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Robert Griffin III has found his fresh start, with perhaps the coach most capable of reviving Griffin’s rapidly fading career.
The Browns announced Thursday that they had signed Griffin to a two-year deal, only about an hour after new coach Hue Jackson and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton finished putting North Dakota State draft hopeful Carson Wentz through the tail end of his pro day workout. Jackson’s earned reputation as something of a QB guru had to appeal to Griffin, whose Washington career imploded following a brilliant rookie season.
Griffin was never the same after that year ended with him blowing out his knee during a playoff loss. He spent all of 2015 inactive, as Kirk Cousins led Washington back to the postseason.
But two days ago, Jackson spoke to SI’s Don Banks about Griffin’s hopes for a turnaround.
“I think we all know he’s a talented player. He’s a good person, a good young man, and the guy can throw a football, he can run a football,” Jackson said. “This past year he didn’t play. But I think he learned a lot. I think he humbled himself a little bit. He knows that he’s got a lot of work to do ahead of him to get himself back to where he was, but I think he’s willing to do the work. He’s trying to find a football team that’s going to best fit him, and we’ll see how that unfolds.”
Now the question becomes: What role does Jackson envision for Griffin? And of more immediate concern, especially given Jackson and Hamilton’s appearances at the Cal and North Dakota State pro days, does Griffin’s arrival change the Browns’ draft plans?
The answer to the latter is probably not—it shouldn’t, anyway. For the moment, Josh McCown and Austin Davis are still on Cleveland’s roster; the QB duo combined to start 10 games last season. None of the Browns’ QBs figure to be anointed the starter as of late March, and as expected, reports immediately came out Thursday noting that Cleveland would put McCown on the trade block.
The Browns will be essentially starting from scratch with Griffin. He was but a shell of his 2012 self during the ’13 and ’14 seasons, and now hasn’t taken a meaningful snap in nearly 15 months. Add in a move to a new franchise—a rebuilding one, at that—and there will be a lot of ground to cover in the coming months.
Cleveland certainly should not bypass Wentz, Goff or any other QB come this year’s draft if the front office believes he could develop into a long-term answer. Griffin should be viewed essentially as a greater (and more expensive, at a reported $6.75 million guaranteed) risk-reward play than McCown.
“We’ve been clear on the importance of improving and stabilizing the quarterback position for our franchise,” executive VP Sashi Brown said in a statement announcing the Griffin signing. “We have said that the draft is and will be our primary focus, but we will always look to complement the draft through free agency, and this is one of those examples.”
As the Bengals’ offensive coordinator the past two seasons, Jackson coaxed long-awaited progress out of QB Andy Dalton. The 2011 draft pick was en route to career-best numbers before a broken thumb sidelined him. Jackson previously was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator when Joe Flacco arrived in ’08, and he maxed out Jason Campbell's abilities in Oakland from ’10 until the team traded for Carson Palmer in ’11.
The overall state of Cleveland’s roster points toward a frustrating year to come, but that also lifts most of the pressure off Griffin’s shoulders.
Another wild card to consider: Josh Gordon. The Browns’ receiver continues to wait for word from the league on if he will be reinstated. If he is, he immediately would reclaim his No. 1 receiver role and would reunite with Griffin, his quarterback during the 2010 season at Baylor. Before Griffin can find his footing as a starter again, he first has to find a comfortable mental space. Having Gordon there to ease the transition probably would help, on the field and in the locker room.
Little at the quarterback spot has gone according to Cleveland’s plan over the past two decades. Griffin very well may turn out to be the latest flop. Between Jackson’s arrival and the Browns’ desire to go back to square one at quarterback, though, this signing is worth a shot.