Redskins assume risk on RG III option -- to a point

Redskins will pick up RG III's $16.2M option for 2016

Chris Mortensen reacts to the news that the Redskins will exercise their fifth-year option on QB Robert Griffin's contract, which will keep him under Washington's contractual control through the 2016 season.

A couple of years ago, the talk about Robert Griffin III focused on the zone-read option. Now it’s the fifth-year option. It’s a risk the Washington Redskins apparently were willing to make.

The Redskins faced risk either way. In the end, they bet on Griffin having a better year, and they bet on his staying healthy. They did not want to gamble on both scenarios -- and then not have control of his contract for 2016.

So general manager Scot McCloughan announced Monday that the Redskins would indeed pick up the fifth-year option on Griffin, giving them control of their quarterback through the 2016 season. That is, if they want control. (There's more on the issue here).

The Redskins had to weigh the risk, and McCloughan told reporters that it came down to one point.

"He’s a good football player," McCloughan said during his pre-draft news conference Monday. "Everyone knows what he did [in 2012] when he was the offensive rookie of the year."

Griffin was indeed a transcendent player that season, showing an ability to hurt teams with his arm and his legs. If he gets back to that point, or somewhere close, then the Redskins would have nothing to worry about this offseason. He would be under contract for 2016, allowing them to focus on other potential free agents -- left tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. If Griffin has a great year, then he would be a third player the team would have to worry about trying to extend.

This removes that possibility. And just know that people close to Griffin say they have never seen him more focused or happy. I heard some of the same things last offseason: Griffin was a relaxed player with a new coach. But the season did not unfold the way he or the Redskins had hoped. One person who was on the Redskins’ staff when Griffin was drafted said he saw a player who was no longer confident. It showed in his play, whether in hesitation or simply the loss of the swagger he displayed as a rookie.

The hope for Washington and Griffin is that a second offseason healthy and spent learning coach Jay Gruden’s offense will improve his play. That and a focus on improving the line play. Those who think it was just about the right side have it wrong. Williams also needs to improve his play for this group to improve. He ended up in the Pro Bowl, but he needs to be more consistent. The hope for some is that line coach Bill Callahan can get him to that point.

All of that would be good for Griffin. And perhaps that can return him to 2012 levels.

But 2012 raises the questions of the risk involved in this decision. Before getting to that point, let’s start with the idea that the organization was split on Griffin after his play of the past two seasons. During 2014, it was difficult to see that Washington would pick up the option. But McCloughan came on board after the season, and one early comment he made about Griffin centered on this: He took the team to the playoffs as a rookie only two seasons earlier.

However, that 2012 season shows the risk. Here’s the deal with the option, based on multiple conversations with people in the game and the NFL Players Association: It’s guaranteed for injury only. That is a risk teams are willing to take if they view the player as a part of their future.

But if Griffin repeats his 2012 injury, tearing an ACL in the last game, then he would be unable to pass the season-ending physical. At that point his entire $16.2 million salary for 2016 would be guaranteed.

That’s not an issue if Griffin plays well. Washington will gladly keep him around in that situation. But if there’s a repeat of 2014 -- Griffin struggles but plays in December because of injuries to others -- it would run the risk of paying a big salary for a player who it wants to unload.

The risk can be mitigated. If Griffin is struggling and the team is losing, there is no reason to keep playing him. Therefore, the injury risk lessens. But there is a risk, and the Redskins just assumed it. I thought they might wait until after the draft, keeping alive the notion they might take Marcus Mariota -- for real or just a smoke screen. Now this issue becomes one more thing to watch this season. Griffin can do his part to lessen any risk and just play well. It’s the one outcome all parties involved would like to see.