He was the darling of NFL quarterbacks. Yes, Robert Griffin III was the Johnny Manziel of a couple of years ago, two men with Heismans in their trophy cases.
They had more in common than a Heisman Trophy. Like Manziel, Griffin had an NFL jersey that sports stores couldn’t keep on their shelves long. Everybody in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere wanted a piece of RGIII, even if that piece was just a replica jersey.
But Griffin is far from the darling of NFL fans these days. RGIII is, now, an NFL quarterback whose skills have been dissected like a frog in a biology lab. Those skills have been judged as suspect, and NFL analysts are critiquing his play the way experts pick apart the swing of Tiger Woods.
The rise and fall of Griffin shouldn’t surprise fans. The NFL is not a league that puts much stock in yesteryear. It’s a league that moves from one star to another at the speed of light, and the league and the Washington franchise have surely made a decision to look at Griffin as someone whose yesteryear was better than his yesterday.
A man can’t prove much when he spends more time on the injury list than he spends on the playing field. Look at the weekly list of injuries, and you will see the name Robert Griffin III. His name has been there for most of the past season and a half.
His name is there again, and it will remain there now that he’s sidelined with a dislocated left ankle. He will be back this season, though — or so team officials keep telling anybody who bothers to ask.
But returning to what — a role as a bench player?
Washington coach Jay Gruden might have found his franchise quarterback, and his name is not Robert Griffin III. In Kirk Cousins, Gruden has a quarterback who can do one thing better than Griffin: stay healthy.
In the NFL, teams put a lot of stock in players who can stay on the football field. Coaches have little patience for an athlete who is often injured. It doesn’t matter if that athlete has a warehouse of college awards — RGIII does — and the adulation that comes from a rookie season that earned him NFL honors.
Since his rookie season, RGIII has been at the center of a spat with a former coach, has played fewer than a dozen games, has sustained significant injuries the past two seasons and — or so it appears — has lost his starting spot to Cousins, a young QB with solid college credentials of his own.
Cousins didn’t cost Washington much; RGIII did. The team shelled out a lot of draft picks in 2012 to land the rights to select RG III, and Washington can’t get much return on its investment with RG III hurt.
The organization doesn’t seem willing to wait for him to get healthy, and the way Cousins has played, the team has no reason to wait.
The NFL is not a league built on compassion. What sports league is, though? Teams have to know when to move on, even when what they are giving up has brought so many unforgettable moments.
Perhaps RGIII will provide more of those unforgettable moments. He has to. The talent is there; the talent has always been there. Yet he’ll have an impossible time reclaiming his starting role in Washington. It has been forced to move on someone else, which doesn’t seem fair.
The NFL has never been about fairness though; it’s been about performance. No player can perform while injured — not even if the player has the mesmerizing talent that once defined RGIII.
For now, that talent seems more like a faded memory than a sight anybody can see with 20/20 clarity.
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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh
(Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)