The words are not what you’re expecting to hear somebody say about Robert Griffin III, but as Griffin — he of the golden arm and fleet feet – now finds his skills atrophying on the Washington bench, “coach’s decision” will define the man’s play for the foreseeable future.
What coach Jay Gruden did in benching RGIII is what other coaches have done to quarterbacks who have been rushed into the spotlight too soon. Teams spend high draft choices on a quarterback, and then they look to justify the pick despite knowing he isn’t ready to step in and lead a team to victories.
The run-and-gun Griffin surely wasn’t ready, no matter how his early play under old coach Mike Shanahan might have hinted. He put Griffin’s career at risk in a playoff game his rookie season, and RGIII, who was playing injured, hasn't been the same since.
With Shanahan in D.C. history, Gruden has been tasked to turn RGIII into an NFL quarterback. Gruden has shown no patience for Griffin. Nor should the coach. Gruden has no loyalty to Griffin and no reason to judge him except on performance.
On the latter point, Gruden has issued his judgment: RGIII isn’t the quarterback people had expected him to be. So, on Sunday, Gruden will sit Griffin, once the franchise QB, and start journeyman Colt McCoy.
It might have been, as RGIII said, a “coach’s decision,” but it wasn’t a decision that didn’t make sense.
For all the promise he once showed, RGIII has stagnated, a point that Gruden stressed in announcing he’s starting McCoy. The coach has seen what RGIII can and can’t do well, and what Griffin can’t do outweighs what he can do. He should be farther along than he is, which puts Washington in a situation no one thought the team would be.
In RGIII, does the franchise have its quarterback of tomorrow?
Team officials have had three seasons to judge him; they have a large enough sample size to know yea or nay. Do they give up on somebody with Griffin’s skills, somebody who might figure out this QB-thing and become an elite player?
That’s an easy question for people to say yea to when Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, is on the bench and not on the playing field. He can’t do anything on the sideline other than play the good trooper and root for McCoy to win games.
In the NFL, the reins on a quarterback are tight. Teams will let go of one even if they used a high draft pick on him. Look at the No. 1s who are making a living as backups or out of the league altogether: Brady Quinn, David Carr, Jimmy Clausen, Brandon Weeden, JaMarcus Russell, Jake Locker, Ryan Leaf, Rex Grossman, Cade McNown, Vince Young and Matt Leinart.
Millions have been invested in these undeveloped talents, and teams have gotten so little in return.
Despite the early hype, RGIII has built a body of work that looks no better than Locker’s or Leinart’s, which might suggest he’s got a future somewhere other than in Washington.
That’s the sad part of his mediocre play. Promise can be a crutch that will keep an athlete around longer than he should. But smart organizations admit mistakes and move on.
Washington is now making that admission with RGIII. The franchise is putting its fortunes in steadier hands, even though those steadier hands are less talented than Griffin’s are.
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(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)