Robert Griffin III has signed with the Cleveland Browns, a two-year deal worth $15 million with only $6.75 million guaranteed. It has the potential to be a comical marriage between a dysfunctional organization and a broken quarterback with a reputation as a diva and as a bad teammate. We could see a dumpster fire that only rivals ... well, the dumpster fire that was Johnny Manziel's tenure in Cleveland, which ended a few weeks ago.
On the other hand, pairing Griffin with Cleveland's new head coach Hue Jackson is sure to be intriguing, and the chorus you'll hear from NFL coaches, front offices, and from the media is that if there's any coach that can revive Griffin's career, it's Jackson. So, despite the inherent potential for a terrible ending, Griffin may have landed in the perfect spot.
The Hue Jackson factor
The Browns are also hoping that Griffin can live up to the potential he once had as the second overall pick in 2012 and Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Jackson and associate head Coach Pep Hamilton both have very strong reputations for their work with quarterbacks over the years (Jackson previously with Joe Flacco and more recently with Andy Dalton, and Hamilton with Andrew Luck). They're almost surely going to design a system that aims to take pressure off of the quarterback, whoever it ends up being, and relies on a ground-and-pound run game. Jackson is also highly respected as an innovator -- so expect some creativity -- and he is not afraid to use some of the zone-read stuff that Griffin thrived in as a rookie. *Gulp*
Griffin isn't the same guy that he was back in 2012 -- an explosive dual-threat that rushed for 820 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground -- but he's still more mobile than most. The injuries over the years have hopefully taught him to better protect himself outside of the pocket by sliding. I am trying to talk myself into believing that, anyway.
Griffin needs to exorcise his demons
That said, Griffin has a long way to go. He wasn't a fit in Jay Gruden's timing-based, drop back offense in Washington which gave us one of the all-time takedowns by a coach of his quarterback in a press conference back in 2014.
"It's his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions, his job at the quarterback position," Gruden said at the time, after Griffin vaguely blamed his teammates for a loss. "It's my job to worry about everybody else. And, yes, everybody else needs to improve. There's no question about it. But it's not his place. His place is to talk about himself and he knows that. He just elaborated a little bit too much."
What Gruden said next is pretty rare from a coach, in terms of brutal honesty about one of his own players.
"Robert had some fundamental flaws," he said. "His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can't happen. He stepped up when he didn't have to step up and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times. So from his basic performance just critiquing Robert it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position."
This verbal annihilation by Gruden didn't help rumors that Griffin was not a hard worker in the film room and spelled the beginning of the end for Griffin's time in Washington. His confidence fell off a cliff. His mechanics went out the door. He barely suited up and didn't play a single snap in 2015, and he was released unceremoniously after the season ended.
Still, after earning a reputation as a guy that always said the wrong stuff, Griffin was quiet in 2015 and took his demotion on the chin without publicly complaining about it too much. One of the big reasons that Jackson decided that signing Griffin was the right move is that he showed a lot of humility in his recent visit, accepting responsibility for "both in his on-field struggles and his reputation for not being the most popular of teammates or most coachable of players," says Don Banks.
A change of scenery will undoubtedly be a good thing for Griffin. Will it be a good enough thing? Who knows. Interestingly enough, Jackson didn't even talk to Gruden about his former player before making the decision to sign Griffin. Maybe Jackson doesn't care, maybe he just doesn't think he'd get an unbiased account, or maybe he already knows what Gruden thinks.
Gruden hasn't exactly been shy about criticizing Griffin publicly. Even this week, while acknowledging Griffin's talent, Gruden said that Griffin still has to learn the drop-back passing game to succeed in this league.
Getting Griffin to that point is up to Jackson now. It absolutely will not happen overnight. But in the meantime, if he does end up starting, we'll likely see Griffin eased into that type of player slowly. He has to rebuild his fundamentals.
A few hiccups
Now, it all sounds good, and for Cleveland fans, it's exciting to imagine Griffin resurrecting his career and playing something like he did in 2012. There's a slight problem with this -- there's not much in the way of talent around Griffin at the moment. And importantly, it starts up front.
A Browns offensive line that gave up 53 sacks last season (second most in the NFL) just lost center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in free agency. It's been rumored that their left tackle Joe Thomas is on the trade block. Their best receiver in Travis Benjamin bolted for San Diego. Josh Gordon, Griffin's college teammate, is still stuck in suspension purgatory and there's no telling when or if he'll be reinstated.
So, in terms of building an offense that takes pressure off of Griffin, that's going to be the challenge with a marked lack of high-end talent around him. This season looks like a rebuilding year and quarterbacks on rebuilding teams tend to get beat up, both physically and in the press.
It might get uglier before it gets better for Griffin.
How Griffin impacts the Browns' draft plan
Hue Jackson has promised that he'll draft a quarterback this year and signing Griffin does not necessarily change that plan. As Don Banks reports, the Browns see Griffin as a bridge quarterback to whoever they draft -- Jared Goff, Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch -- whether it's with the No. 2 pick or the No. 32 pick, and the contract they gave him, which includes $6.75 million in guaranteed money, means they view Griffin as more than just a camp flier. Tying a large amount of money into performance incentives shows that they're not completely sold that he'll be their starter, too.
So, even if Cleveland drafts a quarterback second overall, the two signal callers will have to duke it out for the starter's job. Sitting a rookie quarterback isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the competition will surely motivate Griffin.
The signing, in theory, also gives the Browns more flexibility if they're not enamored with this year's class of quarterbacks. He's a hedge in case they're not going to use that No. 2 pick as the future of the franchise. No one expected a perfect situation in Cleveland and this is far from one, but with Griffin, Cleveland gets a little bit of upside and a fallback plan in case they don't land their quarterback of the future in this draft.
Griffin will have to earn the starting job. Hue Jackson's statement announcing the signing was perfect:
"We are excited about Robert joining the Cleveland Browns. He brings starting experience to our team and organization. He's a young, athletic, talented passer and he's really just starting out in this league. Just like every player on our team, Robert will have to earn every opportunity he gets. He will compete with the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster and he helps improve our QB room, which was one of my goals upon taking the job. It's a special room and we want to put special people and players in that room. We are looking forward to working with Robert, as well as the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster. We have a lot of work to do to prepare to be the best QB room in the NFL and we look forward to the challenge that lies ahead."
Griffin's statement acknowledges all this too. "I'm excited about the opportunity to join the Dawg Pound and help build something here in Cleveland. Coach Hue and Pep, I had a great meeting with them. I really believe in what they preach and how they can help not only me as a player but this team win games and that's what we're all about. I'm just excited to come in and compete. Nothing's ever been given to me in my life, so I just want to go out and compete with the guys and grow with this team. I feel like that's all I'm really focused on."
What to expect?
At the end of the day, the Browns have made a low-end investment -- in quarterback money, anyway -- in a guy that still has to the potential to revive a once-promising career. It still looks like the odds are against that, and while he's been paired with an excellent coach in Hue Jackson, the Browns are a mess for the most part otherwise. My expectations here are low -- but I'm still intrigued to watch what plays out.