The Dysfunction In D.C.

What in the world is happening in Washington? Trying to make some sense of Mike Shanahan's decision to bench Robert Griffin III and what it means for the head coach, the star quarterback, the owner and the future of the franchise

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·
With Washington sitting at 3-10, Mike Shanahan decided to bench star quarterback Robert Griffin III in favor of backup Kirk Cousins for the remainder of the season. (Alex Brandon/AP)
With Washington sitting at 3-10, Mike Shanahan decided to bench star quarterback Robert Griffin III in favor of backup Kirk Cousins for the remainder of the season. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The NFL certainly is putting the “fun” into dysfunction these days.  In a season where we have seen what usually are internal issues bleed into public view—from the divorce in Tampa Bay between coach and starting quarterback to the exposure of the seamy underbelly of the Dolphins’ locker room—the spotlight now shifts to the passive-aggressive drama between Washington head coach Mike Shanahan and superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III.

In their public comments throughout the past year, I have never sensed these two faces of the franchise are on the same page.  There always appears to be disconnect.  The current situation is no different.

The decision

It is the ultimate irony that Shanahan—by inserting Kirk Cousins into the starting lineup for the remaining three games of a forgetful season—is protecting the future health of Griffin.  After having little hesitation to play an injured Griffin a year ago and risk his long-term availability, Shanahan is now making him a healthy scratch.  What a difference a year makes.

One interesting revelation from Shanahan’s press conference Wednesday was his defecting blame at the decision to allow Griffin to continue to play on an injured leg in last year’s playoff game, leading to serious injury.  It previously appeared that an eager player and a win-now coach overruled the team doctor, the esteemed Dr. James Andrews. Now, Shanahan provides a different narrative: it was the eager player and doctor overruling the cautious and concerned coach. 

Inferring the decisions as a correction learned from last year, Shanahan is proactively sitting Griffin to allow him full participation in the 2014 offseason program.  While many speculate that this is a move to provoke a reaction from owner Daniel Snyder—who has wisely stayed above the fray—my sense is this is more personal to the quarterback rather than an affront to the owner. In fact, Shanahan said he ran the decision to bench Griffin past Snyder, and the owner said he wouldn’t stand in the way of the coach’s lineup decisions.

I do not think this is a move by Shanahan to get himself fired; I think this is a move to try to put a player in his place because Shanahan perceives him as (1) becoming bigger than he should and (2) not playing well.  To me, this decision speaks to a demotion of Griffin for both on-field and off-field reasons rather than an admission of error in playing him last January and rushing him back for a subpar 2013 season.  

The backup

I have long thought the selection of Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft was a poor choice.  Cousins, who was professional and deferential in his comments Wednesday, might go on to have a long and productive career as an NFL quarterback. But this is not about Cousins; this is about wasting a draft pick on a position where several draft picks were just exhausted.

Washington clearly went all-in on Griffin, selling off three first-round picks and a second-round pick for him.  And having just spent four highly valuable draft picks on a quarterback, Washington then drafts … a quarterback?

While Griffin is a potential star, Washington sorely needs the depth that multiple draft picks provide.  Successful teams have an infrastructure of young and ascending players at fixed and reasonable costs to balance spending on star veterans.  When a team mortgages multiple picks as Washington did for Griffin (or the Falcons did for Julio Jones), the hidden downside is weakened depth.

I have heard the narrative of “Well, they can get value for Cousins in a trade!” And yes, when I was in Green Bay we ended up trading draft picks such as Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks.  However, those players were drafted behind an older, established quarterback with eventual succession a possibility.

Cousins clearly is not the future in Washington and he realizes that; he plays the same position as a player on which the team has bet the future. Simply, if Kirk Cousins is starting beyond this month, the team has a lot bigger problems than what is going on now.

Owner Daniel Snyder (center) and coach Mike Shanahan mortgaged the future of the franchise to trade up and select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft. (Rod Aydelotte/AP)
Owner Daniel Snyder (center) and coach Mike Shanahan mortgaged the future of the franchise to trade up and select Robert Griffin III in the 2012 NFL Draft. (Rod Aydelotte/AP)

The owner

I grew up a few miles away from Dan Snyder and, like him, have many fond childhood memories of going to RFK Stadium with my father and rooting on our team.  Over the years, mainly due to working for competing teams, I lost my fandom.  Snyder not only continued to be a fan, but also bought the team. 

Snyder and Shanahan appeared to have a close relationship through the early part of their partnership in Washington, even taking vacations together with their wives.  Yet when asked last Sunday about his relationship with Snyder, Shanahan said, “This is not the time or place to talk about it.”  Translation: “It’s not good.”

Although it’s not clear when the Snyder-Shanahan relationship soured, my sense is it involves Griffin. Snyder has shown a history of being enamored with his star players, and the Snyder-Griffin relationship might have developed to the point where Griffin feels he is empowered to turn to the owner at any time, for any reason.  If true, that must infuriate Shanahan.

To be fair, Griffin is not the only NFL star player to be treated differently by management and ownership. The NFL is not a democracy. Do we believe that if a lesser player did what, say, Riley Cooper or Aldon Smith did, they would still be with the Eagles or 49ers? Of course not.

In my experience with a franchise player, Brett Favre did have some special privileges later in his career, but I never felt that he abused them. I remember sitting with Brett one day and he said, “Andrew, I really appreciate how you allow my dad to be around here so much.”  I responded, “Brett, your father could be Charles Manson and we would allow him to be here.”   He looked at me a bit cross-eyed, but he got my point: for a player that moves the needle for the team, the team will, at times, grant special treatment.

The general manager

Strangely silent in this passive-aggressive difference of opinion is general manager Bruce Allen.  Generally, it is my view that Allen has been successful in corralling the impulses and emotions of Snyder.  Prior to Allen, the perception around the league about Washington was that player agents and, in some cases, players could bypass management to get what they wanted from Snyder in contract negotiations.  Allen has largely restored calm and added a layer of reason to team decisions.

Allen must be feeling very conflicted as a friend and confidante of both Shanahan and Snyder.  Knowing Bruce, however, he is in the end a realist: he must ultimately align with the owner in this situation and eventually will explain it to Shanahan as business, not personal.  Allen wants to be left standing above water when the levee breaks in a few weeks.

The future

In many ways, nothing will change going forward in 2014.  Griffin still is the anointed one; Cousins still the backup or bartered for a draft choice; Snyder still enamored with his fresh-faced star.

The coaching situation, however, appears headed for change, the only question being what it will be termed before the paperwork is turned over to the lawyers to haggle over $7 million remaining on Shanahan’s contract. I would expect Shanahan’s assistants already to be reaching out in the coaching community to be on alert for other possibilities.

Griffin, a radiant personality with great magnetism, eventually will be better served with as many references as possible to “we” as opposed to “me.” Teammates and coaches have become sensitive—perhaps overly so—to some of his comments. For the sake of his relationships in the locker room, Griffin needs to err on the side of using the “team” clichés, and perhaps even resume his media obligations from his locker, where other players are interviewed, as opposed to the podium.

These three weeks of coach-imposed inactivity can one day be looked upon as a minor hitch in an otherwise long and productive career.  Pending continued health, Griffin can still develop into the dynamic player he appeared destined to become this time last year.  However, the noise around him needs to lower and the team around him needs quality depth.

Ultimately, the key is whether a pending removal of Shanahan will spark renewed improvement, focus and team-oriented success rather than empowerment and indulgence of its young star.  Stay tuned.

34 comments
Stevo1
Stevo1

As usual, there is so much wrong with Washington that it's like trying to grab a cloud.  If Shanahan didn't know that Griffin was hurt after watching the first series of the 3rd quarter with Seattle last year, then he should just hang it up.  I knew it and stopped watching.  Now, Shannie would have us believe that he is benching RGIII to protect him.  What about that one-legged QB we had for the first 6 or so games this year?  Shanahan fails the basic requirement of a coach---do not let injured players into the game.  Snyder, for a change, appears almost harmless in this scenario.  But that is because he has stopped 90% of his intrusive machinations, although he may be allowing RGIII more power than he has earned. RGII is in the locker room?  Why, is he a coach, maybe a player?  RGIII ran a national campaign that promised he would start in the first game.  Good business/advertising plan, poor football plan.  Cousins is blameless, a class act.  I'd rather have Kirk plus the draft picks we gave up for RGIII.   Oh, well, there's always next year.  (Hey, we maybe we should change the name to that--the Washington there's always next year.)

ki.nazir72
ki.nazir72

The Author of this piece would allow, Charles Manson to come hang out at the Packer's facility if he were Brett Favre's dad, just to appease him, taking nothing away from Favre. Really! I believe he would have done it too and with a straight face of conviction justified his actions as rational. I suppose he would have allowed Jerry Sandusky too if he were Favre's dad. I'm curious just how many villains he would allow onto the Packer's facility to make Favre happy lol! Was he joking? Perhaps. How long oh lord, how long lol!


Let Shanahan take his son and Kirk Cousins to Houston, Houston gives up their 1st pick to the Skins. Everyone but the fans get what they want...

TChara
TChara

23 years ago headlines: John Elway lost millions of endorsements when Doug Williams won Super Bowl. 1 Christian coach had the moral strength to build a strong O line, safe locker room to give all people in DC the only Winning Afro Amer. SuperBowl QB ever in a league of 80% diversity. Joe Gibbs didn’t call plays & protection that would result in sacks, hurries for unwanted QB, he didn’t leak QB criticism to media to setup a QB shutdown and humiliation of most celebrated Afro American rookie QB ever. He treated J Campbell, D Williams with respect as much as possible in a league craving for the shameful status quo. Thanks J Madden, M Irvin, k. Warner for integrity wish you had the 14 million to give Coach to ride off into the sunset. Maybe owner will bring in a good team for stability and honor instead of money.

calhounite
calhounite

Griffin is shot. Just another eminently sackable qb with no special skills. The REASON Cousins was drafted was so that he could be inserted into a playoff game and still have a shot at winning. Would not have been a draft mistake at all. Put Cousins in during last year's playoff run, and would still have a qb with his extraordinary mobility could have redefined the position.

richard.lustberg
richard.lustberg

The situation in Dalas is dysfunctional read more at psychologyofsports.com

Fleeb
Fleeb

If he'd given him the first three off instead of the last three, they wouldn't be in this position now.

Jon8
Jon8

Shanahan is done with the REDSKINS and knows it and so is exacting his petty revenge on Griffin!


Sadly, Griffin may also be finished! We will never know for sure whether his injury last year was career ending, in and of itself, or whether Shanahan's disregard for Griffin's future by continuing to play the clearly lame QB, was the coup de grace, but Griffin is not what he was and shows no sign of regaining that form!


Snyder, to his credit, has stayed off the field and let Shanahan make the decisions, unlike the ubiquitous Jerry Jones!


Now Snyder must fire Shanahan and start over with a new Head Coach and maybe a new QB, as well as, a bunch of new players!


Sad days in Washington, both in government and sports!!



Mark20
Mark20

Dan Snyder is the one of the worst owners in the NFL. How many years (except last year) have they had a losing season? 15? I get a kick out of the media "analyzing" this. What's to analyze? The team is terrible, there is no defense, the QB looks lost, and appears not to have completely healed. What's the mystery? he should have been benched long ago. Like in last year's playoff game.

George
George

This is the Mike Shanahan that not only threw an injured Griffin to the wolves last season, but also sent a migraine-blind Terrell Davis in to act as a decoy on a goal-line play.   I don't really want to hear about how concerned he is now for his qb's health.


But that's nothing compared to snyder.  Hyperbolic as it may sound, he may be more of a franchise-killer than Jerry Jones.  


If Washington fans however are suckers enough to keep buying tickets, I suppose it doesn't matter HOW dysfunctional the franchise has become.  I'm certainly no chiefs fan, but I was impressed how the kc fans essentially ran the jerk pioli out of town.  I wonder if Washington fans have the sack to boycott until Snyder gives up and sells the team.   That's the only way out of this mess.  Jerks like Dan the midget never change.

ekowalc1973
ekowalc1973

Just a thought...and I am an admitted Bills fan so take it as you will...with the obvious need for depth and more of a cast around RGIII, does anyone think this is a move by Shanahan to potentially increase the trade value of Cousins?  If Cousins does well they could command a larger trade deal for more picks from an interested team.  With no first rounder in 2014, it could be a plan to show what Cousins can do (assuming he does well) and get some much needed picks for Washington in a trade...the rest of this could be smoke and mirrors...

Hogskin
Hogskin

I get what you are saying about the 3 first round picks. But in a sense, they are correct when they say that. If he had been available for the 6th pick, it would have been correct to say they spent a first round (#6) pick for him. In that same sense, they DID spend 3 first round picks to get him. They got RGIII instead of THREE other first rounders over 3 years. That is what he cost the team. BTW, great article!

dudedadesq
dudedadesq

Bruce Allen isn't just silent...he's just a figurehead.  No sane, qualified GM will work for Snyder, which is why this franchise -- which I cherish -- will continue to circle the drain. I knew Dan as well, when we were at U of MD together.  He has stayed true to form, unfortunately for the Redskin fans....

Phroggo
Phroggo

Anyone who saw the Shanahan press conference yesterday must come to realize how locked-in Dan Snyder is to the team name.  He just can't bring himself to fire the only guy in the outfit who actually has red skin.

PritchBomb
PritchBomb

The kid looks lost on the field. He's not playing well and his coach, while regretting his decision to play him in the playoffs last year, is actually doing him a favor. It doesn't matter that he is the face of the franchise. Right now he stinks, and the coach's job is to try to win games. Sure Cousins isn't the team's long term solution, but he may be in a better position to win games in the short term. RGIII is awful right now.


Still, it is a ballsy move by Shanahan.

spdoug
spdoug

Always enjoy the articles. But with all due respect there's one statement about the Redskins draft picks that is incorrectly used over and over by the media to make it appear worse than it is (not saying it's good).

"Washington clearly went all-in on Griffin, selling off three first-round picks and a second-round pick for him."

The team did not sell off three first round picks. The year they drafted RGIII they traded up their first round pick from #6 to the #2 pick of the Rams. I don’t see how this is considered “selling off” their first round pick when they moved up in the order to the #2 spot. So we can say we gave up 2 future first round picks but not 3 when we in theory improved on that one. I hear the media always use the 3 first round picks without factoring in that we got something better in return for one of them.

Okay, I now feel better. Back to the mess in DC. 


Hello1813
Hello1813

RG3 played well last year and rarely made bad decisions.  This year after returning from the injury, it wasn't that his passes were just bad.  But a lot of times he would make bad decisions or not see the entire field.  Part of it is that defenses have figured out the read-option.  Part of it is that he looks lost out there at times.  He & his father want him to be a traditional QB but I don't think either of them realize the amount of work it will take.  I think the success RG3 had last year made him think it would be an easy transition.  


There is going to be backlash due to the perception of his off-field life and constant commercials.   What he really needs to do is work with the next coaching staff relentlessly to play QB at a traditional level (reading defenses and progressing through the various reads, taking snaps from center, improving his passing mechanics to become a consistent accurate thrower from the pocket.  It is a lot of work to be done and a lot of dedication will be needed.  It will really depend on him if he wants to be a good QB or end up like Vince Young and others that were just a flash in the pan and then ended up out of the league.

Rick1717
Rick1717

My kids and I saw this coming last year. You don't have to be a SI writer or a NFL GM to see very clearly that RG3 is a narcistic all about me, my brand, my commercials, me, me, me player. It was an an easy call. He is a decent player. Maybe some humble pie is what he needs. I doubt it. Cousins will only make this a much bigger mess by his play. Wait and see.

rskins09
rskins09

Cousins  - a poor 4th round draft pick ? ... You gotta be kidding ...Just look at all the backup NFL QB's playing now in Green Bay, Oakland, Cleveland, and especially  Houston ...Cousins is head and shoulders above all of them . I don't mean he's the next Johnny Unitas ..Cousins played extremely well last year for a rookie  and is probably better than at least  16 QB in the NFL now ..Thirty-two  starting QB in the NFL ----   do the math ..Every NFL team needs a good back up QB with all the injuries in the NFL ..

stevesturm1
stevesturm1

Stating up front that I'm not a fan of either Snyder, Shanahan, Griffin or the Redskins...

I look at the situation like this: Griffin has clearly regressed, at a minimum, he hasn't gotten better at improving his fundamentals (going through the progression, etc.).  So why leave him in the game when the games no longer matter, when he isn't using the time to improve and he's taking a beating?  Shanahan is correct that the last thing the team needs is for Griffin to get hurt again.  Put another way, in what way does it benefit the Redskins to keep him on the field?

srlarson
srlarson

What I haven't heard is the angle they are playing cousins to showcase him for a trade to try and recover some draft picks.  If you can take a low draft pick....showcase the player and turn it into a 2nd or so....with all the teams needing qb's gotta be a trade market for a capable qb....

Fourier_Fan
Fourier_Fan

Disappointing story.  Pure pablum, rehashes what has been written in other outlets.  No new insights.  Expected much better from a MMQB staffer.


Mathonwy
Mathonwy

Three of Shanahan's four seasons ended with double-digit losses. Should any coach be retained with such a poor record? Though a total jock sniffer, Snyder is a smart businessman and knew that the fifth year of a five year contract would essentially be severance pay should the first four end poorly. I doubt if the money would stand in the way of Snyder dismissing Shanahan should he decide it necessary. And, oh boy is it necessary.

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

In my view, the gold standard of the Owner-GM-HC-QB relationship in the NFL is the New England Patriots.After all, which such combo in NFL history can boast of a better winning record than the 145-42 (.775) of the Kraft-Belichick-Brady era?There isn’t a more important relationship on any football team than that of the head coach and quarterback, and Brady/Belichick is the model.I don’t ever recall reading about a single instance where Brady and Belichick weren’t on the same page or "singing off the same sheet of music."

PritchBomb
PritchBomb

@George I don't think it's a question of RGIII being healthy as much as his being completely lost this year at his position. I also think your point about him playing his players hurt is true to a point, but in both those cases, they were playoff games and all hands are on deck. That doesn't make it right, but it's also not the same thing as having your franchise QB (who is playing awful), sit out the remainder of a losing season. Little Danny Snyder is fine where he is. Same for Jerry Jones. They are good for the NFL, and we should let them do whatever they want with their teams.


signed, NY Giant fan



anon76
anon76

@George

Not sure what the  TD reference is supposed to mean.  Do you think he was endangering Davis' health by using him as a decoy?  TD went into the locker room after that play and didn't come back until the 3rd quarter, when his migraine issues had cleared up.  Not sure why you'd want to fault Shanahan on that one.

JBub
JBub

@ekowalc1973Its a perspicacious thought. The NFL is a business. In the end personal feelings take a back seat.

oldguy68
oldguy68

I agree, and I think the fact that there are three very good young quarterbacks in his mold has caused the defenses to tailor themselves to that type of offense. So if he seems more lost than last year, I suspect he is seeing different defenses this tear

JohnElliott
JohnElliott

Rick, I agree completely. Cousins will play well and once he does the situation becomes even worse for RG3. Much like Elway only wanting a pocket passer or traditional QB where did he learn that from but Shanahan. Cousins fits that mold where RG3 looks lost and clearly is not comfortable. Could it be we are seeing then end of RG3 like so many others such as Vince Young. From the start this was the coaching staff for RG3. The guy really only had 6games at the end of his college career that put him high on the draft board. As much BS as Shanahan is getting over this I think career wise he is doing the kid a huge favor now to see if he respondes which I don't think he will his personality will take it wrong.

George
George

@anon76 @George Ok - we'll tape your eyes shut, and then put you in as the running back to be faked to on a goal line play.   Hope your insurance is paid up.

:D


Magic_Octopus
Magic_Octopus

That's not just your view, that's a common view. I think that is exactly what Redskins and many others would like to do. But tell me, if a team wanted a future HOF coach and future HOF QB how should they go about getting them? It's not like you can just walk to the supermarket and pick them off the shelf. Patriots got lucky. Belichick is a genius. There aren't that many geniuses in the world.

goggles225
goggles225

He's saying the model calls for a HOF QB and coach, and you can't just find those anywhere, that's why the Patriots are so effective.  He certainly didn't call RG3&out HOF. 

Rick1717
Rick1717

Who is the future HOF QB?  Griffen?  Are you kidding?  Wow!

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