Benching RG III can't just be about health

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
11:15
AM ET

ASHBURN, Va. -- For weeks, Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan preached patience with quarterback Robert Griffin III. After missing a full offseason following knee surgery, Shanahan knew Griffin needed two things: time and reps.

And now, with Shanahan’s job security in question, the coach did a 180-degree reversal. He's going to start Kirk Cousins instead of the quarterback who remains the future of the organization. Which makes you wonder: Why?

Shanahan said Monday that he was considering this move because he wanted Griffin healthy for a full offseason of development. Griffin has been sacked 24 times in the past five games, but Shanahan emphasized Monday that the second-year starter is healthy. Griffin has not shown the explosiveness he had last season when he rushed for 815 yards, but he also isn't injured. He just needs more time to develop as a pocket passer.

The motives could be deeper than that. Shanahan could be trying to force his own ouster, knowing that owner Dan Snyder would not be happy with this move. Snyder then would be forced to pay Shanahan the remaining money ($7 million) on his contract for next season.

The relationship between Snyder and Griffin has bothered Shanahan for some time. But sources close to Snyder said Tuesday that the owner would not intervene in any coaching decision. Snyder, sources said, was not prepared to fire Shanahan before the end of the season and does not want to come across as having made an emotional decision. Plus, there were reports earlier this week that Snyder was exploring whether he could fire Shanahan with cause and therefore not pay the remaining money on the contract.

Even privately Shanahan has mentioned the growing pains with Griffin and did not drop hints about such a move. But it's also clear that Shanahan likes Cousins and would have been fine had he opened the season with him. However, Shanahan also has known that Griffin was, and remains, the future of the franchise. Still, this feels like a parting shot by Shanahan with a desire to have this be a reason to get fired and collect $7 million.

But now it will get interesting. Griffin’s reaction will be closely monitored by teammates -- and everyone else for that matter. Griffin no doubt will understand this and, to him, it will feel like a benching. He wasn't happy that he didn't play in Cleveland last year after tearing his lateral collateral ligament the previous week. There's no way he'd be happy even if the reasoning was just to keep him healthy. He wants to play and prove himself.

The other questions: What happens if Cousins plays well over the next three games? How does that impact how players view the situation? Or a new coach? Griffin has the higher ceiling and has to be given every opportunity to develop. He does need a full offseason. And if Cousins does play well, perhaps the Redskins could recoup draft picks lost in the initial trade for Griffin.

Regardless, there will be a lot to discuss in coming weeks -- and months.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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