Those rolling their eyes at the news that the Baltimore Ravens signed Robert Griffin III to be their backup quarterback on Wednesday must have lacked a pulse in October 2012.
Griffin, who was drafted by Washington in 2012, took the division-rival New York Giants and their troika of pass rushers to the final round with a stunning mixture of touch passing and cold, fearless scrambles that often left him discarded on the sidelines like a tomato can wrestler from the WWE.
It was the start of something. My boss, Peter King, compared the fans’ reaction to Griffin’s late-game panache to that of when Bruce Springsteen closes a concert with “Born to Run”. We all collectively wondered how defenses would stop a player who, all at once, had one of the league’s best arms connected to a sprinter’s body.
Six years later, the hardened NFL follower in all of us just recoils. We laugh, just like we laughed at Trent Richardson in Canada or Tim Tebow hacking at baseballs. We start to understand that there are gravitational forces in the NFL which, when applied to a young, naïve football player simultaneously, can flatten them like a machine press and reduce them to once-popular video game characters.
In Griffin’s case, the blend of blindly ambitious head coach, enabling owner, career-threatening injury and blatant smear campaign was crippling. He was not on a roster at all last year after barely surviving the 2016 season as the captain of the obviously-tanking Cleveland Browns.
I resist, for now, the reflex that alerts my brain and Twitter fingers that Baltimore could easily draft a quarterback with the No. 16 pick—or with any of their picks in 2018—and simply cut Griffin before the season starts. Or the one that conjures up the clip of him getting thwacked by Jalen Mills in the 2016 opener, causing a shoulder injury that cost him nearly the entire season. Or the one that reminds me of my own lofty but eventually ridiculous projections for Griffin earlier that preseason, when he was chucking picture perfect touchdowns to Terrelle Pryor over Desmond Trufant. Over time, even the most optimistic person can see their sunny disposition eroded by the machinations of the NFL. Our wildest dreams are reserved for fan fiction.
But what if this is the one time we get one back? What are the odds—one in 10,000? One in 1,000,000? The Ravens have cemented their belief in one-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco despite the fact that his last five seasons have resulted in two winning records, a 62.8 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 82.1. Offensively, the Ravens are the NFL’s equivalent of a grocery store sandwich platter—a fine but largely unmemorable combination of soggy bread, tomatoes, turkey and cheese.
It’s ridiculous to assume that this will change, or that Griffin would ever supplant Flacco. With the one ounce of optimism we have left, we can hope that this stint with the Ravens at least puts him back in the mix, serving as a successful rehab assignment of sorts. Griffin is only 28 years old, and while the balletic, edge-of-the-seat version of himself might have been buried a long time ago against Seattle on the bear trap turf at FedEx Field, there is still something left—enough that Hue Jackson and now John Harbaugh have gone through the trouble of working him out and handing him a roster spot.
If Griffin is just another roster placeholder, maybe we’ll get a little more cynical. Maybe the next general manager will drift toward the status quo and pay some exorbitant premium for an established, below-average quarterback to hang in the pocket and fire miles-deep interceptions. I think that’s something worth rooting against.