Before you get all heated, this isn't designed to be a Griffin apology piece. Rather, this is a look at a real situation that can happen in the NFL, and the results it can have on a football team. Also, I believe we can all agree that we wouldn't even be having this conversation if Griffin was selected outside the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
First, it's important in the context of the discussion to bring up the health of Griffin, and the state of the team since he's been a part of it.
We are all familiar with the knee injury that ended Robert's magical rookie season. The freak hit by Ravens All-Pro defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, while he attempted to chase down the fleet-of-foot quarterback, was something no one could have predicted, and few should be so quick to critize Griffin for. He(Griffin)was simply doing what he's been doing his entire career playing quarterback - trying to make a play for his team. Critize his poor sliding ability if you choose, but he was attempting to get to the turf when the freak hit to his knee occurred. Critize his head coach Mike Shanahan if you will for allowing Griffin the freedom to be a runner first, and a passer second. Critize our offensive line if you'd like for not offering the greatest protection for the young rookie. But really, truly, the criticism should not be directed towards Griffin for doing what comes natural to him. He is what he is, and we knew that when we drafted him. It would be like buying a young throughbreed race horse for millions of dollars, then hooking a carriage up to him, and have him pull tourists around Central Park.
So, the injury happened.....now we move on.
Well, year two of his young career sees a turn south, as Mike and Kyle Shanahan try to turn the second year pro into a pocket passer. Yes, a new form of Shanahans offense needs to be learned during the offseason - yes, the same offseason that saw the young signal caller spend countless hours rehabbing his injured knee, just so he could be ready to lead his team in September. The lack of a "true" quarterback coach and a full offseason to hone his craft CERTAINLY couldn't have helped the Pro Bowler.
Now, when you have an offense that was predicated on deception, that now changes to a more traditional pro-style offense, you have to have more effective play from those players around you. Unfortunately, Robert did not get this help from his offensive line. He was under constant pressure when he dropped back to pass, as the aging, undersized line simply couldn't hold opposing defenses at bay. Will Montgomery, Kory Lichtensteiger, Chris Chester, Tyler Polumbus and Trent Williams made up the smallest offensive line in the NFL, and this weakness was evident week in and week out. Even a quarterback with a healthy knee couldn't evade opposing defenses, never mind one entering year two, coming off a serious injury, with almost no offseason to mature and grow as a professional.
Do we put the blame on Griffin?
Well, year two was a mess, and it resulted in the Shanahans being relieved of their duties. Enter rookie head coach Jay Gruden, who brought with him an entirely new offense(the third in three seasons Griffin will be forced to learn), and a completely new mentality. Two main issues: 1)little was done to improve the mess that was our offensive line, and 2)still no quarterback coach. How high can the expectations possibly be for Griffin going into year three with a new head coach, another offense, and numerous offseason distractions?
Well, if you think things couldn't get much worse, they did. Griffin, while attempting to use his legs to make a play after PRESSURE forced him out of the pocket, dislocated his ankle on a freak play after he released the football near the sideline. I don't know how many of you have ever dislocated an ankle, but I can tell you from experience that it is one of the most painful, and hardest injuries to return from, in football. I didn't think Griffin should have attempted to come back from such and injury last year. He could have easily pulled a Jay Cutler, but come mid-season, there he was again. The warrior we have all come to know, out there battling for his team.
Things were not pretty, but how could anyone expect them to be in the midst of all the dysfunction? Yet, media and fans alike are all quick to point the finger towards Robert. Was he to blame? Has he become a failure in just three short seasons? Does he interact too much on social media? Does he spend enough time in the film room?
There is another story here that doesn't get told. It's the story of other quarterbacks in the NFL who have gone through some adversity in their first few years in the league, and have gone on to be very successful starting NFL quarterbacks. What if their teams, or even other teams they ended up on, had given up on them after they suffered a setback or two?
How about Ben Roethlisberger; yes, the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben's first three years in the league, under a traditional pro-style offense, saw an average of 14 games played per season, with a 63% completion percentage, 2840 passing yards per season average, and a 17-14 touchdown to interception ratio. These were hardly the stats of a "franchise quarterback" yet the Steelers didn't just give up on their investment. Like Griffin, Roethlisberger was also dinged up earlier in his career, although not as bad as Robert was. Big Ben has gone on to become one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and his first three seasons in the league were not half as dysfunctional as Griffins.
Sam Bradford was the top pick in the 2010 draft. Like Griffin, he suffered setbacks due to injury and coaching changes. He averaged 14 games played over his first three seasons, with a 58% completion percentage, 3126 yards passing, and a 15-11 TD vs. INT ratio. Somehow, a perennial contender just traded for his services, and obviously believes in his future.
Matt Stafford was another quarterback who suffered through injury, poor play and coaching changes during his short career. Over his first three seasons in the NFL, he averaged just 10 games played per season, sporting a nifty 59% completion percentage, and throwing for and average of 2613 yards per season with a 20-12 TD vs. INT ratio. The Lions have been know to be pretty dysfunctional, but even they fail in comparison to the Redskins, and the injuries suffered by Griffin were much worse than those Stafford had. Yet, through all this, did the Lions give up on their young signal caller?
Young Alex Smith; came into the league with so much hype, but floundered behind a poor offensive line, and a team with limited offensive weapons. Sound familiar? Well, check this out - over Smith's first three NFL seasons, he averaged 11 games played per season, had a stellar 53% completion percentage, averaged 1560 yards passing, and had a touchdown to interception ratio of 6-10! Somehow, he is entering his 11th season as a professional quarterback, and has a coach in Andy Reid who believes in his abilities.
Other NFL veteran quarterbacks have had rough starts to their careers, yet turned out just fine. Phillip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Eli Manning all had rough patches early on in one form or another, but the league did not cast them off into the shadows. All three have went on to have solid careers.
Of all the quarterbacks mentioned, and even a few I didn't, not one has had to endure the challenges that Robert Griffin has had to endure during his first three seasons in the NFL. Not one current starting NFL signal caller has had two different head coaches, three new offenses, two major injuries, and the national media hype, and scrutiny that RG3 has gone through this early in his career.
Taking into consideration all he has gone through over these first three seasons, he still has averaged 12 games played per season, with a 65% completion percentage, and an average of 2700 passing yards with a 13-8 TD vs. INT ratio. Mundane you say, well factor this in - Griffin has rushed for an additional 1480 yards and eight touchdowns. Over a three year period, only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, who both played in all 16 games each season, had more rushing yards from the quarterback position.
Give me a season with no freak injuries. Give me one with limited distractions and dysfunction. Give me some continuity amongst the coaching staff. Let us have at least two seasons in the same offense, and finally, a real QB coach! Let me see how an offensive line in the NFL is supposed to look. Then, you can compare the production of our quarterback FAIRLY against his piers.
For those who are quick to turn on our young signal caller; take into consideration what he has had to endure in his first three years in the league. His story is far from written!