Not long ago when the Washington Redskins selected Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, most thought the team had secured their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. Griffin, the ultra-athletic and charismatic signal-caller out of Baylor University, took the league by storm on his way to becoming the NFL Rookie of the Year. Redskins fans, as well as the team’s brain trust, were finally blessed with a franchise-caliber player that even fans from other locations around the nation would know by name and or moniker: “RGIII.”
Washington has had their share of Hall of Fame players over their illustrious 80-year existence as well as very good players who were characters. But the organization has never had a franchise player of the magnitude or rarified air that Griffin was entering.
Part of the problem with the Griffin experiment was the way the team handled him from the moment his name was called by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell during the draft.
There was too much individual emphasis put on Griffin as the team ‘savior’ and he was made to be a marketing center piece to go along with the hype.
When Griffin was re-injured in the 2012 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, all hell broke loose and the team was ill-equipped to handle the media and fan backlash regarding how the star player was handled by then-Head Coach Mike Shanahan. At that point the damage had been done on multiple levels.
Was there a point of contention between coach and pupil? Was there a failure to communicate between coach and team owner Dan Snyder?
As well, something happened back in that summer of 2014 that altered the franchise and the relationship with Griffin. His play was inconsistent at times and it appeared as if the locker room wasn’t supportive of him as a franchise leader.
Enter Jay Gruden as Head Coach. Gruden was hired as an offensive coach and the intent was for him to fix what was broken on all fronts with Griffin and the organization. Unfortunately the same storyline would again play itself out between Griffin and Coach.
Did the team fail Griffin and his unique talents or did he become a player that could not be coached in the eyes of Gruden? Something again happened out in Ashburn that made the next move necessary in the grand scheme for Gruden to be successful.
During preseason Gruden, who was entering his second season, made a move that sent shockwaves around the beltway. He benched Griffin, the once sure-fire league superstar for good as a Redskin. The coach would decide to start 2012 fourth-round draft pick Kirk Cousins in a move that had ramifications for all involved.
If Cousins failed, then surely Gruden and he would be on the way out and perhaps Griffin would end up as the teams signal caller after all. If things worked out, then Gruden would go into the offseason thinking purely of football and how to maximize his strengths as a head coach.
Griffin’s replacement ended up with a record-breaking season and now looks to cash in at the bank for his performance.
After throwing for a team-record 4,166 yards this season, 29 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, Cousins looks to be the team’s new franchise player. By default, the quarterback will get the accolades for wins and the unfortunate scolding from fans and media alike for losses.
As much as the team achieved in 2015, Cousins is in a precarious situation with Redskins Nation. Some have not forgiven the team, and more importantly Gruden, for the way Griffin was sent to the dungeon in favor of the former Spartan.
This was, of course, not Cousins fault. He was given the opportunity he had wanted since he was a child and had kept alive all through his days at Michigan State University. He was given an opportunity and, no matter the surrounding circumstances, he ran with it.
There is no debating that he has earned his position as the team’s quarterback for 2016. The next question is: at what cost?
Should Cousins be given a long-term deal for his stellar play this past season or should he be franchised for one year and asked to prove himself again against a much tougher and unforgiving schedule?
There a few ways to look at this question and to start, the team again must ask themselves some questions.
Do the Redskins truly believe Cousins is an elite franchise-caliber quarterback or is he simply a very good signal-caller capable of winning games only with the proper pieces around him?
Is he set in the mold of the game’s best that can carry and will their teams to victory?
Did Cousins benefit from a shaky division in the NFC East and a not-so-tough schedule?
Neither the team’s 2015 schedule nor how the other teams in the NFC East division played and dealt with their injuries was Cousins’ fault. He did what was asked of him and he performed at a higher level statistically than any quarterback in team history.
The team needs to be cautious however because history should have taught them something about how they dealt with Griffin.
Cousins is likable and marketable at the same time but that does not mean franchise player. Perhaps the team should adapt the thought that he is a huge piece to the puzzle but not the puzzle itself.
If the team franchises Cousins with the “exclusive” tag, they would pay him a one-year deal for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. This past season the exclusive franchise quarterback average was $18,544,000.
Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player so this would make the most sense for the Redskins in their approach with Cousins. It allows him to be paid as an elite quarterback with guaranteed money. It also gives the team a chance to find out if he is indeed the player they think he is (or could be) and he would get a chance to prove it as the franchises’ unequivocal leader.
If history has taught the Redskins and their fan base anything, it should be to not rush reality and the reality is that they have to get the quarterback situation correct this time. They must not botch it.
Time heals all wounds. Right now time is of the essence… as is patience.