Robert Griffin III is once again injured, and it’s time to face the growing reality that his time as an NFL starter could be coming to an end.
Griffin will miss at least the Cleveland Browns’ next eight games because of a fractured bone in his left shoulder. It’s possible he could be out for the season. But at minimum, he will have missed 30 of a possible 40 regular-season games between the start of the 2014 season and his hoped-for return in Week 10.
NFL teams often bend their personnel rules for quarterbacks, given the shortage of high-reward talent at the position. But what franchise in its right mind — no Browns jokes, please — would count on a quarterback who hasn’t been able to stay on the field for three years?
Griffin has previously missed time because of knee reconstruction, a dislocated ankle and — importantly — because his previous team was worried he would get hurt. That’s right. The Washington Redskins sat him for the final three games in 2013 and the entire 2015 season in essence to prevent injuries and further financial commitment.
The rest of the league took notice. Griffin was on the market for nearly three weeks last spring before signing an incentive-laden contract with the Browns. Traveling to the NFL’s Siberia was his only chance to compete for a starting job. No one else trusted his health.
The Browns’ depth is shaky enough that he could, in theory, regain his starting role through attrition by the end of this season. But given his extended history, is there any reason to think Griffin could run off the kind of seven-game run that would change NFL minds about him?
This isn’t about Griffin’s arm, his still-present running ability or his understandable drive to prove critics wrong. Availability is the most important attribute an NFL player can have, and by now even the Browns should have learned their lesson. No matter how he performs if he does in fact return, it is simply foolish to remain faithful to a quarterback who can’t stay on the field.
At this rate, the Browns will have either the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft and be in position to draft the best quarterback available, or they’ll have more than enough draft capital to move up. Browns coach Hue Jackson has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback whisperer, but by then he’ll be entering his second season with a franchise that hasn’t had a coach get to a third season in a decade (Romeo Crennel, 2007). Do you think Jackson should risk his career on a second year of trying to pull greatness from Griffin’s potential?
Or will it be time to move on? Only a massive ego could get in the way of the correct answer. Jackson is a confident man, but he’s not blind. At best, he could bring Griffin back as depth and a potential bridge starter until the Browns get their 2017 rookie ready, but that would be the most temporary of gigs.
Afterward? Perhaps Griffin could remain with Jackson as a backup. Maybe another team would take a training camp flyer on him. But no one will envision him as their starter. Through no real fault of his own, Griffin is damaged goods. His body has let him down. It’s too bad, but it’s the sad reality of life in the NFL.