The Washington Redskins’ career of Robert Griffin III is going to come to a quiet end this offseason when the team releases him rather than pick up an $18 million club option. RG3 will go on the free agent market and look to rebuild a career that went horribly awry thanks to the negligence of his first head coach, Mike Shanahan.
Before we close down this short period of history, it’s time to correct a popular misconception, and it’s that the St. Louis Rams—whom the Redskins traded with to draft RG3 in the spring of 2012 “won” that pre-draft trade. I ask that we look objectively at some facts…
*The first and most obvious fact is this—when the Redskins won the NFC East in RG3’s rookie year of 2012, it was as close to a one-man show as is possible on a football team. The Washington defense stunk. The offensive line was shaky. Aided only by Alfred Morris and some creativity by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (whom I didn’t appreciate enough at the time), RG3 put a moribund franchise on his back and delivered its most memorable non-Joe Gibbs season since 1976.
Therefore, even though every Redskins fan, starting with myself, wish there had been much more, it’s not as though we leave the table empty-handed. An NFC East banner came as the direct result of this trade. A prime-time winner-take-all Week 17 win over Dallas—as good as it gets if you’re a Redskins fan—are the memories we have because of the trade.
Just how bad a team the 2012 ‘Skins were underneath the glitter of RG3 became woefully apparent when he got hurt—first the torn ACL, then the dislocated ankle of early 2014. Several key additions—at general manager, offensive line coach and defensive coordinator—have put the franchise back on track this year, but RG3, with an assist from Alfred Morris gave us a division title and a magical regular season finale.
*Now let’s look at what the St. Louis Rams got in return. They got Washington’s first-round pick in 2012 (the teams swapped places), their second-round pick, along with first-round picks again in 2013 and 2014. Those picks were used, directly, or via trade, to acquire defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, offensive tackle Greg Robinson and linebacker Alec Ogletree.
These are nice players. I understand why Rams fans like having them. But, four years after the trade, none have so much as made a Pro Bowl. Whatever their merits, an organization that knows what it’s doing can find players like this in the middle rounds, the free agent market or anywhere else. As evidence of this, the Redskins were able to replenish their defensive roster in one offseason once a GM (Scot McClougahn) that actually knew what he was doing took over. The four Rams players are worthwhile, but they aren’t difference-makers.
This is evidenced by the team’s continued poor performance. While the Redskins have an NFC East title as a direct result of the trade, the Rams don’t have so much as a winning season. Washington decisively won the short-term battle after the trade with their 2012 run. And four years later, they’re still a better team—one game better in the standings and with a head-to-head victory in Week 2.
So I guess, as a Redskins fan, I’m compelled to ask what we gave up that was so valuable it was worth trading in the 2012 NFC East title for? If the ‘Skins had kept the picks, we’d have had another lifeless 6-10 or 5-11 season led by Shanahan (his records in the first two years pre-RG3).
RG3’s career in Washington clearly didn’t go the way anyone associated with the organization or who roots for the team wanted. When you invest like that in a quarterback, you’re hoping to solidify the position for 10-15 years and get several Pro Bowls out of it, rather than one special season. But the fact the ‘Skins didn’t get everything we wanted doesn’t mean the trade was lost. If RG3 had really worked out, we’d have dominated the trade. Instead we merely won it in a close call.
Winning or not, I wouldn’t do the trade again. The injuries of RG3 had weren’t unpredictable given his style of play, and getting the magic of his rookie year was really the equivalent of drawing an inside straight. I’m not here to trash talk the Rams the way their blustery head coach Jeff Fisher did when he sent the acquired players out for the coin toss in Washington last season (a move that had the effect of making me feel good about the deal for the first time in two years, seeing how little was actually given up).
What I do think needs to happen is to set the record straight. There were no players acquired with those draft picks that could have provided what RG3 did in 2012 and the Redskins have subsequently strengthened the roster. We crushed the trade in the short-term. We’re still ahead in the long-term.
There’s only one way for St. Louis to salvage this deal—when RG3 hits the market this offseason, the Rams should sign him. Can you envision RG3 running the read option with Todd Gurley? This would require Fisher, who somehow is going to be back in charge of the team in spite of his appalling record, to swallow his pride. But coaches regularly lecture players to put the team ahead of their own egos. It’s time for Fisher to do the same.
If that happens, I’ll be the first to wish RG3 well. The Redskins are back in a good place. The fallen quarterback deserves his opportunity to do the same. And the Rams have a chance to completely flip the fortunes of this deal if only they avoid trying to claim a “victory” where none exists. And given that four years is an eternity in the NFL, we’ve given it long enough to close the books on this deal.