Landover, MD. — Robert Griffin III took a farewell lap. Before pregame warm-ups, the quarterback looped around the field and stopped often to sign autographs, pose for pictures, and chat with well-wishers. It’s unlikely he’ll do that again as a member of the Washington Redskins.
With the Green Bay Packers’ 35-18 victory in the NFC wild-card round at FedEx Field, the curtain is about to drop on Griffin’s time in Washington. The Redskins plan to re-sign starter Kirk Cousins and Griffin is not expected to return to the Redskins, who less than four years ago paid a king’s ransom to draft him.
“We all know one thing about this game: Things change fast,” said former Redskins running back Clinton Portis, who attended Sunday’s game. “Robert did great things for the franchise and the city in 2012. But it’s Kirk’s team now. That’s just the way it is.”
And that leads us to one of the most intriguing questions of the upcoming NFL off-season, something neither he nor teammates would discuss Sunday: Can he revive his career with another team?
It’s almost hard to remember now just how spectacular a dual-threat quarterback he was not so long ago. In Griffin’s rookie season, his success as a runner provided the foundation of Washington’s 2012 NFC East title, and his efficiency as a passer sealed it. He finished that season with 815 yards rushing on 120 total attempts, which came from a mix of designed runs and scrambles. But he also threw 20 TD passes and only five picks. Griffin was the NFL offensive rookie of the year in a season where Andrew Luck was fantastic — and Griffin deserved it.
After struggling because of injuries — which didn’t occur on designed runs, though he had 77 of those in 2012, second only to Cam Newton — and while trying to become primarily a pocket passer for the first time at any level, Griffin clearly needs a fresh start. And he does have time. He’s only 25 (he turns 26 in February), and this season on the sideline assures anyone interested that he’ll come in as healthy as he has been since he arrived in Washington. Several of the best players in Redskins franchise history think he has a shot.
“He’s going to get a second chance and he should get one,” former wide receiver Santana Moss said. “One thing this league has shown, numerous times, is that guys will get second chances. Whether you messed up off the field or you just weren’t what the coaches wanted, you can get your career going again. That’s proven.
“That first year, man, Robert was a rock star. Then different things happened. But he can take all those things, learn from them and get better. If Robert is like any of the best people in the history of this game, then he’ll use it all as motivation. But you look at a lot of these quarterbacks out there, and you mean to tell me Robert ain’t gonna get another chance?”
RG III’s magical 2012 season might seem like a distant memory, but he’s still just 25 years old. Manny Flores/Icon SMI
Moss underscored his point by pointing to Brian Hoyer’s dismal performance in the Houston Texans’ 30-0 playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Texans’ starter had a career-high four interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one. And Hoyer starts for a playoff team.
Obviously, Hoyer’s performance — or that of any other signal-caller this season — won’t specifically determine what happens next for Griffin, “but just look around the league,” Moss said. “Look at some of the guys out there starting on different teams.
“There’s a lot of guys [quarterbacks] who have never done nothing close to what Robert has. Robert has already done it big. He has already been that guy. I’ve told him he can be that guy again. Now, he’s gonna have to make some changes. He’ll have to get better in the pocket. But he can do it.”
Well, we’ll see.
Under both Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden, Griffin displayed little progress as a drop-back passer. Two head coaches essentially gave up on him. Other teams won’t ignore that. Any franchise that considers pursuing Griffin must understand this: If they plan to use him in a conventional pro-style offense, they’re taking on a project. While buried on the depth chart, the third-stringer missed out on those first-team practice reps considered essential for young signal-callers. Active only in Week 6 against the New York Jets, Griffin did not appear in a game this season. There will be rust.
Griffin, though, still has off-the-charts athleticism. His arm strength is as impressive as ever, as evidenced by how he whipped the ball around the field in warmups after receiving all those pats on the back.
“He has a lot of the physical attributes to go someplace else and have a chance,” former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said. “But like any player, he has to be put in a position to succeed. If he’s in that perfect position, maybe it can work.
“But it won’t just be given to him. I don’t think there are any teams out there that will just say, ‘Oh, he’s Robert Griffin III. Here you go.’ He’s going to have to really be willing to go out and work for it.”
Griffin didn’t work hard enough on his craft, some coaches used to say. Sure, he was a beast in the weight room. But they thought Griffin could have done more in the film room.
This season, Griffin generally has received high marks for his effort off the field. A lightning rod for controversy during his first three seasons, Griffin stayed in the background in 2015. He displayed refreshing maturity in handling a difficult situation.
“You can’t take anything away from what he [did] this year,” said Portis, who’s second on Washington’s all-time rushing list. “He did everything he could to help the Redskins.”
Judging by Griffin’s warm pregame reception, many fans must have felt similarly. As Griffin made his way up the tunnel before kickoff, several Redskins fans shouted, “Thank you, Robert! Thank you!”
For Griffin and the Redskins, they’ll always have 2012. But it’s time to move on.