With training camp quickly approaching -- the Eagles open July 25 -- we'll take a look at status of their division rivals entering camp. First up, the Washington Redskins:
2013 Record: 3-13 (4th in NFC East)
Key Additions: HC Jay Gruden, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Jason Hatcher, S Ryan Clark, OG Shawn Luavao, OLB Trent Murphy (R), WR Andre Roberts, CB Tracy Porter
Key Subtractions: ILB London Fletcher, CB Josh Wilson, C Will Montgomery, TE Fred Davis, S Reed Doughty, WR Josh Morgan, P Sav Rocca
Washington’s pro football team will only go as far as Robert Griffin III can carry it. That’s just the way things are for most 24-year-old quarterbacks charged with resurrecting a moribund franchise.
Only through two seasons so far, Griffin has led the burgundy and gold on two completely opposite paths. As a rookie, RG3 almost single-handedly put Washington in the playoffs, guiding the club on a seven-game winning streak to steal first place in the NFC East. But in 2013, it was more like RG3-13—the team’s record after finishing with eight consecutive losses.
Now, for the second time in three years, the Washington’s front office is putting its faith in one man to turn things around. The organization fired head coach Mike Shanahan in the offseason and tabbed Jay Gruden to be his replacement.
In addition to his goal of winning a championship, Gruden is tasked with getting the most out of Griffin, who represents the franchise’s first-round picks of the past three years. That, plus a second-rounder, is what Washington sent to the St. Louis Rams to jump up four spots to No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft to land RG3.
First, Gruden must undo whatever Shanahan did and “fix” Griffin. Virtually all of the signal-caller’s numbers declined from his rookie season, which was so superb, it got him named to the Pro Bowl. His completion percentage sank over five points last year, from 65.6 to 60.1. His yards per attempt dipped from 8.1 to 7.0. Touchdown-to-interception ratio went from an impressive 5/1 to an alarming 4/3. He was sacked eight more times in two fewer games.
Griffin was far less effective when running with the football as well. His rushing yards were slashed almost in half, from 815 to 489, and he didn’t find the end zone once on his own compared to seven times in ’13.
To be fair, a lot of the trouble can be traced back to the fact that Griffin was likely never entirely healthy. He barely participated in offseason programs, training camp or preseason games due to a torn ACL suffered during Washington’s first-round playoff exit the previous January.
Not only was Griffin noticeably less confident in the knee, he looked a step slower, too. Plus, all that work he missed over the summer would be vital for any second-year passer's development.
Perhaps the demise of RG3 has been vastly overblown, and occasionally overlooked matters such as being in good health and having a full offseason to hone his craft will restore him to superstar status.
Still, dumping Shanahan was absolutely the right thing to do. The guy hasn’t won a single playoff game in his last 14 seasons on the sidelines, going back to the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos of ‘98. Furthermore, Washington’s organization seemed to be in a constant state of disarray since his arrival—nothing new, of course, but Shanny brought his own brand of drama.
His mishandling of RG3 is what ultimately led to Shanahan getting the axe, though. Griffin took a beating on the field more often than not, as Shanahan failed to protect the organization's No. 1 asset. And by the end, coach and QB didn't sound like they were on the same page.
Whether Gruden is the right guy to get the most out of Griffin is another story. Gruden spent the last three seasons molding Andy Dalton as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, and while Dalton improved under center gradually over that time period, I would add subtly. In short, he hasn’t necessarily become somebody you want your team building around.
Griffin is clearly more talented than Dalton, a 2011 second-round pick. Regardless, Gruden’s resume doesn’t exactly scream guru. Jon’s brother has spent almost as much time coaching in the Arena Football League as he has in the NFL.
Furthermore, Washington’s problems extend beyond their quarterback and head coach. Only two teams owned a worse point differential than minus-144 in ’13, and while their stagnant offense often put their defense in a hole, only the Minnesota Vikings allowed more scoring overall.
That’s the downside to trading four top picks for one player. Despite finishing with the second-worst record in the NFL, Washington didn’t own its first-round pick in this year’s draft. There’s no two-ways about it, that will make stockpiling talent a challenge—all the more reason why Griffin needs to come around in year three.
To their credit, the front office gave him another weapon, swooping in and signing DeSean Jackson to a three-year deal following the Pro Bowl wide receiver’s release from the Philadelphia Eagles. Then again, the talent on offense wasn’t really the problem last year.
Pierre Garcon was healthy for all 16 games, recording a whopping 113 receptions for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Jordan Reed posted a strong rookie campaign with 45 catches, 499 yards and three touchdowns. And running back Alfred Morris was there to take the pressure off with his second straight 1,000-yard season on the ground. Griffin actually had less to work with as a rookie.
Besides, Griffin’s chances of turning his career around might be less dependent on who he’s surrounded by and more about rediscovering himself. Either way, it’s on Gruden now to save Washington’s investment. How competitive that franchise can be going forward depends on it.