On RG3 and Shutting Up

Let me preface this by first saying that Robert Griffin III is the greatest thing to happen to my Redskins fandom since I began to take it seriously approximately a decade ago.  It is fair to say that the previous decade has mostly lacked for inspiring players and memories.  Before Griffin, my most visceral Redskins moment was Sean Taylor’s murder, which was an incredibly tragic situation that only highlighted how dismal my beloved franchise had been since the early 90’s heyday.

I had never been bombarded with commercials and coverage of my favorite team from national sources until Griffin’s arrival (the national attention fixed on Ovechkin and Strasburg paled in comparison).  That it all began before a snap of football had been played seems to be a significant portent.  He is much more than a football player, he is a brand.  But at the end of the day, he is still just the most important and recognizable cog of a large and intricate machine.  The Redskins will still exist long after Griffin retires.  Or…maybe not, but that is a topic for another day.

Griffin’s attempts to force head coach Mike Shanahan into playing him during the preseason are both tiresome and worrying.  As a fan (first and foremost), I certainly appreciate his desire to get back on the field with his teammates and work off the rust of a surgically-repaired knee.  And I also understand that as an energetic young man who immediately assumed the mantle of leadership and then took some criticism for the team’s playoff loss, he feels a burden to prove himself yet again.

What dismays me is that Griffin refuses to allow Shanahan to draw the criticism while Griffin remains working diligently toward his comeback in the shadows.  All it would take is a simple, “I’m going to do whatever the coaches tell me so that, together, we can put this team in the best possible position for the long season ahead,” and the media would quit with the questions.  We all know Shanahan can handle whatever heat the media gives him.  But Griffin feels the need to express himself and his frustration at not playing, without regard to his or the team’s best interests.

A player seeming not to trust his coach is particularly tiresome when that coach’s fate is so clearly tied to the success of the player.  Has Griffin forgotten about the incredible price paid to move up and select him?  (Please note that I would make that trade again in half a heartbeat.)  It confounds me that Griffin (and apparently his father) does not seem to think his coaches are doing everything possible to engineer a long and victorious career for him.

In my mind, they have already proven their loyalty to Griffin beyond a doubt.  Leaving a clearly hobbled Griffin in the playoff loss to Seattle, even when every single patron of the bar I was in could see his limited effectiveness, illustrates that Shanahan believed Griffin had earned the right to play in that moment, come hell, high water or a nearly amputated lower leg.  I have no desire to argue that Kirk Cousins could have won that game, but Griffin was not the same player who had brought the team that far and yet Shanahan remained loyal to him in that crucial moment.

Certainly, the Adidas ad campaign featuring Griffin, with the slogan “All in for Week One”, is another iteration of the same issue.  Griffin has allowed, at least during these recent moments, his desire to be front and center at all times to surpass his regard for the best interests of the team.  When veteran leaders like Santana Moss express that maybe Griffin should keep his lips sealed a little tighter, it is indicative of the feelings across the locker room.  Griffin himself becomes the story, as opposed to the team, which in turn creates a situation that is only tenable as long as Griffin continues to win in electrifying fashion and even then may sow seeds of discontent.

Yes, Kirk Cousins is a viable back-up quarterback.  But no one questions, even in the incredibly slow sports-news months of summer when any potential controversy is blown out of proportion, that the starting spot remains Griffin’s so long as he is healthy.  His health is critical to the team’s success and understandably, Shanahan is going to do everything in his power to ensure that his star-player remains upright and in the game.  One component of that strategy is not allowing Griffin to place himself in harm’s way unnecessarily, which is precisely what playing in the preseason would amount to.  If Griffin wants to be a true leader, that means making decisions based not on personal interest but on those of the team, and thus far this offseason Griffin has disappointed in this arena.

Sure, if Griffin plays poorly in the Monday Night opener against Philadelphia, plenty of talking heads will second guess Shanahan and say that Griffin would have done better after working out the kinks in the preseason.  But that sort of ex post facto analysis ignores the cost benefit realities of a star player risking himself in meaningless games less than nine months following a major knee surgery.

It is far too early to write off Griffin as another egomaniacal athlete though.  One hopes that this will be a learning experience for him, because Shanahan is clearly not going to play him in the preseason, despite whatever protests he may mount.  There are reports about Griffin’s supposed discontentment with his coaches but I believe that has far more to do with Griffin always being in “win-now” mode, even in his rehabilitation, than a real lack of trust.

His importance to his team, the city, and the NFL serves perhaps to blow some of his comments out of proportion, but knowing how tight-lipped Shanahan is with the media, we can be sure that Griffin is receiving instruction from coaches and teammates about the proper attitude to convey.  We can only hope he takes these lessons to heart, and then puts the team on his back, as Washington continues to ride this dynamic young quarterback back to relevance.

From the East Coast Office

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