Tagged: Robert Griffin III

What’s Washington Doing?

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One of my biggest regrets as a writer is the two years or so I took off from writing about sports on the Internet from the spring of 2011 to the spring of 2013. On the one hand, I absolutely needed to reset and refocus as a writer, and I had other things going on and some perspective would have done me a lot of good. If I continued writing the way I had been, in the style I had been, on the blog I had been, I would have burnt out sooner or later, and I would not be writing here for you today in 2017. On the other hand, there is no written evidence, no previous article I wrote that I can link to, that can prove how right I was about Kirk Cousins.

We sports writers, amateur and professional alike, we sports enthusiasts who call and email talk radio shows and fill Reddit threads with opinions and analysis, we love making predictions, and we love being able to go back and prove we were right when our opinion in the moment was not the consensus or the prevailing opinion. Now that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has been franchised for the second straight year, and now that he is set to be one of the most interesting and in-demand assets in the NFL, I wish I had been maintaining a blog in the spring of 2012, when the Redskins took two quarterbacks, so I could have written that Cousins was a real NFL QB, that having a guy like Cousins drafted alongside Robert Griffin III would not end well for Washington, and the overlooked Cousins would be itching to prove himself. Five years later, the Washington football team that had two rookie quarterbacks may very well lose them both, with nothing but a couple of one-and-done playoff appearances to show for it.

Last offseason, the Redskins placed the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, rather than signing him to a contract extension, after a 2015 season in which he won the starting job away from Griffin for good and led Washington to an NFC East division title. The Skins cut RGIII (who signed with the Cleveland Browns and subsequently got injured in the first game of the regular season), but were not ready to commit to Cousins long-term. That line of thinking is entirely defensible on its own. Cousins had one good season as a starter under his belt, and it would be reasonable for a team to want to see more before committing top dollar and many years to a relatively unproven player, but then Cousins had another good season in 2016. Sure, the Redskins struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs, but they had also not put in place a backup plan.

The only quarterback to play on the franchise tag twice was Drew Brees with the San Diego Chargers, who eventually walked in free agency and signed with the New Orleans Saints, where he has been such a great face of the franchise that I often forget he was in San Diego and get caught off guard when scrolling through Google Images for pictures for articles I am writing. The difference between what the Chargers were doing a decade ago with Brees and what the Redskins are doing now with Cousins is that San Diego drafted Philip Rivers during that time (well, actually they drafted Eli Manning, but traded him for Rivers when the Mannings made it clear Eli did not want to be in San Diego), and gave Rivers a couple years in the system to develop before Brees left to go get paid by the Saints. I thought back in 2012 that Cousins, like Brees, would leave Washington to go get paid by another franchise, and eventually be synonymous with that second franchise the way Brees is with New Orleans, but I thought that would be because of the flashes he showed backing up RGIII, not because he proved himself as the starter in Washington like he ended up doing.

Rather than sign him to an extension, the Redskins placed a second franchise tag on Cousins. If they do not sign him to an extension, Cousins will most certainly leave Washington. Why would he stay with an organization that has been so hesitant to believe in him? That has forced him to bet on himself season after season? Cousins has been well compensated by the Redskins, thanks to the franchise tag, yet they are still finding ways to alienate their franchise QB. Why would he stay in Washington when there are two NFL franchises now coached by former offensive coordinators of his (Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and Sean McVay in Los Angeles), who would take him over their current quarterback situations, even if it means waiting another year.

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The Rams and 49ers should not be the only teams interested in Cousins’ services. He has a lot going for him, even compared to the other highly regarded NFL quarterbacks being talked about as trade chips right now. Cousins is eight years younger, and far less injury-prone, than Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and has a far greater sample size for teams to look at than New England Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo (who started five quarters during Tom Brady’s suspension before getting hurt), but no matter what happens, I cannot shake the feeling that the Redskins will mess this up. That’s what they are known for in the Dan Snyder Era.

Since Snyder bought the team in 1999, the Redskins have had a high amount of turnover at the head coach and quarterback positions, not as high as the Cleveland Browns, but certainly not a model for consistency and continuity in professional sports, either. Head coach Jay Gruden is going into his fourth year of a five year contract the same year that Kirk Cousins is poised to play on a second straight franchise season. Why would Cousins want to sign an extension with a team that might be on the verge of turning over its coaching staff yet again? By Snyder’s own reputation, they are due.

When they quarterback draft class of 2012 was in college, Cousins was the one I saw the most on TV. I knew about Andrew Luck at Stanford and Robert Griffin III at Baylor, as they were the Heisman favorites all season, but for whatever reason, Cousins’ Michigan State team was on TV all the time in Massachusetts, it seemed, and I was in the habit of watching a lot more college football than I have in the years since (spoiler alert: I was in college, living in the dorms), so I was impressed with Cousins’ play at the time, and was particularly baffled when Washington decided to trade up in the draft to #2 overall to take Griffin, and then also take Cousins in the 4th round. How could that possibly end well?

While I prided myself on picking up on Cousins getting overlooked, and that driving him to improve the way he did, I was, of course, also guilty of overlooking Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who was taken by the Seattle Seahawks the round before Cousins, and who has played in two Super Bowls and has had the best career of the four quarterbacks to this point. As disappointed as I am in not having proof that I was bullish on Cousins in 2012, I am also thankful I don’t have written proof like that about how wrong I was about Russell Wilson. I guess it was all for the best I took those two years off and I am here now to write about it.

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Keeping the Band Together

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Good football teams lose their coaching talent as the seasons go on. It’s a part of life. But the New England Patriots are able to hold things together remarkably well despite winning two of the last three Super Bowls. And even when they do lose their assistants to greener pastures of head coaching jobs elsewhere, the infrastructure with Bill Belichick at the top of the football operation must be trusted until further notice.

Before the Super Bowl was even played and regardless of the big game’s outcome Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was going to be the next head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and even though the hire was not officially announced, everybody knew it. Kyle is Mike Shanahan’s son, he is 39 years old, and he has been one of the rising coaching stars on the offensive side of the ball. In his various stops, he has gotten quarterbacks of varying talent levels to realize their potential. Working under his dad in Washington, Robert Griffin III was the rookie of the year ahead of Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, in Cleveland, former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer looked like a competent NFL starter before getting hurt, and in Atlanta, Pro Bowl QB Matt Ryan won the MVP and did not trail in the Super Bowl until the moment the game ended. Given his reputation, it is fair to assume that San Francisco’s next starting QB whether they stick with Colin Kaepernick, or they trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, or they make a less exciting stopgap signing like Matt Schaub or Brian Hoyer, or start from scratch with a kid from the draft, that QB will enjoy an uptick in production from this past year.

Regardless of the second guessing of Shanahan’s overly aggressive play calling in the second half that gave the Patriots enough clock to work with to make their historic comeback, there is a lot of hope surrounding the downtrodden 49ers and also a lot of uncertainty for the Falcons because of Shanahan. Before Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were a good offense and Matt Ryan was a good quarterback, but with him they were a great offense with an MVP quarterback. When the Patriots experienced a period of significant turnover after their Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles, when offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the head coaching job at Notre Dame and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel left New England to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Belichick promoted from within, making Eric Mangini the defensive coordinator and assuming the offensive coordinator duties himself, even though he is best known as a defensive mastermind, before eventually handing over the keys to Brady’s offense to Josh McDaniels when McDaniels was ready for the responsibility. Years later, when Dean Pees left the Patriots, Belichick assumed defensive coordinator duties until he felt Matt Patricia was ready for it.

Most coaches are not Bill Belichick, however, and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, a defensive coach, did not go this way. Instead the Falcons hired former Washington and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian to run their offense in 2017. Sarkisian was most recently the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama for one game, replacing Lane Kiffin for the National Championship Game against Clemson, which Alabama lost. Sark may not be the best college head coach ever, but he does have a good reputation as an offensive play caller. The problem for Atlanta is that they are bringing in a new voice with a new philosophy when they thing they were doing was working perfectly fine. It is hard to come back from losing the Super Bowl. Most teams struggle in the following year, and the 2016 Carolina Panthers are a perfect example, and changing more than you have to certainly cannot help.

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The Patriots could have just as easily been the team that lost the Super Bowl instead of the Falcons, and the last two years both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have gotten head coaching interviews. McDaniels, in fact, was in direct competition with Shanahan for the Niners job. McDaniels, who first joined the Patriots as a personnel assistant in 2001, left to become head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009, got fired, worked for the St. Louis Rams for a season before getting his old job back in New England when offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien left to take the head coaching job at Penn State in 2012, has been careful in his pursuit for his second head coaching job to say the least. Many coaches get a second chance if they fail as a head coach once, but if you fail twice, the odds of a third head coaching job are very slim.

Two years ago, Chip Kelly was still believed to be a football genius, but a bad third season in Philadelphia followed by the awful football situation he inherited in San Francisco leaves his future as an NFL head coach very much in doubt. McDaniels wants both a good quarterback situation and a good ownership situation, as those are the two factors the best determine head coaching success. If the Colts job opened up, Andrew Luck is a very good quarterback, but Jim Irsay is not a great owner to work for. Bill Belichick even failed on the first try in Cleveland, and when he was given a second chance with the New York Jets, he famously resigned as “HC of the NYJ” after a day when the more appealing offer came from the New England Patriots. McDaniels has the luxury of waiting, as he is still only 40, and being Tom Brady’s offensive coordinator and working for Bill Belichick is by no means a bad gig.

The Patriots did lose a key member of the coaching staff, as tight ends coach Brian Daboll was hired by Nick Saban to replace Sarkisian as offensive coordinator at Alabama, of all things. Daboll, like McDaniels, left New England before, but they were the only two prominent assistants to come back for a second stint, unlike Weis, Crennel, Pees, O’Brien, or Rob Ryan. With McDaniels staying put in New England, Bama was Daboll’s best opportunity to be an offensive coordinator again, and it’s a winning program. The more head coaching jobs McDaniels turns down, the more likely it seems that he sees himself as Belichick’s eventual successor as HC of NE.

When McDaniels first came back to the Patriots, I wanted nothing to do with him as a candidate to be the Pats’ next head coach. His terrible two seasons in Denver that included the (even then) head-scratching decision to draft Tim Tebow in the 1st round was still fresh in my memory, and I thought he was just another Belichick assistant who was doomed to be a bad head coach. But as the years go by, and it becomes more and more apparent that the operation Bill Belichick has built is superior to every other in the game of football (I mean, seriously, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a model of consistency and continuity and have had the same number of head coaches since Watergate as the 49ers had in Barack Obama’s second term, and even they are nothing more than the Generals to New England’s Globetrotters, going 0-3 in AFC Championship Games against Belichick and Brady with none of those games being particularly competitive.), and the list of coaches I would rather have than Josh McDaniels to come in and try to tinker with it dwindles every year. At this point, I would have to think about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, and that’s about it. I would rather have McDaniels than just about anyone else.

For now, the Patriots are going about their business, doing their jobs, but Brady will be 40 next season, and Belichick is probably closer to his last game as a head coach than his first, so as effective Belichick and Brady still are, a little continuity on the coaching staff certainly goes a long way.

Jumping Ship in Cincy

Despite three consecutive playoff berths, the Cincinnati Bengals have been able to maintain their longstanding reputation as one of the most dysfunctional professional sports franchises in North America. Those three playoff berths were soon followed by three first round exits from the tournament, including Sunday’s home loss to the San Diego Chargers after going 8-0 at home in the regular season. Starting quarterback Andy Dalton looked terrible in the second half of that game and people are going to question him as long as he can’t get out of the first round. Now, Marvin Lewis’ assistants are headed elsewhere. Can you blame them?

The Bengals’ offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, has accepted a new position as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, replacing Mike Shanahan. Gruden will be tasked with fixing Robert Griffin III and turning him into a franchise QB at the NFL level. Gruden, whose brother Jon won a Super Bowl as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is inheriting another difficult situation with another young QB and another unpopular owner, but it’s better than staying in Cincy.

It was reported earlier today that Bengals’ defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a favorite to be the next head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He is also a candidate for the Tennessee Titans’ head coaching vacancy. Zimmer called the plays for the Bengals defense, which was one of the best in the NFL his year. He is 57 years old, and if he doesn’t take a head coaching job now, he might never get one. The Bengals are loaded with talent, but their top assistant coaches are jumping ship.

That’s Bengals football in a nutshell. The franchise was founded by Paul Brown, one of football’s greatest innovators. Brown invented the playbook, and the helmet face mask, among other things. He was so successful at Ohio State that the Cleveland professional football team named themselves the Browns when he became their coach. Brown’s son, Mike, is the owner of the Bengals today, and is one of the worst owners in professional sports. Despite enjoying some success in the 80s, and producing two of the best ex-athlete broadcasters in any sport in Boomer Esiason and Cris Collinsworth, the Bengals have been an NFL punchline for decades. The two times they reached the Super Bowl, they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, who were coached by Paul Brown’s longtime assistant coach, Bill Walsh. Walsh left Cincinnati to pursue a head coaching gig, and he made the Bengals pay. Gruden and Zimmer are two of the best coordinators in football right now, and other teams are taking notice. Perhaps they will do the same as Walsh someday.

A Lost Year in Washington

The year 2013 is drawing to a close, and looking back on it, Washington D.C. had probably the worst year of any city in North America. New York came close, but D.C. takes the title this year. The failures of Washington don’t end with Congress, either. The Redskins, firmly entrenched in a decades long conflict over the offensiveness of their team name, struggled mightily to do much of anything on the offensive side of the ball. Robert Griffin III was not right this year. It started with their one playoff game last January, when Griffin played on a bad knee that needed offseason surgery. Not only did the Skins lose to the Seattle Seahawks that day, but Griffin lost the ability to play in the preseason and take a step forward after an impressive rookie season. RG3 has regressed, backup QB Kirk Cousins has played his way, into a quarterback controversy, Mike Shanahan has been fired, and the St. Louis Rams now have Washington’s first round pick in the 2014 draft from when the Redskins traded up to get RG3. The Redskins are making Congress look competent.

I think Griffin still has a bright future in this league, but I’m not sure it’s with this team. The same can be said for Kirk Cousins, who could start for half the teams in the NFL right now but had the misfortune of being drafted in the 4th round the same year Washington used the 2nd overall pick to acquire Griffin (one of the many head scratching moves of the Shanahan Era). St. Louis, who still believes in Sam Bradford as their franchise quarterback, is in a great position to load up their team this spring, while Washington is stuck with the player they gambled to acquire. In the meantime, they have a mess, no head coach, no 1st round draft pick, and an aging defense on their hands. Now would be as good a time as any for Daniel Snyder to be more open to changing the team’s very dated name to get some positive PR for the franchise, but that’s not likely to happen.

The Redskins and the federal government were not Washington’s only institutional failures in 2013. The Washington Nationals looked like a new franchise and a winning franchise in 2012. They had finally rid themselves of the stink of the Montreal Expos after seven years in the nation’s capital, complete with a talented young roster headlined by ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg and teenage outfielder Bryce Harper. The Nats were one of the best teams in all of baseball in the 2012 regular season, and looked poised for a deep playoff run. Then they thought too much. Strasburg had missed the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was back to his dominant form in 2012. The Nationals’ front office wanted to limit the number of innings he pitched, however, so they decided to shut him down in September and keep him off the active roster in the playoffs, thinking that 2012 was the start of a run of success and that they would be back again in 2013. The Nationals squandered a good chance and were bounced in the first round, and were unable to repeat their success this year. They missed the playoffs, and as long as they continue to do so, people will be able to point to the decision to shut Strasburg down and think about what might have been. Who knows? The San Francisco Giants might still have won the National League Pennant and the World Series that year, but you can’t win if you don’t play. The 2012 Nats missed a shot by not taking it, and they fell back to earth in 2013.

2014 is a new beginning for everyone, but 2013 can’t end soon enough for Washington. At least they still have John Wall and Alex Ovechkin to be excited about.