The Washington Redskins today announced they have released quarterback Robert Griffin III prior to the start of the new league year.*
He came in as a rookie and set the league on fire, putting Redskins fans in a frenzy never before seen in Washington, D.C.
But less than four up-and-down years later, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III era officially came to an end on Monday.
The team announced it has released Griffin III prior to the start of the new league year, officially nullifying his fifth-year option and making him a free agent.
The Redskins paid a heavy price to acquire Griffin III in 2012, when he was coming off a magical year after claiming the Heisman Trophy as the nation's top dual-threat quarterback out of Baylor. In all, Washington sent three first-round picks – including its No. 6-overall pick in the 2012 draft – to the St. Louis Rams for their No. 2-overall pick that year, effectively ensuring the team would land Griffin III, who was widely regarded as the second-best quarterback prospect after Stanford's Andrew Luck.
As expected, the Indianapolis Colts took Luck with the No. 1-overall pick, and the Redskins followed suit by selecting Griffin III No. 2 overall and immediately handing him the keys to the offense.
It didn't take long for the gamble to pay off, although Washington struggled through some inconsistencies through the first nine weeks of the season, moving to 3-6 after a 21-13 Week 9 loss to the Carolina Panthers at FedExField. But, led by the rookie Griffin III, the Redskins got hot and didn't look back from there, winning seven straight games to finish the regular season with a 10-6 record and claim the team's first NFC East title since the 1999 season.
"To me, it's just incredible," Griffin III said of the 2012 season. "The sky's the limit for this team, not only for this year, but in the future. We are definitely looking to capitalize on it this year."
The talk of the town – and of the league – throughout that run was undoubtedly Griffin III, who, in 15 starts that season completed 258-of-393 passes (65.6 percent) for 3,200 yards with 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions and a passer rating of 102.4, an NFL rookie record. He also ran the ball 120 times for 815 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. His percentage of passes had intercepted (1.27) was also a league rookie record, and he fell just short of the league rookie record for completion percentage.
A countdown of the top-12 images of QB Robert Griffin III's NFL debut.
For his efforts Griffin III in 2012 was named the Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year and the Pro Football Writers of America's Rookie of the Year. He also earned his first-career Pro Bowl selection, becoming the first Redskins offensive player to earn a trip to the game since Larry Brown in 1969.
But a gruesome knee injury suffered in the Redskins' 24-14 Wildcard Round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks would put a damper on a fantastic rookie year for Griffin III and the Redskins.
That knee injury – requiring surgery that repaired damage to both the right lateral collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments – meant Griffin III would spend most of his 2013 offseason rehabbing, instead of being able to properly prepare for his second year in the Redskins' system.
But after his surgery, Griffin III soon found a way to motivate himself with an "#AllInForWeek1" campaign, and to his credit, after rehabbing the entire offseason and missing all four preseason games, he found a way to be ready for the 2013 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I've just got to lean on my teammates," Griffin III said in the week leading up to that Eagles matchup. "We've got a lot of playmakers on this team, one that is directly behind me in Alfred Morris, so those guys will be ready to play."
But Griffin III and the Redskins, unfortunately, couldn't find the same magic throughout the 2013 season as they had the year before. Still an obvious talent at the quarterback position – though at times visibly affected by his knee problems – Griffin III completed 274-of-456 passes for 3,203 yards with 16 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. His running totals in 2013 were nearly cut in half from his rookie season: 86 rushes for 489 yards and zero touchdowns.
Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III has turned his 2013 season around since the bye week, putting together highlight performances on offense.
That Dec. 11, then-Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan told reporters that he was going to sit Griffin III for the final three games of the season in favor of fellow second-year quarterback Kirk Cousins, hoping to light a spark for a Washington team that had fallen into last place in the NFC East.
"What we have to do as an organization, is what is in the best interests of Robert? To have the next three games and have the experience of those reps, or going into the offseason healthy?" Shanahan said at the time. "I didn't think the risk and reward was worth it. I was afraid that we would set him back. I thought we put a lot of pressure on him this year…I think he's gotten a lot of experience that will help him."
In total, Cousins had 854 passing yards with four touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2013, and the Redskins would end the year with eight straight losses and a 3-13 record.
The Redskins would be placed under new leadership in 2014. Jay Gruden, who found much success as an innovative offensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, was hired by Washington that January for his first NFL head coaching job.
As expected, many wondered how the new head coach – a former quarterback himself – would mesh with Griffin III.
"Robert's a great quarterback and it's very exciting," Gruden explained. "Anytime you want to move forward with a franchise that's a very important position, as we well know. He's a great player and I look forward to the chance of coaching him."
Griffin III in 2014 would also get the opportunity to utilize a full offseason of training for the first time in his professional career, and he entered the regular season once again as the team's top dog at quarterback.
But, once again, Griffin III would be hampered by the injury bug – this time early in the season. After a Week 1 loss on the road to the Houston Texans, Griffin III and the Redskins' offense was off to a promising start the next week at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. As he rolled out to complete a first-quarter pass to DeSean Jackson, however, Griffin III would suffer a dislocated left ankle during a non-contact mishap along the sideline, immediately leaving his status for the remainder of the season in question.
Griffin III was able to return Week 9, when he was named starter for the team's road matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. But inconsistent play for the remainder of the season – matched with the intrigue of seeing what veteran Colt McCoy could do as the team's signal caller – meant Griffin III entered the offseason with an unknown status for the next year.
"You want to build continuity with what you're doing and be able to grow that offense," Griffin III said after leading the Redskins to a 27-24 Week 16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. "You look at some of the long-tenured coaches, long-tenured quarterbacks with that coach, they have a familiarity with each other. That's what we're trying to build.
"I want to get that in my career."
Griffin III entered the final year of his rookie contract in 2015, but got two early shots in the arm from the Redskins organization.
In February, Gruden told reporters at the annual NFL Scouting Combine that Griffin III would be the team's starting quarterback heading into offseason workouts.
Then, in April, the team announced it had picked up Griffin III's fifth-year option, meaning the team could keep him under contract through the 2016 season.
"I think just coming back with more knowledge of the system, more confidence of where he's supposed to throw, getting the ball out of his hands on time," Gruden said about the steps he thought Griffin III could take last offseason. "We'll work with his footwork and his accuracy, and all that good stuff. The big thing is decision making: where to go with the ball and why, and this will help his decisiveness."
Griffin III said he planned to "talk small, play big, take care of the little things for the big things, and everything will fall into place" last season.
"I look forward to making the offense more tailored to what I do well or what we do well as a team – offensive line, running backs and receivers," he said. "That's what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to complement what we do well. That's what we're going to get to -- find our identity and stick to that."
After a full offseason, the Copperas Cove, Texas, native seemed to put on some impressive practice sessions in training camp in Richmond, Va., leading many to believe Griffin III was well on his way to developing into a more sound "dropback passer" in Gruden's system.
But, come preseason, the results just weren't as fruitful in actual game situations. He completed 4-of-8 passes for 36 yards in the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, and was pummeled throughout the next preseason game against the Detroit Lions. His sack total (three) was more than number of completions (two) that evening, and he left the game after having suffered a concussion and a shoulder stinger.
Gruden elected to start Cousins the next week against the Baltimore Ravens, and after that point, the second-year head coach had seen enough: Cousins, and not Griffin III, would be the starting quarterback for the 2015 regular season.
As it would play out, McCoy would be the team's backup for the year, while Griffin III was the No. 3 quarterback.
"I think all three quarterbacks should be commended for their efforts, their willingness to get better," Gruden told reporters Aug. 31. "But when it's all said and done after all the film that we've gone through, all the offseason activity, all the training camp footage, we feel that at this time, Kirk Cousins gives us the best chance to win and that's where we're going. ... It's Kirk's team."
Cousins would go on to move past some growing pains early in the season to put together one of the best performances by a Redskins quarterback in team history. Like Griffin III in 2012, Cousins was on fire for the final half or so of the season particularly, throwing 23 touchdowns to just three interceptions in in final 10 games.
And, just like Griffin III in 2012, Cousins led the Redskins to the NFC East title, clinching the division with a convincing 38-24 Week 16 victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Griffin III was only active for one game during the 2015 season – the team's Week 6 loss to the Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. The team had seven players who were injured and could not play that week, so it couldn't label Griffin III as a healthy scratch as it had the previous five weeks – and as it would for the remainder of the season beyond that Jets game.
To his credit, Griffin III – who would end up formally speaking to reporters just once during the 2015 season – deflected any attention when asked about his role on the team after the loss to the Jets.
"I'm not going to talk about myself," he said, via ESPN.com’s John Keim. "We need to win next week. That's all we're focused on. I'm not focused on what I've had to go through or anything like that. We're just focused on Tampa Bay for next week. We have to get a win before the bye."
On Jan. 11 – the day after the Redskins' 35-18 Wild Card Round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers at FedExField – Griffin III once again politely declined to speak to reporters as he cleaned out his locker for what would be the final time at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
Gruden that afternoon praised Griffin III for handling his role with class.
"Obviously he wasn't happy. He's a great competitor. He accomplished some great things in 2012, he really did. But he handled it like a pro," Gruden said. "I think in the long run hopefully it will make him a better quarterback. I know he grew a lot being a third-string quarterback here. A different system, different terminology and things that were new to him, but I think with the skillset that he has and what he learned from the Shanahans and the new stuff that he learned from us I think will make him a better quarterback wherever he goes, however it works out for him."
Three years, 10 months and 10 days.
In that short period of time, Robert Griffin III went from highly-touted draft prospect, to savior of the Washington Redskins franchise, to injury-prone lightning rod of contention among team and league fans.
His career numbers in about 3 ½ seasons with the Redskins certainly show why he acquired all three designations: 679-of-1,063 passes (63.9 percent) for 8,097 yards with 40 touchdowns to 23 interceptions, along with 244 rushes for 1,480 yards (6.1 yards per rush) with eight rushing touchdowns.
Those numbers are also a foundation for Griffin III's career moving forward.
"From the very beginning Robert has handled himself as a professional," Redskins team President Bruce Allen said in a recent radio interview on the "Dan Sileo Show." "When we first drafted him all the way through, he's been a good teammate and a good guy. I know some people on the outside always like to be critical, but his teammates like him, his coaches like him and he does have some special talents, and we wish him well."