Fueled by his performance as a rookie, Washington lavished Robert Griffin III with preferential treatment and risked putting him in harm’s way. Two years later, they have to dial things back in order to repair their franchise QB. It’s not too late
The descent of Washington’s storied franchise in recent years is hard to watch for this once-diehard Redskins fan. Some of my fondest childhood (and young adulthood) memories were at RFK Stadium watching the team’s sustained success. Since having moved to different parts of the country and working in the business—including for competing teams—I have lost my fandom, although friends and family vent to me regularly about the team’s shortcomings. Perhaps most disheartening is the many passionate fans whose responses have become apathetic. For many, anger has evolved into a much more sinister emotion: indifference.
At the center of this football storm, for better or worse, is Robert Griffin III. The team went all in on the quarterback, sacrificing multiple high draft picks for him (and used one of their few remaining picks that year to draft another quarterback, current third-stringer Kirk Cousins). And if the team moves on from Griffin (more below), their investment would have been more than the “sunk cost” of a $20 million contract. Instead of Griffin, there could have been multiple players contributing to the team on fixed and reasonable four-year contracts, providing infrastructure to a team sorely lacking in quality depth.
Two years ago, the Redskins’ fan base and, it appears, management was swept up in the emotion of a playoff run fueled by Griffin’s scintillating play, even while suffering a late-season knee injury. Then Griffin played on a clearly compromised leg in a playoff game against Seattle, the susceptible knee finally buckling to a torn ACL. The decision-making process that led to Griffin playing that day has never fully been explained.
As I said at the time, I feared the Griffin we saw prior to the injury might be the best Griffin we ever see. And that is a shame, as the injury didn’t have to happen. While Griffin wanted to play through it—all players do—someone could have been the adult in that situation and not succumbed to the emotion of the moment.
In the glow of the magical ride of 2012, Griffin was not only a dynamic player but also an engaging spokesman for a franchise in desperate need of one. In a city and region divided on just about everything, Griffin and his mega-watt smile galvanized the fan base, no matter which side of the aisle they were on.
Against that backdrop, the team became tolerant of—and perhaps even encouraged—special treatment, which likely included preferential access for family and close associates. I witnessed the granting of special treatment to a star player, albeit under much different circumstances than Griffin. Our player was a three-time NFL MVP. It is something that is hard to dial back once allowed.
Star play to star treatment
When I began working in Green Bay in 1999, I noted the regular presence of Brett Favre’s father, Irv, and Bus Cook, Brett’s agent and close friend with whom I developed a close relationship. Irv was a football coach, related well and was a trusted friend of many in the organization. When he unexpectedly died while we were on a road trip in Oakland, the entire team—players, coaches and staff—was deeply affected. In our team meeting that night, there was not a dry eye in the room.
Brett was admirably naïve to the treatment of his father and Bus. I remember sitting with him one day when he brought up his agent, saying:
“Andrew, just want you to know I appreciate you being so welcoming to Bus, that’s really nice of you.”
Brett, you could be represented by Charles Manson and we would treat him well.
He looked at me like I had a third eye, so I continued: Listen, you’ve put this place on the map; we will treat your agent well no matter who he is… but I do like Bus.
He nodded and quickly moved on to other topics.
Even for the best of the best, however, favorable treatment eventually defers to the cold business of football. After years of being wooed by coaches and management to return for another season, Brett did not receive that same courtship following the 2007 season. Instead of hearing a warmhearted We really want you back! he heard a business-like It’s up to you… and chose to retire in March before changing his mind with the pull of training camp in June.
Circling back to Griffin, dialing back from the environment created in 2012 to a more egalitarian treatment is, while necessary, a challenge for everyone involved.
Coaches favor some players over others, but they cringe at players who expect favorable treatment. Coaches are creatures of routine; they want selfless players that seamlessly fit in with as little drama as possible, unless the talent level absolutely requires it. It is, at least in part, the reason Ray Rice is unsigned and Percy Harvin was traded.
It is no secret that Griffin clashed with former coach Mike Shanahan and son Kyle, the former offensive coordinator, requiring a separation. Owner Daniel Snyder opted for Griffin over the Shanahans, further emboldening him towards continued preferential treatment.
More than 20 years ago, I knew Jay Gruden would be a coach; he was our third-string quarterback—and unofficial quarterbacks coach—when I was general manager of the Barcelona Dragons in 1991. He seems to be as no-nonsense as there is, and I would sense he was direct with general manager Bruce Allen and Snyder, as well as with Griffin, about potential problems. And Griffin was naturally upbeat about his new coach this summer. But, as I say all the time, that was then and this is now, as adversity has set in with another forgettable year.
Unlike many forecasting change, my opinion would be that both Gruden and Griffin return next season. Gruden is barely a year into a five-year deal, a transition year from a different staff as he establishes his system and presence with the team. Griffin will not bring trade value anywhere near the initial investment, and still has a year left on his rookie contract with a team option, at minimal risk, for 2016.
There is no reason why both coach and player cannot develop and improve together as long as there is buy-in from both sides and, more importantly, from above. It will be hard for the player, the coach and perhaps hardest of all for the owner, but retooling all of those relationships is necessary for positive change in the nation’s capitol.
Five Things I think about the continuing Adrian Peterson saga…
1. The Peterson lawsuit filed on Monday appears to be more symbolic than practical. By the time the case would reach any type of resolution, it will be well past Peterson’s reinstatement date of April 15.
2. Similarly, the NFLPA’s exposure of NFL Senior Vice President Troy Vincent’s conversations with Peterson is not a good look for Vincent, but does not change anything regarding Peterson or the league’s new personal conduct policy, as the union was stonewalled in any attempt to collectively bargain it.
3. Vincent, a former player and union leader, seems to have taken on the role as “reach out” guy for the NFL. He was clearly the designated point person with Peterson, a role that has put him under a harsh spotlight.
4. The fact that Peterson recorded his conversation with Vincent illustrates the complete lack of trust between the NFLPA and the NFL that continues to characterize their relationship. These supposed “partners” are secretly recording conversations with the hope of exposing the other side? Welcome to Watergate, NFL-style.
5. As I have said since 2011, we may have a labor agreement (through 2020) but we certainly do not have labor peace.
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