Following a banner 2012 regular season with a shiny new franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins looked like a revitalized franchise. There was even talk of a future NFL dynasty in the nation’s capital. With a healthy RGIII, the sky was the limit for the Skins. But in a heated playoff battle on a cold January day, RGIII went down with a horrific injury and spirits in D.C. sunk. Where there was previously hope, only questions remained for Washington fans as it appeared that irreparable damage had been done to the long-awaited franchise rebuild. Little did those fans know that the real damage had yet to come.
With a 3-10 record entering week 15, the 2013 Redskins and the rest of the league realized that the extreme high from exactly one year earlier had given way to a new low in Washington. Instead of being feared, Washington’s defense was the laughingstock of the league and instead of living up to his hero hype, RGIII appeared wounded, weary and weathered. With the season lost, it looked like things couldn’t get any worse, but then head coach Mike Shanahan – who presumably knows he’s on his way out the door – delivered a final parting blow to the franchise’s already shaky and crumbling foundation by benching Griffin for the remainder of the season.
While many initially assumed the move was to protect Griffin from another substantial injury in the final few, seemingly meaningless games, Shanahan stated – via an NFL.com report – that the decision was based on performance. Of course, preserving the team’s franchise player for the future would make more sense than Shanahan’s true rationale, especially considering the bizarre timing of the decision
Sure, RGIII hasn’t performed to the level he did last year. In fact, he has one of the lowest QBRs among starters this season, but why didn’t Shanahan make the switch to Kirk Cousins sooner if he thought Cousins gave the Skins the best chance to win? Why did he wait until the season was already in the toilet? Frustratingly for fans, these questions lack definitive answers.
As it turns out, Cousins didn’t improve Washington’s offense or winning chances anyway, as he gave the ball away three times in a 27-26 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Turnovers and poor defensive play ended up costing the Skins a win, which is the same old tune the team sung when Griffin was under center.
Few would argue Cousins is a more talented and capable player than Griffin, so benching Griffin seems to be a visibly harmful move to the organization in the short-term, but the bigger issue at hand in Washington is the unseen damage the move will do to Griffin’s confidence, his psyche, and the team’s morale moving forward and into next season.
It’s safe to say things weren’t peachy in the Redskins locker room before. In fact, it’s been well documented that Griffin and Shanahan have never been buddy-buddy, but after the coach’s recent decision, Griffin was understandably furious over the entire situation and how it played out.
Obviously, it’s impossible to measure or predict how this whole debacle will affect Griffin going forward, but whatever lingers certainly won’t be positive. After winning a Heisman Trophy and the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in the past two years, Griffin built up plenty of confidence and belief in himself as an individual and as a teammate. After getting benched for poor play, that confidence level, which has arguably fueled much of his success, could take a hit.
Any major change, especially one that’s so divisive and this late in the season, also has to take a toll on the team as a whole. Just imagine rallying behind a leader as focused and determined as Griffin all season and then suddenly see him sent to the sidelines. Not only will the move tell some players that the team is giving up on this season, but it should raise questions in their minds as to where the franchise is headed.
While it’s possible that Griffin’s status as the organization’s franchise player will remain unchanged heading into next season, fans have to wonder how benching the face of the franchise can be a good move, especially with the playoffs already out of reach. Wouldn’t most teams stick by “their guy” through the tough times if he really was “their guy?”
After a dismal 2013 campaign, all Washington fans can do now is hope the team returns to their 2012 form next season. With Shanahan and most of his staff seemingly on their way out, it’s certainly possible. Whoever comes in next will definitely have a tough task in picking up the pieces and cleaning up the mess that Shanahan seems intent on making as large as he can before finally leaving town.