Cleveland Browns: Trying to buy into RG3
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have been linked to free agent quarterback Robert Griffin III, but is this a gamble that has any chance of paying off?
The Cleveland Browns have spent the better part of 23 disappointing years searching for their next franchise quarterback.
The team has tried the draft – four quarterbacks selected in the first round alone since 1999 – the free agent route – more bridge quarterbacks than any fan should have to remember – and picking through other teams’ waiver wires, all in a so far fruitless search for a player to entrust with the offense.
The Browns currently hold the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, and with the Tennessee Titans (who do not need a quarterback) selecting at No. 1, Cleveland should have its choice of the presumed top two quarterbacks in Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
There is also the possibility that the Browns are not as enamored with Goff and Wentz as expected, which leads us to Robert Griffin III.
Related: Browns expected to strike deal with RG3
The Browns visited with the free-agent quarterback over the weekend and are now reportedly the team to beat for his services. Griffin is an athletic player, although maybe no so much after suffering his second ACL injury to the same knee in a 2012 playoff game.
During his first two seasons in Washington, Griffin passed for more than 6,400 yards while throwing 36 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions. But in the past two years, Griffin appeared in just seven games – and none in 2015 after being inactive for 15 games – and threw for just 1,694 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. In his last 20 starts for the Redskins, he was also just 5-15, for those who care about such things.
So what happened to Griffin and why should the Browns be looking at him?
For starters, while Griffin’s athleticism was enough to get by in college, it takes more than just raw skill to succeed at the NFL level. (A lesson that the followers of a certain ex-Browns quarterback have failed to understand). It is an issue that was pointed out by National Football Post last September:
"For most to succeed in the NFL they must have excellent football character. Don’t be confused, football character is not personal character, they really don’t have much to do with each other."
"Football character is about the desire each player has to become great. It includes his work ethic, leadership, passion for the game and ability to be coached. Most players fail or bust because they lack a degree of football character. RGIII has great talent, but he lacks football character."
"When RGIII was growing up and in college everything came easy to him. He was a very smart kid and the best athlete on campus. When a player gets to the NFL, every player on every team is a great athlete, the best of the best. If a player wants to improve he has to work at it. Once RGIII got to the NFL he had never been in that kind of environment before. Things no longer came easy. He had to work and he didn’t know how."
Maybe it wasn’t all Griffin’s fault, however. While Mike Shanahan is over-rated as a head coach, Washington’s switch to Jay Gruden didn’t do Griffin any favors, as Fox Sports pointed out in January:
"There’s no denying that the Redskins needed to move on from Mike Shanahan when they did, and Gruden has certainly proven himself as an impressive offensive mind. However, Gruden’s success stories have involved two pocket passers with good mechanics but underwhelming arm strength in Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins. Gruden’s scheme was never a fit for Griffin. After operating in a simplified offense at Baylor, RG3’s breakout rookie season wasn’t all that complicated under Shanahan."
"The offense featured the zone-read option and a heavy dosage of plays designed to the “X” wide receiver. Gruden brought in a complicated scheme, with a lot of personnel packages and different route combinations. RG3 was never able to make a smooth transition to an offense that never really made sense for him at this stage of his career."
Of course, even when Washington’s coaches tried to make the offense as simple as possible Griffin still struggled, as Monday Morning Quarterback‘s Andy Benoit pointed out:
"Adding to Griffin’s physical lack of pocket subtlety and nuance is his limited comprehension of how routes relate to certain coverages. Time and again in 2014, Griffin failed to identify some of football’s most basic route combinations. There were even cases of his defined reads—that is, plays that present just one obvious place for the ball to go—being ignored. Head coach Jay Gruden or offensive coordinator Sean McVay would call a pass and have no idea whether it would be executed correctly. Worse, neither would the receivers. How can you coach a dangerous but frankly emotionally unpredictable guy like DeSean Jackson if he’s getting open but not seeing the ball?"
"Tying into all of this was a lack of anticipation in Griffin’s passing. In the NFL, you don’t necessarily have to sense receivers being open before they are, but it makes a world of difference if you can. And, naturally, there are a handful of routine plays each game that call for a little bit of anticipation. But Griffin, with his limited understanding of coverage-and-route relationships, never had an opportunity to develop any anticipation. And if you can’t develop it on your own, you can’t develop it at all. Most coaches agree: anticipation is one of the few quarterbacking traits that cannot be taught."
And that, Browns fans, is the bump in the road on Griffin being the answer for the Browns.
The biggest argument in favor of Cleveland taking a chance on Griffin is that head coach Hue Jackson will work his magic and transform Griffin into a winning quarterback or, if that fails, at least a viable quarterback. But if Griffin’s problems are ones that can’t be fixed, it is fair to question if the team’s time wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere.
Related: Cleveland Browns should give RG3 a chance
Griffin on the Browns represents the classic “low risk, high reward” move that has grown in favor in recent years in Cleveland. Of course, the Browns (and Cleveland’s other teams) always seem to have no trouble discovering the risk, but have never been able to reap the reward.
If the argument that Griffin is a better option than Colin Kaepernick, then that is a valid argument as Griffin will only cost the team money, rather than a draft pick in a trade.
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If the argument is that Griffin is a better option than Josh McCown, that may be a little less valid. While Griffin is more athletic than McCown, that doesn’t mean he is a better quarterback or a better option for what the Browns will need from their quarterback in 2016.
Griffin has reportedly told the Browns he is a changed quarterback, and if the team believes him and Jackson believes he can fix the flaws in Griffin’s game, then he is probably worth a gamble on. Even if the Browns are sold that Goff or Wentz is worth drafting, signing Griffin should not alter that plan, although the Browns need to make it clear to Griffin just what is expected of him and trust him when he says he is OK with it.
The odds of this working out to everyone’s satisfaction is probably pretty low, but such is the gamble a team has to take when it has fumbled so many previous opportunities to find a quarterback.
With any luck, this could be the last gamble the Browns have to take at the position for quite a while.