahan’s coaching career with the Redskins.

Going into the 2014 season, the main question around the Redskins’ camp was not whether RGIII would be the starter; that wasn’t even in the hands of the football people. It was how to keep him upright. This included barely making an appearance during the preseason schedule again; during this time, backup Kirk Cousins impressed many with his command of the offense under new coach Jay Gruden, but politics dictated that the more expensive player take the starting spot. In the regular season opener loss to Houston, RGIII’s quick dinking and dunking barely moved the ball forward, as if there was some fear that allowing too much time for defenders to put a hand on him might cause him to collapse. 

In game 2 against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, RGIII must have heard grumblings, because he tried to throw the ball downfield a couple of times, and even ran with the ball. But this would only result in the “inevitable”: A dislocated ankle early in the game. Cousins subsequently led the Redskins to a 41-10 blowout victory.  Immediately afterward came the inevitable speculation if RGIII was “done” for the year—perhaps a “hopeful” speculation for some Redskins fans—or if this could be the beginning of the end of his career, at least with the Redskins. 

Of course, he is too great an athlete (or so it goes) for him to be a permanent liability for any team he plays for. But something is just not “right.” We should recall that in his senior year at Baylor he was all the rage for the first six games of the season, literally coming out of nowhere to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, before Baylor starting losing to the good teams in the Big 12, and eventually falling out of favor with the Heisman voters (much as Geno Smith did while playing for West Virginia the following year). RGIII is no longer considered a potential “elite” quarterback than many thought he would be after his rookie season, and it is clear that he is not and likely never will be an effective pocket passer.

It was a bad weekend overall for the “next generation” of quarterbacks, as defined by RGIII, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Geno Smith. This is not to say that NFL defenses have “figured them out,” it is more like a good chess player figuring out that the novice is confusing him merely because he has no idea what he is doing. Still, people will continue to be fascinated by the “read-option” quarterbacks because they are “unpredictable” and “fun” to watch, even if the actual effect on the won-loss column is negligible or in regression. 

It isn’t that RGIII really needs football, either; he has a degree in political science, and supposedly graduated with a 3.67 GPA. Why subject himself to a lifetime with aching knees and disappointment when the future holds other possibilities?

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