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Injuries, performance led to downturn of RG III's career with Redskins

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Redskins release RG III (2:58)

ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim discusses why Robert Griffin III's tenure in Washington ended with the quarterback's release. (2:58)

Robert Griffin III arrived in Washington as the Redskins' quarterback savior, someone who would solve a two-decade quest for stability at the position. He leaves after his first contract, having been inactive for all but one game this past season.

Here’s what went wrong:

Injuries

Durability was one of the biggest questions surrounding Griffin coming out of Baylor. It proved to be one of his undoings in Washington. It’s why many suggested the zone-read option game was not a good long-term action for him, though almost all of his injuries occurred off scrambles: a concussion, two knee injuries and a fractured ankle. He suffered concussion-like symptoms after getting hit in a 2015 preseason game, sidelining him for two weeks.

Early last training camp, one Redskins coach said, "Forget about the Robert from 2012, that player doesn’t exist anymore."

Though he was still fast, the Redskins felt the injuries reduced his explosiveness and forced him to become a pocket passer much sooner than he was ready. Griffin’s first major injury cost him an entire offseason after his rookie year as he had to rehab from ACL/MCL surgery.

When he returned for the opener, the rust and difference in his game was evident; defenses played him differently. One opposing defensive coach that season admitted they did not fear Griffin’s legs anymore.

In 2014, Griffin’s ankle injury cost him six games and, once more, the reps he needed to develop. The lack of explosiveness showed, too: Griffin averaged 6.79 yards per run as a rookie and only 4.63 in 2014. As a rookie, 21.7 percent of his runs went for at least 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Two years later, it was down to 15.7 percent.

A common refrain from many: Let Griffin do what he does well. The Redskins, right or wrong, struggled to find what that was.

Performance

Without the threat of his legs, the game changed for Griffin and more spotlight shone on any passing deficiencies. The Redskins always knew the zone read would not be sustainable and that Griffin would have to evolve as a passer to survive and flourish.

Injuries sped the process, and though he needed more time in the pocket, that wasn’t always a panacea for him. In his last two seasons, when Griffin held the ball for 2.70 seconds or longer he threw eight touchdowns, 10 interceptions and had a passer rating of 68.4 (it was 105.3 as a rookie), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The average passer rating in this situation was 83.7.

The Redskins replaced Mike Shanahan with Jay Gruden in 2014, hoping he could grow Griffin’s game. Gruden wanted to develop him in the pocket, reducing the focus on the zone read. But early in their first camp together, there already were whispers from other coaches on the staff about Gruden’s dissatisfaction with Griffin and his instincts as a passer. Indeed, there was talk, too, that Gruden would have preferred Kirk Cousins to open the 2014 season.

The low point for Griffin was a Week 11 loss to Tampa Bay in 2014. Afterward, Griffin tried to explain the struggles and mostly focused on himself, but at one point said he needed his teammates to play better. He wasn’t wrong, but the coaches didn’t like that he didn’t leave the focus on himself.

A day later, Gruden ripped into him, saying he consistently took the wrong number of steps when dropping back to pass and failed to find the right targets.

"From his basic performance just critiquing Robert it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from the quarterback position," Gruden said at the time.

Still, the Redskins handed him the starting job last offseason less than two months after Gruden said he would let the quarterbacks battle it out. But they also would say this: Griffin will enter camp as the starter, but there was no guarantee beyond that. And when they didn’t see changes in his game -- despite them trying to sell so otherwise, not even knocking him privately -- they turned to Cousins. Before a change was made, some players went to the coaches to lobby for a new starter. One teammate said he knew from the first spring practice that while Griffin had worked out hard in the offseason, he had not made the necessary changes to become a good quarterback.

Controversy

As a rookie, Griffin attracted headlines for his play. But the following three years it was mostly for controversy, not always of his own doing. Griffin’s fame had made him an intense target for coverage, local and national.

Behind the scenes, there was friction with he and coaches in 2013 about how he was used or his level of trust in them, based on how often they called zone-read runs following a minor knee injury his rookie season. There was concern about his level of entitlement in the organization -- coaches and some players worried about his relationship with owner Dan Snyder and would share stories of how he would tell them he would put in a good word with the owner for them. Coaches even worried that if they pulled him from the Seattle playoff game his rookie year, even as he hobbled, that it would ruin their relationship with Griffin.

Stories popped up about how the entire locker room disliked him. Though that was hyperbolic, it was true that there were definite issues and that he had his strong detractors and others who viewed him as aloof. Players and coaches often said they were exhausted having to answer questions about comments or the drama involving Griffin -- again, not always of his doing. Make no mistake, Griffin’s name was good for any site desiring clicks. And once it became clear that Shanahan would not return, stories with anonymous sources appeared detailing issues the team had with Griffin.

Of course, the controversies became an even bigger deal for a simple reason: Griffin’s production wasn’t good enough. Ultimately, this is a crucial point. There have been stories about Russell Wilson's popularity in Seattle’s locker room, for example, but his play has squelched any real controversy. Because Griffin wasn’t playing well, and because others had problems with him behind the scenes, the stories always came out and made noise.

Griffin’s start did not foreshadow the turn his career in Washington eventually took. But a series of factors conspired against him; and now any promise he once had will be realized elsewhere, if at all.