A mega-contract shouldn’t be on his mind right now. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has other things to worry about: improving in the pocket, returning to the path he was on pre-knee injury, winning games.
Yet, after San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick signed his contract Wednesday -- receiving $61 million guaranteed, though the breakdown of the contract is favorable to the Niners making that guaranteed amount a bit dubious -- it’s fair to wonder what the other young quarterbacks might receive next spring. That is, if teams decide to give them a new contract rather than just extend their rookie deals by one year, which they can do with first-round picks such as Griffin and Andrew Luck. Russell Wilson? As a third-round pick he'll get a new deal.
For Griffin, though, the path is less clear than it is with the others. Wilson won a Super Bowl, though Seattle’s defense was the star. But he’s also a good quarterback. Luck steadily improved and led his team to the playoffs his first two years.
It’s not a huge leap of faith to say Griffin will return to the path many expected him to be on pre-knee injury. He’s had a good offseason; he’s a year removed from surgery and ditched the knee brace and he no longer has friction with the head coach or offensive coordinator. Toss in the fact that Griffin has more explosive talent around him and it’s less of a stretch. He’s still a maturing player in many ways, but his drive is impressive. It would be silly to write him off after last season.
But he’s already had two ACL surgeries on his right knee and he still has to prove he can beat a team consistently with his arm. The read option is a nice change-up, but the long-term money is earned in the pocket. Yes, he’s also coming off a subpar second season. In fairness, the lack of an offseason hurt him considerably. The mistake made by many (myself included) was in thinking last August that it wouldn’t have the impact it did. I can tell you that while certain people were bad-mouthing Griffin behind the scenes late in the season, questioning his ability to improve in certain areas, those same people said not a word about these same things, say, in August. Not a word.
The Redskins don’t have to do anything with Griffin’s contract for a couple of years if they prefer. They could extend the deal next offseason (that’s what Carolina did with Cam Newton; he’ll receive $14.87 million this season) and then worry about the next contract after the 2016 season. By then they’ll have a great idea of where Griffin is headed.
It’s tough to compare Griffin to Kaepernick because the circumstances are different. The latter is 17-6 as a starter and 3-1 on the road in the postseason, having played in a Super Bowl. Kaepernick has a much better defense around him -- the Niners were a good team before he started a game. But he was hurt last year by not having good receivers. Griffin took a team that had finished in last place three straight years to an NFC East title. There were other factors, but he was a primary one, injecting a massive dose of hope.
Their stats are comparable. Griffin tops him in several areas, but Kaepernick has a better passer rating. In 29 starts, Kaepernick has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 5,046 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 93.8 rating. In 28 starts, Griffin has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 6,403 yards, 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a 91.5 rating.
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Kaepernick is built for a long career. The concern some had about Griffin coming out of college is that, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he might not be durable. It's still up for debate. Both players are not finished products. Some of the knocks on Griffin -- the need to better anticipate throws, failing to throw to a player who appeared open -- are things I saw from Kaepernick and Wilson at times during the past season and postseason. It just didn’t hurt them as much because their teams could still win without them having great games. (Kaepernick, by the way, has three touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 1-3 record vs. Seattle).
Kaepernick did excel against the blitz this past season, something Griffin did not do after doing just that as a rookie.
But Kaepernick earned his money. The next wave of quarterbacks will soon be in position to get theirs. Whether Griffin gets that sort of cash is up to him, of course. Play well and the franchise that gave up a lot to get him will pay a lot to keep him around.
The Redskins have time to make a decision. But Griffin needs to lay a strong case for himself this fall.