This is not the end for Robert Griffin III, not in a put-a-period-on-it sense of finality.
But it feels like the end.
The Browns placed Griffin on injured reserve Monday with a fractured coracoid bone in his left shoulder. The team said that injury will be re-evaluated in three-to-four weeks, though the earliest Griffin could return is Week 10.
Griffin received his shot at rebirth this off-season, having freed himself from what had become a miserable situation in Washington (for both player and team). He landed with one of the few franchises, Cleveland, both in need of a long-term starting quarterback and willing to roll with the punches for a bit as a rebuild unfolded. He was teamed there with Hue Jackson, a first-year head coach but a noted play caller and QB guru—Andy Dalton has Jackson to thank for his recent performance uptick.
The Browns surrounded Griffin with young, exciting playmakers: Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, even Josh Gordon. The hope being that they would mature as a group, with Griffin the centerpiece.
And as the preseason rolled along, the plan even looked as if it might work. The offense was far from flawless, but Griffin and his pass-catching weapons showed promise.
One week into the regular season, that’s all gone. With it, so too could be Griffin’s last legitimate shot at being a starting quarterback in this league. Even if he comes back later in the season, could the Browns really trust him with the gig again? Would they even want him to have it back if Josh McCown is playing even remotely competent ball?
“It’s very unfortunate, Robert came in and has worked extremely hard to learn our offense and earn the respect of his teammates,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said in a statement Monday. “This is a tough loss because everyone has seen how invested he has been in this team and his dedication to the work needed to improve his craft. ... Robert will do everything in his power to rehab and get healthy but Josh McCown is on this roster for a reason and we have great confidence in him. He is more than capable.”
There’s no getting around how brutal this is for Griffin. His coaches praised his effort all off-season, his teammates voted him captain for the 2016 season, the fans bought in ... at least as much as Cleveland fans can buy into a quarterback at this point.
It never was going to be easy, but Griffin also didn’t have to look over his shoulder at McCown or Cody Kessler. He won the job.
Now, Cleveland again has to consider what’s next. Already 0-1 and with ample losses to come, the front office already should have one eye focused on the 2017 draft. The Browns, who had 11 rookies active Sunday as their youth movement kicked off in full, hold two first-round selections in April. One of those picks could be at No. 1 overall.
Even if they have high hopes for Kessler, a third-rounder, they would be hard-pressed to turn down Deshaun Watson or Deshone Kizer or whoever emerges as the class’s top QB. No one will soon forget that Cleveland could have had Carson Wentz this year, had it just stayed put at No. 2.
Wentz, of course, was the winning QB against Cleveland Sunday, completing 22 of 37 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Griffin’s line: 12 of 26, 190 yards, an interception and yet another injury. RG3’s performance itself was not as terrible as the final score (29-10, Philadelphia) would indicate. At least for Sunday, though, he was the second-best quarterback on the field.
This had a shot to work, truly it did. Griffin, with a new team and a creative offensive coordinator, flanked by talent at the skill positions that eventually would have included Gordon, his former college teammate. For all he went through—and brought on himself—in Washington, Griffin is still just 26 years old. He was an electrifying draft prospect, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Somewhere in there, the Browns believed, was the QB that had taken the league by storm. Were they on to something? Perhaps. Odds are we won’t find out. Griffin cannot stay healthy, and thus his chances of ever becoming that franchise-level talent again might be gone for good.
This is not the end, not of Griffin’s career. But it’s also no longer the fresh start he needed. Instead, this is more of the same, in a different uniform.