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Welcome to Washington, RG3. It’s Up to You to Stop the Bleeding
Redskins fans’ high hopes for Robert Griffin III are tempered by two decades of quarterback failure.
Welcome to take 25.
If Robert Griffin III takes over as the Redskins’ starting quarterback at some point this season (and it’s hard to imagine he won’t), he will become the 25th different player to hold that job for Washington’s beleaguered NFL franchise since 1989. That’s 25 guys in 24 years. A contestant on The Apprentice has a better shot at vesting in his 401K than a signal caller for the Redskins over the past quarter century.
And so it was with equal amounts of optimism and cynicism that I watched the Redskins draft RG3 with the second overall pick last night. It’s nothing personal. Griffin seems like a fabulous kid with a laudable skill set, but you’ll pardon me if I wasn’t charmed to death by the burgundy-and-gold socks or the a cappella rendition of “Hail to the Redskins” in his first local TV interview. I’ve been down this road before.
Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Jason Campbell, Mark Brunell, Patrick Ramsey, Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Heath Shuler—just a few of the names that arrived in Washington with lofty expectations of being the one to finally end the cycle of QB failure. None of them succeeded. This constitutes a stunning run of swings and misses by the Redskins when it comes to acquiring quarterbacks. I mean, every franchise is entitled to a bust in the draft or in free agency every now and then, but the Redskins’ monumental cold streak suggests something else: a systemic flaw in the organization that takes otherwise talented quarterbacks and renders them ineffective castaways.
Campbell may be the perfect case study. Everything about him before he got to the Redskins screamed that he would succeed. He measured 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and, as Jim Zorn liked to say, he had “a hose for an arm.” In his senior year at Auburn, Campbell led the Tigers to a 13-0 season in the toughest conference in the country and was named the SEC’s Player of the Year. The Redskins drafted him in the first round in 2005 with the expectation that they wouldn’t have to search for a quarterback for the next decade. He wound up starting for just three full seasons.
I would argue that Campbell wasn’t a failure; rather, the Redskins failed him. First, the owner’s capriciousness with coaches led to Campbell having to learn a new offensive system practically every season he was with the team. Between Joe Gibbs, Al Saunders, Zorn, and “Bingo” Sherm Lewis, by 2009 Campbell’s head was so clogged with disparate reads and terminology, it’s a wonder he could navigate himself to the mess hall without checking the crib notes on his wristband.
Moreover, Campbell’s supporting cast was substandard in most areas. In the words of Keith Olbermann (who knows a thing or two about job insecurity), “If you buy a 10 million dollar chandelier, you should have a house to put it in.” The Redskins’ house had been left in abject disrepair by the whimsical stewardship of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato. Their intoxication with big-name, overpriced free agents left little in reserve for an offensive line or a receiving corps. And when you’re a young quarterback with no one to block for you and no one to catch your passes, you don’t stay young for very long.
I fear the same fate awaits Griffin. Take a look at who the Skins have in front of him. Right now their starting offensive line would consist of Kory Lichtensteiger, who’s coming off two torn knee ligaments; Jammal Brown, who has ongoing hip issues; journeyman Will Montgomery; Chris Chester, a former tight end; and Trent Williams, who was suspended for the final four games of last season following a positive drug test. If that group doesn’t get upgraded, Griffin’s eyes are going to be focused behind him instead of downfield.
The Redskins have been in disarray for the better part of the past 20 years. If Griffin doesn’t pan out, you can pencil in another five to ten. In order to move up the four slots required to draft Griffin last night, the Redskins gave the Rams their first-round pick not only for this year, but for the next two seasons as well, along with their second-round pick this year. If Griffin develops into a long-term franchise QB, it will have been capital well spent. If not, it will be seen as a fleecing—one that handicaps the organization for an indefinite period.
The good news about the insane level of modern-day draft scrutiny is that it provides an abundance of data on players of Griffin’s caliber. The Redskins had ample opportunity to perform due diligence on RG3 in every area. Clearly, they liked what they saw. But not everyone has. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel conducted a survey of NFL scouts last week, one of whom said of Griffin: “They are ignoring a lot of bad tape he has. I don’t think he has vision or pocket feel, which to me are the two most important components of quarterbacking. He’s just running around winging it. He’s [Michael] Vick, but not as good a thrower.”
Another scout said, “As much as is written about his athleticism, his athleticism under duress in the pocket isn’t even close to Cam Newton’s. This guy, the only way he gets big plays with his feet is if he’s got a wide-open field and the sea opens for him. He’s got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn’t treat anybody good.”
All of this reminds us that the notion of a “can’t miss prospect” has long been consigned to the myth bin. We all love to point to Ryan Leaf as the gurgling example of this fact (Leaf was a number-two pick like Griffin), but he is hardly the only one. JaMarcus Russell went first overall in 2007. Akili Smith and Shuler went third in 1994 and ‘99, respectively. None of them busted a grape in the NFL.
At the start of this piece I told you that Griffin stands to be the Redskins’ 25th starting quarterback in the past 24 years. Do you know how many starting QBs the Redskins had in the 24 years before that? Eight. And only four of them— Norm Snead, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, and Joe Theismann—started more than two games. Redskins fans desperately need Griffin to be one of those guys. If he isn’t, hunker down for another rocky decade.
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