At his best, there have been few quarterbacks more exciting to watch than Robert Griffin III. Both at Baylor and during his first season in the NFL, Griffin was the future of pro football—a dynamic playmaker whose statistics were unworldly, who earned an Offensive Player of the Year award in his first season in the league, and whose career was so bright that some sportswriters proposed renaming Washington’s problematic team name to the Griffins. Take a look at just how great Griffin was in his rookie year:
It’s been a while since the quarterback played at his full height, though. That’s likely the result of a gruesome knee injury he suffered in Washington’s playoff game against Seattle in the 2012 postseason. And even after that knee healed, he’s been stuck working with a coaching staff that clearly didn’t want him there.
There’s been plenty of speculation about the power struggle between team owner Dan Snyder and head coach Jay Gruden over Griffin’s future on the team. Snyder, of course, has invested a great deal in Griffin—the team traded away a bounty for the right to draft the quarterback, and paid him as much as the rookie-wage scale allows him to make. But Gruden, after over a year of undermining his quarterback, has wrecked Griffin’s trade value. Any coach who thinks that he might help the player return to his 2012 glory knows that the current staff doesn’t value the player, and at some point soon, he’ll be a free agent.
And when Gruden declared that Griffin was the second or third-best quarterback on his roster on Monday, it raises the question: why not just release him now? Nobody needs to pay $3.269 million dollars to the third-best quarterback on their roster, and even though Washington is on the hook for that salary even if they cut Griffin, keeping a highly-paid third-stringer around only exacerbates a locker room imbalance that, it seems, already exists for the club. And though it’s possible that Griffin just got terrible at football after that magnificent rookie season, it seems more likely that he’s been done in by a staff that rushed him back to the field early. Whatever the case, it’s time to #FreeRG3.
In a new environment, Griffin would certainly be free of any power struggle between owner and coach. Any team that takes Griffin on at this point would be doing so with low expectations, but there are plenty of franchises that ought to consider him when Griffin becomes a free agent—whether that’s after final roster cuts come in next week, or after his contract expires. And if it’s the former, here are some spots that could use an RG3 infusion (with the obvious caveat that a week before the start of the season isn’t a great time to add a starting quarterback):
Why it should happen: The quarterback situation in Houston hasn’t improved from last year, which was terrible. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who exceeded expectations by being mediocre in the games in which he was healthy enough to start, is gone. In his place, Brian Hoyer—who bears the distinction of being the only quarterback in NFL history to be benched for Johnny Manziel—is raring to go. Behind him is Ryan Mallett, who will almost certainly end up starting some games this year since Texans quarterbacks have a penchant for getting hurt, and Hoyer has a history of getting benched for bad backups.
There may be no team in the NFL less stocked at the quarterback position than Houston, so even the RG3 that fans in Washington saw last season would be a viable contender should Griffin return to Texas.
Why it won’t: Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is a fairly conservative dude, and coaches like that don’t often take chances on players like Griffin, who has a reputation—deserved or not—for being difficult to work with. The rewards that come from acquiring RG3 could be high, but coaches like O’Brien are rarely the kind who take such gambles.
Why it should happen: Hi, do you know who Tyrod Taylor is? He is a professional football player who has played wide receiver and occasionally quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens in his three seasons in the NFL. Now, he’s also the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. He might be good! But we have no idea, because he’s barely played quarterback in the NFL. All we know is that he’s better than former Buffalo starter E.J. Manuel and longtime journeyman Matt Cassell, both of whom Taylor beat out for the job. If that’s not “damning with faint praise,” we don’t know what is.
So supposing that Taylor doesn’t pan out, how would Griffin fit in in Buffalo? For one, he’d be hooking up with a player’s coach in Rex Ryan. With the New York Jets, Ryan famously stood by struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez for years, even as the local media tore him apart for the decision—and he gave Sanchez’s followup act, Geno Smith, more chances than anyone who’s actually watched Smith play could imagine him deserving. Ryan has his players’ backs, and that’s something Griffin hasn’t had in a coach since Kyle Shanahan was drawing up plays for him based on college successes.
Why it won’t: The best case scenario for Griffin right now—especially if he were to be released before the season starts—isn’t a team that desperately needs a starter. Teams that acquire former first-round quarterbacks and press them into action too early rarely get much out of them (just ask Josh Freeman), and even though Buffalo doesn’t have the highest-pressure local media, a few faltering games from Taylor could have a “let’s see what we have in RG3” movement started before he was ready.
New York Jets
Why it should happen: Texans fans, remember Ryan Fitzpatrick? He’s the starting quarterback in New York now. Did you send your Jets fan friends weepy texts about how they poached your quarterback, like you did to the Hoosiers in your life when the Colts picked up Andre Johnson? No, you did not. You barely blinked. Indeed, Fitzpatrick was initially signed to backup Geno Smith, but then Smith’s own teammate broke his friggin’ jaw by punching the incumbent starter’s lights out.
In other words, the Jets’ quarterback situation is as big a mess as any in the league. That alone has led the New York media to press the organization about if they’re interested in Griffin.
Why it won’t happen: Because the organization’s answer to the question has been, “Nah,” mostly. But also because if there’s a worse situation for a quarterback with any question marks to land in, it’s the New York Jets. The team has been a mess at the position for years—even Brett Favre couldn’t figure it out—and the only place that would be harder for Griffin to succeed in than Washington is New York City.
Why it should happen: Tony Romo is 35 years old and keeps breaking his back.
Why it won’t happen: Okay, more on Romo first. The Cowboys starter is, by all accounts, healthy (for now). And that’s great news for Dallas, because when he’s in good shape, Romo is one of the league’s better quarterbacks. He’s unlikely to take a ton of hits playing behind what is perhaps the league’s best offensive line, which means that adding a player like Griffin is not the Cowboys’ top priority in any sense: They’ve got an entrenched starter who, while he may be nearing the end of his career, is nonetheless ready to lead the Cowboys to the playoffs.
But the “why it won’t happen” is also the “why it should happen” in Dallas, because signing a player like RG3 means the team is keeping an eye on the future. He’s not going to learn the offense and be ready to start week one—but in Dallas, he wouldn’t have to. Even a media that likes to make Romo a national punching bag is unlikely to clamor for Griffin to start before he’s ready, and playing behind Dallas’ offensive line would give Griffin a chance to stay healthy, an opportunity he’s never had in Washington. There are few teams who are both as stable at quarterback and as needy for a plan for the future at the position as the Cowboys (Denver comes to mind), which means that bringing Griffin home to Texas would be a low-risk, high-reward move. At the very least, Griffin has never had a line as good as the one Dallas fields, and he hasn’t thrown passes to a receiver as good as Dez Bryant since he was playing with Josh Gordon in Waco. Plus, Jerry Jones has never been shy about taking on players
Griffin probably won’t find himself released when final roster cuts are due next week—there’s too much weirdness going on with Snyder and Gruden for that to be the likely scenario, even though with a functional team, that’d be the obvious decision—but if he did, Dallas would be a great place for him to reboot his career.