Over at The Undefeated, Jason Reid takes a long look at a complex question—why did Robert Griffin III fail in Washington?—and, somewhat disappointingly, operates under the theory that there can be a simple answer. Despite that, it’s a very worthwhile read as both a broad chronicle of a bizarre four years, and as yet another chance for former Skins coach Mike Shanahan to put the fault on everybody else.
The most striking anecdote in here takes place following Griffin’s rookie year, an incredible season ended by a controversial and crippling injury to the young QB.
Feb. 5, 2013 — Griffin called for a meeting. He declined to tell Mike Shanahan what he wanted to discuss, saying only it was important. Griffin, Mike and Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur gathered in the offensive meeting room at the team headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia. With the coaches seated, Griffin walked to a blackboard and wrote:
1. Change things.
2. Change our protections.
4. Bottom line.
Griffin instructed the coaches to let him speak uninterrupted and rolled through a list of grievances, stressing that substantive changes had to occur immediately. Scrap the pass protection scheme and start over, Griffin demanded. There were 19 plays — primarily those from the 50-series and quarterback draws — that were unacceptable. Griffin, who supported his presentation with video clips of each play, expected them to be deleted from the playbook. Bottom line, Griffin said, he was a drop-back quarterback — not a running quarterback.
It’s a pretty stunning scene—a 23-year-old with 16 career starts under his belt calling his coaches in and telling them How It’s Going To Be. If ever you needed an image to represent the messiest possible manifestation of the ever-evolving battle between coaches and QBs for power and leadership in the modern NFL, Griffin’s chalkboard lecture is it.
There’s more, though. Shanahan tells Reid that he instantly realized how Griffin had been so empowered—and whose language he was using.
“When Robert is standing there going through all of that, I know it’s coming from Dan [Snyder],” Shanahan said. “When Robert talked about ‘unacceptable,’ that was a word Dan used all the time. He was using phrases Dan used all the time. There’s only one way a guy who’s going into his second year would do something like this: If he sat down with the owner and the owner believed that this is the way he should be used.
“He had to have the full support of the owner and, in my opinion, the general manager to even have a conversation like that.”
As soon as Griffin finished, Mike Shanahan bolted to the owner’s office.
“I said to Dan, ‘Do you realize what you’re doing to this kid?’” Mike Shanahan asked.
There are two caveats to this story, the central anecdote of the piece. The first is that it apparently comes from Shanahan, who has shown no reticence in discussing the Skins’ dysfunction with any reporter who’ll listen. That’s not to say Griffin’s comportment and Snyder’s meddling aren’t being rightfully torched; it’s just to note that Reid’s main source for this story and his entire piece has a demonstrated interest in making himself look good.
The second is that this is the same drum, only louder and deeper, that Reid has been banging for a long time. Before joining ESPN in early 2015, he was the Skins beat writer for the Washington Post and his coverage of the Griffin saga always contained a palpable through line. In Reid’s telling, Griffin’s immaturity, selfishness, and lack of leadership make for an explanation in toto for his Icarian career arc, and no other factors are necessary. I would never dare say those things aren’t true, or that they didn’t play a role, even perhaps the largest one, in Griffin’s fall from grace, but I just can’t believe it can be as straightforward as that.
Maybe Griffin had an unrealistic picture of his own abilities, and maybe the Shanahans did a poor job of shaping an offense to their quarterback rather than the other way around. Maybe it was both. Here, we get just the one side, and it’s presented as complete.
The thing is, we’ll never know. Snyder and Shanahan and Griffin may have been all been toxic for each other, a big Mexican standoff of toxicity, but you can’t retroactively untwine one from the others. It was a true team effort. And Griffin, who might be ruined anyway, certainly hasn’t landed in the best situation for a career renaissance.