Best NFL team fits for Robert Griffin III
Monday morning’s news that the Redskins released Robert Griffin III was perhaps the least surprising bit of news we’ll hear in this frantic week of free agency. Griffin had an amazing rookie season in the nation’s capitol, but injuries, coaching changes and his own lack of development as a pocket passer hastened his decline.
Jay Gruden, who replaced Mike Shanahan as the team’s head coach in 2014, had little use for Griffin and instead pushed his chips in favor of Kirk Cousins, who was selected in the fourth round of the ’12 draft—the same draft in which Griffin taken second overall. As I wrote in Dec., 2014, Griffin was unable to make simple reads and throws in Gruden’s system, and the coach was right to take Griffin out of the picture as much as possible, though he sometimes handled the issue indelicately.
Now that Griffin is on the open market, where will be the best home for him? There are two ideal choices for Griffin at this point—either he goes to a team that has a system he’s familiar with, or he prepares himself for a total overhaul with a coaching staff willing to make that investment. Here are a handful of teams that could take him on, and by suggesting these teams, we’re considering team dynamics as much as supposed scheme fit.
The most obvious fit because Kyle Shanahan, Atlanta’s current offensive coordinator, held that same title for the Redskins in 2012 and ’13, when Griffin was at his best. The Shanahans did a brilliant job of merging their zone-blocking, West Coast Offense system with what Griffin did at Baylor, and helped Griffin develop into a legitimate NFL starter. The Shanahans also put him in harm’s way too often by allowing Griffin to run when it didn’t make sense, but one can hope the younger Shanahan will have learned from that mistake.
In Atlanta, Shanahan would prefer to put a creative offense on the field with backfield action and route concepts that create easily-defined openings, which he did in the early part of the 2015 season before things started to fall apart. In addition, Matt Ryan’s status as the team’s de facto starter puts Griffin out of pressure in the short term.
The Cardinals have tried all kinds of backups in the last few seasons, but it’s been proven that this is a team that will go exactly as far as Carson Palmer will take it. One of the best teams over the last two regular seasons when Palmer is healthy, the Cards have fallen apart when Palmer has been absent or injured.
Coach Bruce Arians has a long and well-earned history as a quarterback guru and redeemer, and with the selection of Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Arians has proven that he has no issue with a mobile quarterback in theory. Palmer still has a few good years, and Griffin might just thrive in an environment where he not only doesn’t have to start right away, but also has the right kind of instruction in a vertical offense from Arians and his staff.
With backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson looking to test the open market, the Seahawks have an opening behind Russell Wilson—who, of course, was also selected in the third round of that same 2012 draft. If Griffin can get over the ego hit of backing up two guys from his same draft in his career, this would be a fascinating fit. Pete Carroll is used to handling interesting personalities, and Seattle’s offense is built around the principle that mobile quarterbacks create openings in routes that stretch defenses to their limits, and this is a run-heavy team with a great defense.
Even if Griffin had to start for any reason, there’s enough around him to make it work. The primary concern would be the status of Seattle’s offensive line. Wilson was pummeled behind that line last season, and Griffin wouldn’t hold up well to that level of pressure at this point.
Pittsburgh signed Michael Vick as a backup to Ben Roethlisberger for the 2015 season, and though that didn’t work out, Landry Jones didn’t look great when he was forced to start last season. How does Griffin fit into this offense? Roethlieberger has been a mobile quarterback for years—he rolls out of the pocket consistently, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system plays to that.
Kansas City Chiefs
Of all the possible options here, this intrigues me the most. The Chiefs have a fully integrated West Coast passing game under Andy Reid, and they’ve been using different option looks with Alex Smith in an under-the-radar fashion for a number of years. The Chiefs use a ton of play-action, and back when Griffin was doing well in Washington, he ran even more.
The 2012 Redskins had a 39.9% play-action percentage, and the advantage that gives Griffin is obvious—when he creates an option threat with backfield action, the passing game tends to open up. Reid has his justified critics as a game manager, but he’s long proven that he knows how to get the best out of all kinds of different quarterbacks. Remember the work he did with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in ’10 to create Vick’s finest season as a pure passer? The Eagles’ coaching staff went with a combination of an option game with a version of the West Coast Offense that Vick could deal with, and it worked very well. Reid may be Griffin’s best path to a similar rebuild. In Philadelphia, Vick sat for a season and learned what he needed to know, and then, everything came together.