Washington Faces Difficult Decision Between Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins

Robert Griffin Kirk Cousins

Robert Griffin III returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since he dislocated his left ankle in Week 2. But the questions about whether the former No. 2 overall pick and 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year extended way beyond simply health and how he looked — we already know what the future holds.

Washington head coach Jay Gruden anointed Griffin the team’s starting quarterback once he is 100-percent healthy. Though Gruden was unable to provide a timeline for that, we know that despite Kirk Cousins‘ effort to seize the job or at least manufacture some sort of competition, the job still belongs to Griffin.

It’s a different sort of sentiment out of Gruden than when Griffin first injured his ankle in September. After Griffin went down, Gruden said the team would “cross that bridge when it comes,” in regards to Griffin reclaiming the starting job.

But Cousins has failed to put together four consecutive quarters of quality football. He’s had his fair shares of ups and downs, showing glimpses of being a true every week starter then following it with three-interception quarters to keep Washington in the loss column.

In the four starts since RGIII has been down, Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, and lost a fumble. The issue with ball security cost Washington its chances of upsetting Arizona last week, and it immediately destroyed the team’s chances of going toe-to-toe with the Giants back in Week 4. At the same time, though, Cousins’ arm kept Washington in it against the division-leading Eagles in his first start, and it kept the team within striking distance when it hosted the Seahawks in Week 5.

Like any young quarterback about to make just his 14th career start on Sunday against the Titans, Cousins is far from a polished product. As a starter, he’s 1-7, and in games he’s played the team is 3-10. Contrast that with Griffin, the team is 13-17.

But through two games in 2014, he has been wildly ineffective. He’s completed 31-of-40 attempts for 305 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s also rushed for 24 yards on five carries. Not bad, but also nothing to rave about.

Whether it’s his fit in Gruden’s offense or perhaps a timidness after a serious injury last year, the Griffin-led Washington offense mustered six points in the opener. Griffin played scared, failing to at least try to make big plays downfield with his arm while looking even concerned about taking off and running, which is what made the quarterback so dangerous in the first place.

Washington fans must hope that upon his return, Griffin can rediscover his form. Otherwise, it’s back to Square 1 in the war rooms as the team needs to figure out what to do about the quarterback position.

Griffin’s 2012 season may have been a fluke, or it might not have been. He just might not be a good fit in this new-look Washington offense, or his psyche may be too damaged after undergoing so many injuries.

Cousins may need more experience under center, or maybe he’s just not cut out to be an every week NFL starting quarterback. He could be used as trade bait, or he may just need time to figure things out.

If neither is able to distinguish themselves down the stretch and Washington continues on its current trajectory of being a two- or three-win club, then the question is undoubtedly going to surface about whether the team needs to invest in a new quarterback. Griffin is under contract for next season, but if it goes anything like how this year is going, then the Washington fan base is going to grow even more uneasy. Then, the five combined draft picks the organization spent on acquiring and drafting RGIII and then Cousins a few rounds later prove to be wasted.

Gruden is right for giving Griffin back his job, whether he’s ready or not right now. It should light a fire under Cousins to try and play his best games while he still has an opportunity, and should ignite Griffin to try to prepare for what might be the most crucial stretch of games he’ll face so far in his career.

Washington needs a quarterback to step up, whether it’s Griffin or Cousins. Either that, or the organization will find somebody new to hang their hats on.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.