On March 24th, Robert Griffin III signed a deal with the much maligned Cleveland Browns, the team that originally tried to trade up for him back in the 2012 NFL Draft. Pundits immediately rushed to mock this move, saying the two deserved each other. And after the off-season the Browns have had, they’re not wrong for predicting failure in Cleveland in 2016. The Browns lost offensive linemen Travis Benjamin and Alex Mack, as well as safety Tashaun Gipson, and the team’s leading wide receiver in 2016, Travis Benjamin to free agency. This was before cutting controversial first round pick, Johnny Manziel after a tumultuous tenure in Cleveland that makes Griffin’s time in Washington look like a honeymoon. As a team that won only three games in 2015, to have such a poor off-season does not raise a ton of confidence moving forward. This is why Robert Griffin III to Cleveland makes sense.
Before the 2012 draft began, the St. Louis Rams held the second overall pick. With then franchise quarterback Sam Bradford on the roster, head coach Jeff Fischer had no interest in collegiate prospects Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, so he began shopping the pick. After an intense bidding war ensued, one that was rumored to also include the Cleveland Browns, Fischer and the Rams made a deal with the Redskins that would send their second overall pick in 2012 to Washington for their first round picks from 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as their second round pick from 2012. It was assumed by most fans and experts that the Washington Redskins would select whichever quarterback the Indianapolis Colts, who held the first overall pick, passed up on.
The Indianapolis Colts selected Andrew Luck, and the Redskins grabbed Griffin III, who many believed head coach Mike Shannahan preferred anyway. Griffin went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign. With a rare combination of athleticism and arm strength, Griffin would be responsible for 4,015 yards and 27 total touchdowns with only 7 turnovers as he helped the Redskins win their first NFC East title since 1999.
The Redskins helped popularize the read option in the NFL by exploiting mismatches on defense and using Griffin III’s athleticism.
Griffin would typically come out in the shotgun with a running back, and two or more receivers out wide. They ran the ball often, so Griffin was able to use play action to great effect. When Washington snapped the ball, Griffin would fake the ball to running back Alfred Morris, and then he had two hot reads. If neither receiver were open, he could take off and run the ball himself. By doing this, he and the Redskins were able to greatly lower the number of bad plays by turning passing plays that would’ve either been incomplete or intercepted, and turning them into positive yardage on the ground.
As a rookie, the numbers don’t lie, the Redskins found success. But unfortunately, the offense proved to be costly as all of the hits began to add up. The human body just is not built to take the kind of punishment it often does on the gridiron, and at 6’2, and only 222 pounds, injuries would hamper Griffin’s play in the post-season and moving into 2013. In his second season, the Redskins would go 3-13, head coach Mike Shannahan would be fired, and Griffin’s numbers would drastically fall.
Griffin would be hurt early in his third season, and while competing with Colt McCoy and draft-mate Kirk Cousins, his playtime in new head coach Jay Gruden’s offense was limited. By 2015, Griffin was inactive for all 16 games, and then released. Towards the end of Griffin’s time in Washington, he became a bit of a punchline. Rumors came out that he was a diva, that he was unpopular with the locker room, and that he feigned injuries to avoid playing in games. Considering how much the Washington Redskins gave up for Griffin, it’s no surprise that some resentment lingered as he failed to perform there.
In this way, he and the Browns have a lot in common. For every year, the Dawg Pound faithful come in expecting the most, and go home disappointed. From the looks of their offseason, the Browns may be intentionally tanking, hoping to rebuild in 2017, but since Hue Jackson is Cleveland’s fifth head coach in the last six years, he knows he has to impress if he hopes to keep what is already his second head coaching job.
Despite Jackson’s questionable player management ability, both in Cleveland and in Oakland, one thing he has always done well is coach quarterbacks. He’s been in charge of offenses that have gotten respectable numbers out of Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, and even Jason Campbell. Jackson’s ability to get the best from his players has made him very popular with players and coaches around the league, and in Cleveland, they expect nothing less than fireworks on offense.
This is where Robert Griffin III comes in. While it’s true that the Browns may still draft a quarterback with the second overall pick, it’s worth noting that the jury is still out on whether Griffin can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s only 26 years old, and after taking an entire season off, finally healthy. There’s no question that the athleticism that made him the second overall pick four years ago is still there.
The Cleveland Browns did not select Griffin with the second overall pick. The Browns are signing him for a fraction of what he made as a rookie with the Redskins, and if he never throws a pass for them, it will be no big loss. There’s no pressure on him to lead the Browns to the Promised Land. In a much more relaxed setting, paired with an offensive-minded genius like Jackson, there’s no reason that Griffin can’t thrive.
Nobody is saying Robert Griffin III is going to make the Browns contenders this season, and that’s why he finally has a chance to succeed. If he and Jackson can get back to basics, and he gets the playing time he needs, they have been able to steal a franchise quarterback for almost nothing. And if not, then Cleveland loses almost nothing. There’s no risk, and all reward.