Calls for Cousins? You've Got the Wrong Number
Upon further review, Mike Shanahan was right to laugh off the question. Even if Tony Dungy and other high-profile NFL talking heads threw the weight of their analysis behind the idea of benching Robert Griffin III in favor of backup quarterback Kirk Cousins in Washington, the logic behind such a move sounds sillier—and more short-sighted—by the minute.
Well done, Mike. The suggestion deserved to be scoffed at.
I have to admit, on Sunday night and well into Monday, I too was in the maybe-it’s-time-for-Cousins camp. With the defending NFC East champs sitting 0-2 and Griffin clearly not the same quarterback who dazzled us en route to the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honor last season, the thought of switching to the pocket-passing Cousins for the short term seemed to make some sense. You would buy RG3 some time to further strengthen his surgically repaired knee, recover more mobility and confidence in his leg, and remove from his still-young shoulders the mounting pressure to save Washington’s rapidly unraveling season.
After all, as many of us reasoned, if you don’t have Griffin fully capable of threatening a defense with the possibility of his read-option running skills, you don’t have the RG3 effect any way. If you’re trying to win as a pocket passing offense, maybe Cousins is further along and gives you a better chance to win on that front. Right?
I thought so at first, but now I realize that would be exactly the wrong call by Shanahan.
Deservedly so, Washington’s veteran head coach took a ton of heat last January when he left the obviously injured Griffin out there too long in that home playoff loss to Seattle, with a blown-out right knee being the sad result. Shanahan left himself open to charges of trying to win now at all costs, and not taking the long-term view for the good of Griffin’s career.
Do you want to make Griffin wonder about Washington’s long-term commitment to him for even a second, when at 0-2, history says Shanahan’s team is already a long shot to make the playoffs this season?
But benching Griffin today, after just two weeks of the 2013 season, would make Shanahan guilty of roughly the same thing, trying to win now and save his team’s season rather than doing what’s best for Griffin’s long-term viability as Washington’s franchise quarterback. If Shanahan was wrong to play him then, he’d also be wrong to remove him now, and two wrongs still don’t make a right. We can’t have it both ways, and kill the coach coming and going.
Less than satisfying September results aside, what Griffin needs most right now is playing time, the one thing he’d be robbed of if Washington turned to Cousins in knee-jerk fashion (no pun intended). After seeing no preseason action, Griffin is dealing with a healthy layer of rust under the glare of the regular season spotlight, and it’s not entirely pretty. His throwing mechanics are off, his form noticeably out of sync, and he looks hesitant and unsure of himself at times. He doesn’t yet seem to have his feel for the game back entirely, and isn’t past the point where he can cut it loose and completely trust his knee.
But he’s not going to get there standing on the sideline, watching Cousins play. It doesn’t work that way. He’s not going to turn into the old RG3 with a clipboard in his hand.
I’m convinced keeping Griffin in the lineup and working toward a return to his 2012 form is actually Shanahan taking the big-picture view in this case. The panic move would be calling for Cousins, and making this about getting as many wins as possible, as soon as possible. But where would Washington and Griffin really be long term in that scenario? Shanahan has to be willing to sacrifice today, and even this season, if it means Griffin is getting the work that gets him closer to where he was as one of the league’s rookie sensations last year.
It’s obvious now, but it really was our expectations that were out of whack to assume Griffin would be the same player right from the very start, based on how we saw him run, move and throw this offseason, as his rehabilitation unfolded with wall-to-wall coverage. Because Adrian Peterson ran for 2,000-plus yards last year with his surgically repaired knee, and Peyton Manning returned as good as ever despite his neck issues, we made the leap of logic that medical miracles were the norm for NFL comebacks these days, basing that on a pretty small sample size.
I know the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, but pulling the plug on Griffin after two or three games this season is counterproductive on every level. Time is his ally. That he looked undeniably better in the second half of Washington’s losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay should tell us something. The more he plays, the more comfortable he grows. He’s obviously not there yet, and doesn’t have the same level of confidence in his body or his game, but if he’s deemed healthy—and Washington says he is—he needs to play. It’s his only route to a return to form, even if it’s a hard one to watch as he struggles and the losses mount.
And what has Washington really accomplished even if Cousins starts and wins a few games, keeping its playoff hopes viable into midseason? That may satisfy the week-to-week crowd, who live and die with the team on every game day, but where does that leave the franchise standing at the quarterback position over the long haul?
After investing hugely in Griffin, from the minute the blockbuster trade with the Rams was made to acquire his draft rights, and making him the new, fresh face of the franchise, is Washington really supposed to make him stand to the side and watch Cousins play? Do you want to make Griffin wonder about Washington’s long-term commitment to him for even a second, when at 0-2, history says Shanahan’s team is already a long shot to make the playoffs this season?
After all, this isn’t Drew Bledsoe making way for Tom Brady in New England. Griffin and Cousins are two second-year quarterbacks. One of them flashed superstar potential last season, energizing and changing the fortunes of an entire franchise that had been grasping at the quarterback position for about a dozen years. And one of them proved to be a very valuable and efficient backup, keeping the chains moving and the team winning when given the opportunity. Cousins makes for a great No. 2 option, and some potentially lucrative trade bait in the future, but this is still Griffin’s team and Griffin’s time to play.
Losing some early-season games and even missing the playoffs shouldn’t change the dynamics of the quarterback situation in Washington for one second. There really is no decision here. You don’t cut and run from Griffin now, after two rough starts. You stand behind him as eagerly as you did last season, believing there are years and years left for him to play in Washington, with most of his story still to be told.