INDIANAPOLIS—Jay Gruden’s almost casual announcement at the NFL Combine that Robert Griffin III will be the Redskins’ starting quarterback came as a surprise to just about everyone.
“We’ll go into the season with Robert as the No 1 guy and, you know, it’s up to Robert to continue to grow and mature as a quarterback and as a person,” he said to reporters at Lucas Oil Stadium. “Then moving forward, we just want to see some improvement. It’s up to us as a staff to get more out of him.”
Here is what Gruden said on Dec. 29, the day after the Redskins’ regular season ended.
“Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition,” he said at his postseason news conference. “And I anticipate us having a competition at a lot of spots and quarterback is no different next year.”
So, what changed in the last seven-plus weeks? Unfortunately Gruden’s press conference was cut short so we didn’t have the time to probe into the reasons why the competition was called off.
All we can do is speculate. Perhaps Gruden and new general manager Scot McCloughan got their heads together, watched some film of Griffin, Kirk Cousins, and Colt McCoy and decided that Griffin gave them their best shot. Perhaps front-office politics was involved, with team owner Daniel Snyder and president Bruce Allen, who are said to have pushed for the blockbuster deal that allowed the Redskins to move up in the draft and take Griffin in 2012, persuading Gruden and McCloughan to give Griffin, who struggled mightily at times last year, another shot at the job.
The question now becomes how long a leash Griffin will have. Last year Gruden benched a healthy Griffin in favor of McCoy just three games into Griffin’s return from a dislocated ankle. Will Gruden hesitate to pull a similar move if Griffin struggles again?
The critical thing here is not going to be who starts the season at quarterback, it will be who finishes the season. If Griffin starts the season opener and shows that he can get rid of the big issues that plagued him last year, he could start all 16 games. That is likely to lead to a new contract for Griffin and perhaps his career can get back on track. If it is Cousins, McCoy (who is currently a free agent), or any other QB the Redskins may acquire during the course of the offseason, Griffin could well be headed elsewhere.
A lot of how successful this plan will be depends on how Griffin views it. If he views it as the status quo and keeps preparing the way he has been preparing, with more of an emphasis on strength training and not enough time in the film room (according to multiple reports), he might find himself in a battle sooner rather than later. If Griffin thinks that he’s in for the fight of his life he may raise his level of play to meet the challenge.
There are advantages to not having a competition. Naming Griffin the starter gives him all of the first-team reps during the offseason program and training camp and he can use all of those he can get. Cousins, or whoever the backup ends up being, will have to do what backups do and get ready to play with only very limited first-team reps.
And if Griffin falters, there is a good chance that the backup will get a shot. And that is when the competition will begin.