As the Nos. 1 and 2 overall picks in their respective draft classes, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III forever will be linked in NFL history like fellow quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Luck’s career is on the same upward trajectory as Manning during his early days in Indianapolis. Unfortunately for Griffin, his path is looking eerily similar to the one that led Leaf out of the league in just four seasons.
News that Griffin will be benched in favor of journeyman Colt McCoy for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis is a damning indictment not only about his future in Washington but also the NFL as a whole.
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In theory, the Redskins (3-8) should be playing Griffin for the remainder of this lost season to determine whether he can recapture his old magic and again be considered their franchise quarterback.
Sitting him now makes it obvious that decision already was made.
Griffin’s fall from grace is among the biggest the league ever witnessed. Building upon his blockbuster junior campaign at Baylor, Griffin won his first NFL start in 2012 with a stunning season-opening win over New Orleans back when beating the Saints inside the Louisiana Superdome was considered a huge deal.
Griffin kept rolling to win NFL Rookie of the Year honors by besting two other rookie quarterbacks, Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who also made a big splash in their inaugural seasons. Washington made the playoffs for the first time in five years. And the Redskins finally had the superstar passer the franchise had lacked for decades.
Or so they thought.
It all started to unravel in January 2013 during Washington’s first-round playoff game against Seattle. Griffin’s bravado got the best of him when he tried playing through a lingering knee injury. Then-head coach Mike Shanahan compounded the problem by doing nothing to stop him despite the quarterback’s obvious physical limitations and ineffectiveness. Griffin finally left the field in the fourth quarter but only after having shred knee ligaments.
The Redskins and Griffin lost more than a game that day. Despite his hard work in rehabilitation, it’s obvious that Griffin no longer has the blazing speed that made him the second coming of a young Michael Vick. Not only does he lack that same explosiveness, but Griffin’s technique flaws also started becoming exposed as he foundered during his 2013 comeback.
Shanahan benched an ineffective Griffin last December in what was the NFL equivalent of a mercy killing. Washington’s 4-12 record combined with the disintegration of Shanahan’s working relationship with Griffin and team owner Dan Snyder led to the coach’s firing immediately after the season ended.
The Redskins hired Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as Shanahan’s replacement in an attempt to "fix" Griffin. The repair attempts clearly have failed. Griffin has lost all three of his starts since returning from a dislocated ankle suffered in Week 2 vs. Jacksonville. He continues to make improper reads and not recognize defensive coverage. Sloppy footwork has affected his accuracy. And while a leaky offensive line hasn’t helped matters, Griffin has failed to capitalize on one of the league’s best collections of skill-position talent.
This is where Griffin comparisons to both Leaf and Vick are painfully apt. Neither was willing to put in the extra effort needed to become a great quarterback, instead relying on innate physical talent to flourish like in college. That complacency and hubris ultimately came back to haunt both Leaf and Vick and prevent them from fulfilling their potential.
Griffin now is enshrouded by the same criticisms of his work ethic and leadership. The most scathing assessment came from Gruden himself to league media last week when he described Griffin as long being "coddled" because of his past accomplishments. Gruden said Washington’s offensive output was "awful" in the games Griffin has played and lambasted him for recently trying to pass some of the blame onto his teammates.
The fact Gruden can speak so candidly without fear of censorship or losing his job shows that Snyder, long considered Griffin’s biggest fan, is off the bandwagon as well.
The Redskins would be wise to keep Griffin sitting for the rest of the season and use either McCoy or Kirk Cousins, another third-year quarterback whose stock has tumbled this season. At this point, the chances of Griffin hurting his trade value by playing are greater than the chances of him helping it.
Make no mistake: Griffin will be dealt this offseason. Both parties need a fresh start and there will be a quarterback-needy team willing to give the 24-year-old Griffin another chance, believing that a change of scenery shall pay dividends. But Griffin won’t arrive with anywhere near the same luster he once had.
As for the Redskins, they won’t come close to recouping the same bounty of high draft picks that were sent to St. Louis in 2012 to procure Griffin’s services. Washington also still doesn’t have a long-term answer at the game’s most important position.
And to think there once was public debate about whether Indianapolis made the right call by selecting Luck ahead of Griffin, just like when some critics initially questioned 14 years ago whether the Colts were right to choose Manning over Leaf. Such speculation will symbolically be put to rest for good Sunday when Luck takes the field as Griffin withers on the sideline.