Source: USA TODAY
ASHBURN, Va. — If Mike Shanahan is not going to survive this, one thing became crystal clear Wednesday as the Washington coach stood inside a tent after practice and explained his benching of Robert Griffin III and relationship to Dan Snyder.
He will go out swinging.
That the face of the weakened franchise will spend the rest of the season riding the pine — preserved for the offseason program for next year — sure feels like one magnificent power play.
Like the architect of the football program, 3-10 at the moment, making a last stand.
Sure, as a coach nearing the end of a contract that ensures his control over personnel moves, Shanahan has the right to shut down an underperforming player.
Face it: Griffin, while he and the team insist he’s 100% recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, has never been able to recapture the efficiency and spark he had last season.
That’s understandable. He rehabbed all offseason. Regaining rhythm takes time. The knee has to get stronger.
Yet as this drama has unfolded, with Kirk Cousins named the starter just days after an ESPN.com report revealed that Shanahan contemplated quitting last year because Snyder’s connection to RG3 essentially undermined the team concept.
And Griffin, who won’t even suit up as the backup at Atlanta on Sunday — he will be deactivated, while Rex Grossman moves up to No. 2 — isn’t the only one getting an in-your-face backslap.
Hello, Mr. Snyder.
At one point during an impassioned, 28-minute news conference, Shanahan said of discussing Griffin’s status with Snyder, “Dan could care less about the other positions.”
But he sure cares about RG3, the budding superstar who fills the seats at FedEx Field.
Shanahan insists that he cares about Griffin, too. He maintains that by shutting him down — despite contending for weeks that the reigning Rookie of the Year needed all the live reps he can get — that Griffin will be better off for the long haul.
As Shanahan put it, it’s risk vs. reward. And more of a physical concern than a mental one for Griffin.
“If he goes down next game on the fourth play and all of a sudden we’re talking about that, what is going to be his psyche missing the offseason?” Shanahan said. “Do I take a risk of putting him in there to gain some more experience — he just had 13 games — and have a chance of setting him (back) that third year? I didn’t think it was worth the risk.”
That is logical on one level, but if Shanahan was so worried about Griffin’s health, you wonder why he suited up against the Chiefs on a wet, snowy field.
Why now? Shanahan should have sat Griffin for a few weeks at the start of the season, rather than going along with the “All in for Week 1″ narrative that always seemed like a rush job.
On Wednesday, he offered his most passionate admission yet that he made a mistake in allowing Griffin to continue to play on a gimpy knee during the playoff loss to the Seahawks.
At the time, and repeatedly since then, Shanahan defended himself by maintaining that Griffin had clearance from doctors to continue playing.
On Wednesday, he sounded so responsible in recalling that at halftime that day, “I could have kicked myself in the rear end” for allowing Griffin to continue.
Naturally, we haven’t heard a peep from Snyder. Although Shananan said that the team owner is fully on board with the decision to bench Griffin, which was first discussed more than a week ago, Snyder will make the ultimate statement when he decides whether to fire Shanahan with a year left on the five-year contract paying $7 million a year.
Shanahan scoffed at the theory that he’s fueling drama to get himself fired. And if Cousins plays well with his late-season showcase — which starts against a struggling Falcons defense, then is followed against an even more woebegone Cowboys defense — he can be shopped for a premium price on the market.
Meanwhile, the coach maintains that he wants to return next season … and beyond.
He seems convinced that unlike Griffin, he will at least finish out the year. And have that big postseason meeting of the minds with Snyder.
“Maybe we just hit it off and everything goes — I get that 12-to-15 year contract,” Shanahan said.
Laughter filled the tent with that zinger. Shanahan laughed, too.
“Well,” he added, “maybe three-year.”
Or maybe nothing.