RICHMOND, Va. – The public he-said, he-said involving Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Coach Mike Shanahan this past week provided a window into what some of those with ties to the two men regard as a deeper set of issues between them. Opinion is divided as to whether the tensions are part of the normal ups and downs of a star quarterback and a prominent coach or reflective of a more fundamental disconnect.
“For our team, it’s irrelevant,” Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “There’s no problem. There’s no issues. Robert just has a desire to get back out on the field like any player, any competitor, would. I’d be the same way if I was in his situation.”
But to some, there are potentially ominous signs. Former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said he doesn’t find the issues raised during the past week particularly troubling but wonders why the differences were aired through the media.
“Is it awful to have guys disagree? No,” said Hasselbeck, an NFL analyst for ESPN. “But I think it would be better just to have these guys yell at each other on the field, scream at each other on the sideline and then go back to the locker room and laugh about it, than doing it through the media. Where’s the line of communication?”
Hasselbeck, who played for the Redskins and also served as Eli Manning’s backup with the New York Giants, added: “Eli Manning is not paying any attention to what [Giants Coach] Tom Coughlin is saying about him in the media because he knows that Tom trusts him and he knows what Tom thinks about him as a player.”
When Griffin was asked a week ago about Shanahan’s blueprint for easing him back toward full-time duties and responded that he doesn’t fully understand Shanahan’s plan or like it, all that has transpired between the two since late last season became subject to renewed scrutiny. Griffin tried last Tuesday to defuse any controversy, making an unscheduled appearance before the media to say “there is no conflict” and that his comments had been “twisted and turned.”
The dynamics of the Griffin-Shanahan relationship first were examined after Griffin injured his right knee in the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in January.
Griffin and Shanahan said the quarterback had urged the coach to leave him in the game even though he was limping by halftime, and Shanahan said Griffin had earned the right to continue to play. But Shanahan was widely criticized for his decision to let him continue.
Early in the offseason, Shanahan told reporters that the team’s option-style running game helps to safeguard Griffin by slowing opposing pass rushes, and that Griffin should learn to slide and throw the ball away to protect himself better. Then, in a text message in March to ESPN’s Trey Wingo, Griffin wrote that he knew “where my responsibility is within the dilemma that led to me having surgery to repair my knee and all parties involved know their responsibilities as well.” The text was in response to Shanahan’s comments, according to one person familiar with the situation.
“That’s what this is all about,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “That set him on fire. That [ticked] him off so bad. That’s why he sent that text message to Trey Wingo. He was hot.”
Others with knowledge of the situation trace the uneasiness within Griffin’s camp to the Redskins’ play-calling for the quarterback. Their belief is that the mistrust may not subside until it is known how Griffin’s quest for a return for the first game of the season Sept. 9 plays out and it is seen how Shanahan uses Griffin.
Griffin’s father, Robert Griffin Jr., has on several occasions voiced concern with the number of running plays called for his son last season, most recently in the current issue of GQ magazine. “You tell a kid that you want him to be there for 14 years, guess what? Historical data will tell you that the more he runs, the more subject he is to career injury,” he said. “You name one quarterback out there that would rather run the football than throw the football and I’ll show you a loser.”
Griffin’s father wrote in a text message last week that his son and Shanahan have a “healthy relationship” and “have [the] same goals” for the team. He said he had no concerns and that “Redskins fans should be happy and excited.”
Shanahan reminded people last week that he and his former two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Denver, John Elway, “used to have knock-down, drag-out fights all the time.”
“That’s part of being a competitor and that’s another reason you have great relationships with your quarterbacks,” Shanahan said. “That’s part of the process. You want that strong mind-set.”
Indeed, when the Redskins opened the preseason Aug. 8 at Tennessee, Griffin was in full uniform even though he wasn’t playing and backup Kirk Cousins was starting. Griffin even went to midfield with other team captains for the pregame coin toss.
“It’s just a player’s mentality: Kirk Cousins is in the huddle talking to his receivers, talking to his running backs,” Hasselbeck said. “I think it’s frustrating for a player in that situation.”
Other Redskins players say they’ve noticed nothing that alarms them. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon said, “We don’t pay attention to it at all.”
Said linebacker London Fletcher: “Coach is just doing what he feels like is best, and Robert wants to get out there. That’s just how any football player is. There’s no concern.”
Those in the coaching fraternity say Shanahan is handling the situation just as he should.
“Knowing what I know about these situations and knowing Mike Shanahan, it won’t materialize into a problem,” former NFL coach Dick Vermeil said. “I don’t know [Griffin]. Everyone says he’s a great kid. I think he ought to fall in line, keep his mouth shut and focus on doing the things he can do on the football field. But most of the time, these things are not nearly as big in the locker room as they are to people on the outside.”