Robert Griffin III will not be Washington's starting QB in 2015 after head coach Jay Gruden announced Monday that Kirk Cousins will lead the team.
It's not a horrible decision. Cousins has looked better than Griffin in preseason play, Cousins is better suited for Gruden's drop-back offense than Griffin, and Griffin is currently shelved with a concussion and will be out for Week 1.
However, it's the denouement of a series of failures that have seen Griffin swerve from a thrilling rookie with a bright future to an unwanted backup. Some of these slip-ups were unfortunate accidents nobody could have prevented; some were obvious mismanagements by people who should have known better; some of them were legitimately disgusting failures to look out for the health of another human being, star QB or otherwise.
Here is our attempt at putting together a comprehensive timeline of Griffin's calamitous fall from can't-miss superstar to persona non grata:
It is tough to imagine a more perfect QB prospect than Robert Griffin III coming out of Baylor.
He was a natural leader, taking a Bears team that was expected to be bad and guiding them to a 10-3 record. He was a good decision-maker, completing 72.3 percent of his passes and throwing 37 TDs against only six picks. He had a powerful arm. He was speedy, a Big 12 track champion in the 400-meter hurdles. He was smart, both on the field and off: He graduated from Baylor in three years with a 3.67 GPA and began work on a master's. He won pretty much every award available to him, including the Heisman Trophy. And he was likable, a goof with a gaptooth smile.
Andrew Luck was going to be the No. 1 choice in the draft, but somebody would get lucky enough to get a franchise QB without even being bad enough to get the top pick.
The big trade
Washington agreed to leverage its future on Griffin in 2012. On March 6, Washington made one of the largest pre-draft trades in NFL history, giving up three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up from the No. 6 pick to the No. 2 pick.
It was a very bold move, but QB was a real issue for Washington: In Mike Shanahan's two years on the job, they tried out a washed-up Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and John Beck. They said it was worth the risk:
"Obviously, we had been struggling at the position and we felt extremely confident (with Griffin)," (Washington GM Bruce) Allen told ESPN Cleveland. "Once, we knew the person we were getting and that there was no doubt about his athletic talent. At the end of the day, it was about a grade on a player. We had as beautiful a grade as you can have on that athlete. We knew the talent and we were really comfortable with the person, a 10."
Of course, there was one concern: Griffin tore his ACL as a sophomore. Obviously he recovered just fine, but this should've told any NFL team considering him to handle future knee injuries with caution. (Foreshadowing.)
A brilliant rookie year
Griffin showed up to Washington and was the real deal from Day 1. For a few months, the trade looked 100 percent worth it.
Sept. 9, 2012
In Griffin's first game, a win over the Saints, he threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors -- the first time a rookie QB won that award for his first game. Griffin would win NFL Rookie of the Week twice in the first four weeks of the season, as well as NFL Rookie of the Month.
Nov. 14, 2012
Griffin's teammates named him a captain.
Nov. 20, 2012
Griffin became the youngest player in NFL history to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating, throwing for 200 yards with four touchdowns against the Eagles.
Dec. 30, 2012
Griffin closed the year with a win over the Cowboys, the team's seventh straight, sending the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. He set the rookie record for best QB rating and best TD-to-interception ratio. After the season, he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The injury, and making it worse
Late in his rookie season, Griffin suffered an injury, because he is a professional football player and professional football players get injuries. But systematic dysfunction led to Griffin's ill-fated attempts to continue playing afterwards, which led to a much worse injury.
Griffin's injury marked a pivotal shift in his career arc. He's never since replicated the success of his rookie season, and the dialogue surrounding him has changed drastically. Griffin's injury sparked a clash of philosophies about how to best protect him that led to one coach getting fired and a new coach not quite suited for Griffin getting hired.
Dec. 9, 2012
With the team down eight points and driving, he tried to keep playing after missing only one play. In a postgame presser, Mike Shanahan said Griffin was given the A-OK by team doctor James Andrews:
"(I said) 'Hey, Dr. Andrews, can Robert go back in?'
'Yeah, he can go back in.'
'Robert, go back in.'
"That was it," Shanahan said.
In January, Andrews revealed that conversation never happened:
"(Griffin) didn't even let us look at him," Andrews said. "He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion. We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me."
Griffin re-entered and played four downs, clearly hobbled. He eventually hopped off the field, giving way for Kirk Cousins, who threw for a touchdown and got a two-point conversion. Washington wins in OT.
The injury was revealed to be a mild LCL sprain. Griffin missed Week 15, but is back for Week 16.
Jan. 6, 2013
Griffin was cleared to play in Washington's playoff game against Seattle, albeit wearing a knee brace that causes him to limp slightly. The knee bothered him from the get-go, and he heads back to the locker room after a few big hits from the Seahawks.
Griffin vehemently argued that he should be allowed to return to the game, and Shanahan let him. It was evident that this was a very bad idea from the get-go: Griffin was clearly limping and his mobility was restricted, as he got hit on plays where he normally would've escaped.
Who to blame for Griffin's injury became a topic for debate. Many asked why Shanahan didn't pull his QB, Others criticized Griffin for not knowing how to play hurt. And others pointed out that Washington's field was in terrible condition. Either way, it was clear he should never have been allowed to come back.
Griffin's injury was revealed to be a partially torn LCL -- the same ligament that was strained earlier -- and ACL. Later, it is revealed to actually be a completely torn LCL and ACL, requiring total reconstruction. But when Griffin had surgery, and Washington revealed he also had a torn meniscus hanging around in there, too.
Publicly, comment on Griffin's recovery was very optimistic: In February, the team said there was a legitimate chance he will be able to start Week 1. In June, Griffin said he'd be ready to go on the first day of training camp.
However, as the season got closer, the optimism faded.
On the one hand, Griffin wanted to play and the team wouldn't let him. He told media that he was upset Mike Shanahan was holding him out of 11-on-11 drills until several weeks into training camp:
"I can't B.S. that answer. No. I don't like it, and there's some part of it that I do understand," Griffin said. "I don't understand all of it, but [Shanahan] gave me his word. We talked about it. I know the plan. I'm not telling the whole plan because he doesn't want the whole plan known. I understand that as well. But I don't understand the whole plan at all. I can't lie about that."
On the other, there were still reports that as cautious as Washington was being, they were still rushing him back too fast. Philadelphia reporter Howard Eskin said Dr. Andrews recommended Griffin not be allowed to play until Week 6 -- and that Washington was openly ignoring that advice, continuing towards the Week 1 return date. The team denied the report.
The Snyder-Shanahan feud
After a happy, successful first season, Griffin's numbers took a huge drop in the second year as Washington stumbled to a 3-13 start. Some of this can probably be chalked up to his injury, some of it to normal regression after spectacular play.
But some of it can also probably be credited to Griffin being caught in the crossfire between an owner overstepping his boundaries and a coach irritated his toes were being stepped on.
Normally "the owner is friends with the star player" would be a harmless -- or even good! -- fact. With Washington, it led to a power struggle, dirty laundry being aired publicly, and arguably hampered the career of that star QB.
After a superstar rookie season, Griffin was the clear centerpiece of the Washington franchise. However, his gruesome injury threw his future -- and therefore, the team's -- into doubt. Owner Dan Snyder apparently felt that the best way to ensure Griffin's health and protect his franchise's future was to change his playing style, getting him to play less zone-read style running plays and spending more time in the pocket as a passer.
Shanahan felt Snyder's opinions and his relationship with Griffin undermined his ability to coach Griffin and get him to play his most effective style of play, a rift that ended up being irreconcilable. It's unclear when his dissatisfaction started -- an ESPN report said that Snyder's buddy-buddy relationship with his QB had him willing to quit toward the end of Griffin's rookie year before a change of heart -- but for our purposes, we'll pick up right after that:
Feb. 5, 2013:
"It was actually two days after the Super Bowl," Shanahan said. "He had asked to have a meeting and I really don't blame that on Robert. I mean, Robert to me, was a young player, he had a heck of a year, he had a serious injury at that time, and it's me that changed the perception of a person, because I know Dan [Snyder] felt very strongly about Robert being a drop-back quarterback and did not want Robert to take shots ...
"Yeah, he did ask for a meeting. He did talk about, number one, he wanted change. He mentioned the Baltimore game and the Atlanta game, you know, his injuries. He talked about protection shortening his career ... He actually [mentioned] what plays were acceptable and unacceptable, and when he started talking about what plays were acceptable and unacceptable, and that he wasn't a rookie anymore and wanted to voice his opinion, the term unacceptable is used by Dan, the owner, quite often.
Shanahan confronted Snyder about it:
‘Hey, Dan, for a quarterback to come to me, a veteran coach, and share these things, number one, he can't be the sharpest guy to do something like that, or he's got to feel very good about the owner backing him up. And since you have been telling me from Day One that he's a drop-back quarterback and we should do more drop-back, and you guys have spent the last couple months together, I would think, or at least the last month, that this is an extension of you.' He said it wasn't.
Meanwhile, Shanahan insisted that the best career track for Griffin was for the young QB to get more comfortable throwing the ball away and sliding to avoid hits.
Aug. 13, 2013:
Shanahan and Griffin both spoke to the media about their relationship, claiming they were on the same page.
Nov. 18, 2013
After a loss to the Eagles to fall to 3-7, Griffin criticized Shanahan's play-calling:
"They did a good job of scheming us up. They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming and that was disheartening."
And Shanahan criticized Griffin's play-making:
On what RGIII was thinking on his backpedaling dagger interception by Brandon Boykin from the Philly 18: "I really don't know. I have to take a look at the film and kind of go through his thought process. It's really hard to say. I didn't talk to him after the game."
Dec. 8, 2013
Washington lost 45-10 to fall to 3-10, but more importantly, the Shanahan-Snyder spat became officially public. A report came out that Shanahan felt Snyder's relationship toward Griffin was "a complete farce." Another report said the relationship between the two has fallen past the point of repair. The general consensus was that this would be Shanahan's last year in Washington.
Dec. 11, 2013
"We have to do ... what is in the best interests of Robert," Shanahan said. "What is the best thing going forward for him -- to have those next three games, the experience of going through those reps, or having him healthy in the offseason? ... I said, ‘Hey, Dan, we're not gonna go this direction unless you fully support it.' Same thing with Bruce: ‘You've got to tell me that you're behind this and you're in favor of it.' But I don't want anybody coming back in a game or two and saying, 'Hey, you know, we should have talked about this.'"
However, there were purportedly more cynical reasons. One was that RGIII just wasn't playing well. Another was that Shanahan benched Snyder's preferred player so that he could get fired and collect his salary for the last year of his contract. Shanahan denied this theory.
Dec. 30, 2013
Jan. 9, 2014
Gruden and the bench
Gruden came into Washington known for his West Coast passing philosophy, a system that asks QBs to drop back, stay stationary and sling passes rather than making plays with their feet. The idea was that Gruden was supposed to get RGIII playing the style of play Snyder wanted him to play all along.
The opposite has happened: Gruden has come to the conclusion that Griffin is a round QB peg in a square West Coast hole, and that he'd rather play a QB that can be successful in his system that switch his entire coaching philosophy to better suit RGIII.
Gruden seemed pained to play Griffin and he's spent much of his two years searching for reasons to justify benching him. With the 2015 season approaching, he found a new one.
Gruden went into his first year on the job with the assumption that Griffin would start at QB, and spoke optimistically to the press about his growing relationship with the young QB. He even bought a house near him!
Gruden said it would be foolish to make him a pocket passer. He said he was blown away by Griffin's smarts and talents, and that the most important thing for a player as instinctual and gifted as Griffin was for him to play:
"He's gotta play," Gruden said. "He's not gonna become the greatest quarterback in Year 3; he's gonna have his growing pains. It's a matter of learning the position, and learning situations, protections, when to throw it away, when not to throw it away, when maybe not to take that hit. All that. All the situations, the touch throws, the anticipation throws, the deep throws. Every game is different, and is gonna become a different challenge for him. ... He's just gotta play."
Sept. 14, 2014
Griffin didn't play much. In Week 2 of the season, Griffin suffered a dislocated ankle while rolling out on a bootleg:
After Griffin left the game, backup Kirk Cousins did a fine job: He torched the Jaguars for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 win.
Sept. 15, 2014
A report came out that if all things were equal, Gruden would play Cousins over Griffin, and that the coach secretly considered Griffin's injury a blessing in disguise:
Gruden was having a hard time getting Griffin to grasp the principles of the drop-back passing system he was teaching. If Cousins and Griffin had come to camp as undrafted rookies, Cousins may have opened the season as the starter.
Again, according to the person with knowledge of Gruden's thinking, he actually believed Cousins could succeed in the system better than Griffin but also acutely understood it was going to be near impossible to make a change.
Oct. 19, 2014
Cousins was benched in favor of Colt McCoy. Cousins had started the last four games with Griffin injured and responded by throwing eight picks in four losses. (Note to self: Never make personnel changes based on performance against the Jaguars.) The team was losing to the Titans before Gruden made the change, and McCoy went 11 for 12 passing en route to a Washington win.
Nov. 2, 2014
Griffin was back and was immediately given the starting job in his Week 9 return from the ankle injury. Reports indicated that the decision was made not by Gruden, but by Snyder and Allen. Gruden might have preferred the team continue to go with McCoy, who went 25 for 30 in a surprise win over the Cowboys in his only week as the team's starter.
Nov. 16, 2014
Griffin threw two picks and Washington lost to hit 3-7. The crowd chanted WE WANT COLT. Gruden said Griffin is "not even close to good enough for what we expect from the quarterback position."
Nov. 26, 2014
After three losses in three games, Gruden benched Griffin for McCoy, the first time in Griffin's young career that he was benched for reasons other than injury. Gruden reportedly was only able to make the decision after spending hours convincing Snyder it was the right call.
Some reported that Gruden has no intentions of starting Griffin again this season, while an anonymous Washington official leaked that there's a chance he will.
Dec. 4, 2014
A report surfaced that Gruden is "done" with Griffin, and would favor "a clean break" between the QB and the team in the offseason:
Gruden has seen enough to realize Griffin at best is a long-term project as a pocket passer. Griffin was too deliberate reading defenses and displayed poor footwork and an alarming lack of pocket presence for a signal-caller in his third NFL season.
Dec. 6, 2014
Other reports said that it could be the other way around: The team could look to move on from Gruden and stick with Griffin.
Dec. 7, 2014
In a bit of cold-blooded mockery, the Rams used the six players they acquired for RGIII as the six captains for the coin toss to show Washington what they were missing out on. The Rams shut Washington out 24-0, and a few weeks after chanting for Colt McCoy, the crowd chants for RGIII. Make up your mind, fans!
Dec. 14, 2014
In the Week 14 game against the Giants, McCoy reaggravated a neck injury and Griffin was forced to come in. All that scandal over whether to play Griffin or McCoy ended up being meaningless, as Griffin closes out the season with McCoy sidelined. (Cousins, perfectly healthy, remains benched.)
Aug. 6, 2015
For all the talk of imminent departures, Griffin and Gruden were both back. They were both uneasily promising they'll move forward together:
"You hope it's growing," Griffin said of his relationship with Gruden. "I don't know that. It's not something we talk about. People have talked about it and there is a lot out there and so many perceptions. I don't really know him and he doesn't really know me. But how could that be any other way in only one year?"
Aug. 20, 2015
In Washington's second preseason game, Griffin took an absolute beating. The offensive line, without left tackle Trent Williams, allows Griffin to get hit six times on eight drop-backs. Griffin comes out for a fourth drive in the meaningless preseason game, and suffers a concussion:
Aug. 27, 2015
Washington announced that Griffin had been cleared to play in the team's upcoming preseason game by an independent neurologist. (Nobody says anything about why any team would play a QB in a preseason game a week after a concussion, but that's besides the point.)
Aug. 28, 2015
Washington announced they were wrong. Griffin had never been cleared -- a neurologist had merely predicted that he would be cleared. Griffin was ruled out for another week or two.
Aug. 31, 2015
Gruden announced that Kirk Cousins would be the team's starter-- not just for Week 1, when Griffin would hypothetically still be recovering from his concussion, but for the foreseeable future:
"He's the best quarterback on our roster at this time," Gruden said. "He's earned the right to be our starter for 2015."
The way Gruden quickly swerved from sending Griffin out days after a concussion to anointing Cousins for the foreseeable future is somewhere between "suspicious" and "disconcerting."
* * *
It's not clear what the future holds for Griffin. It certainly seems as if Washington's coaching staff has given up on him and is looking for ways to get rid of him. There's also a chance the people in charge in Washington still hold out hope for the guy they gave up so much of their future for.
It's easy to read all this stuff and be disappointed in Griffin. There would be no drama if his performance from his rookie year had held up instead of the dropoff into lackluster play, there would just be smiles and happiness. And there's no doubt that something about Griffin's personality and desire to star has contributed to two consecutive coaches souring on their desire to work with him.
Robert Griffin III is 25 years old. He was younger than that in many of the situations described above, and had massive expectations placed on him. At first, he handled those expectations and not only survived, but flourished.
Griffin depended on people much older than him with much more experience to help him handle those massive expectations. Instead, they complicated things.
They allowed Griffin to get injured. They put Griffin in positions to fail after his injury.
They made Griffin a proxy for their personal squabbles.
They repeatedly benched and unbenched Griffin, sometimes telling him he was a franchise QB and other times telling him he wasn't as good as Colt freakin' McCoy.
They asked Griffin to do new things he wasn't used to and new things that didn't fit his skill set, then had a short leash when he failed at them.
They took a strategy that worked with great success and threw it in the trash, then expected the same results.
Time and time again, the people who were put in charge of helping Griffin have actually hurt him.
The good news is that Griffin is still just 25 , and is only a few years removed from massive success. That means there is a possibility that he once again has massive success in his NFL career. But there is no doubt that his career has been stunted by Washington's higher-ups -- and no reason to expect things will ever go any differently if he remains there.