This past week Dan Steinberg and Bomani Jones collaborated on a piece that examined the Redskins quarterback situation. Chiefly among topics discussed was how both media and fans treat Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins differently. The terms "race" and "black quarterback" were floated around without directly stamping either/or as the sole reason for the discussion. In today's society, it doesn't need to be and became gasoline to the embers already floating around the fan base. But, if you replaced the aforementioned words with "price" and "expectations," you'd have a much stronger argument.
No one can deny the microscope for Cousins and Griffin comes with different lenses. While other influences have had an effect on the scope, the base models were purchased in the draft. The Redskins spent a prodigious amount to secure the pick for Robert Griffin III and spent a 4th round flier on Kirk Cousins. It should be stated that the price the Redskins paid for Griffin is no fault of his own, but that monumental price will always hang over his head as long as he is in Washington. In year one, it looked like Griffin and Cousins played their roles perfectly. One was a budding star that trail-blazed the league and the other came in for relief duty when called upon. In fact, the only time race was brought up was when Ron Parker went on ESPN and said Robert Griffin III wasn't "black enough." Parker was suspended for his comments.
The knee injury at the end of his rookie year changed everything. Unfortunately, it couldn't go back in the past and change his draft status or electric rookie year. Griffin had already become a hero and quenched the thirst that built up from 20+ years of bad quarterback play. He became an oasis in the desert but as he laid on FedEx Field clutching his knee, the possibility of being a mirage had opened. But, it was too late. The fans had a taste and they wanted more.
Redskins fans and media were looking for one person to blame for the injury when there was plenty of blame to go around. Mike Shanahan should have benched him. Robert Griffin should have sat down. Shanahan should have operated as the coach. Griffin shouldn't have operated on pride. But when Robert Griffin said "I addressed it with Shanahan" in press conferences that followed, the hinted tension only further forced sides to be taken. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize it would be easier to side with the charismatic, record-setting QB than the coach who hadn't succeeded in Washington until Griffin arrived. Griffin bet on himself against a coaching staff that hand designed an offense that lead to a historic year. Griffin won over the majority including the Redskins biggest fan, Dan Synder. By the end of 2013 season, the tension was figuratively bleeding out of the locker room and Snyder had no choice but to show Shanahan the door. It was Griffin's show now.
Bruce Allen then spear-headed a "coaching search" that appeared to be more show than real. Jay Gruden seemed like Allen's target all along, not many were surprised when the decision was made and the announcement was just a formality. Gruden was arguably hired because he was Allen's friend but more importantly, he was viewed as a "player's coach" and one that would get along with Robert Griffin III. This only increased the appearance that Griffin had power not typically allotted to a one-year producer. The Redskins had just hired a coach to lead a player not a team. A tilt in "hoping he reaches expectations" to "he better reach expectations" had further materialized. But, it didn't take long for Gruden to realize that Griffin was much further behind in development than he thought and by the time he could get him up to speed, Dan Snyder would already be looking for a new coach. After an ankle injury sidelined Griffin, he watched the head coach hand-picked for him advocate for Kirk Cousins to use this time as the starter to keep the job and run away with it. When Cousins failed to do that, Griffin had his chance to reclaim the throne and prove the Cousins experiment was foolish only to play poorly enough to be benched by Colt McCoy. Of course, this wasn't before Jay Gruden had taken to the podium and infamously and wrongly roasted Griffin to the media like he was reading from a comments section or internet forum. 2012 seemed like a distant memory.
In December of 2014, Jay Gruden said there would be a 2015 quarterback competition which many thought was the right play only to announce Robert Griffin III as the starter in February before any kind of competition or even a practice had taken place. If perception is reality, then Griffin had just been handed a job he didn't earn. Fast forward to now and we have a replay of Griffin on the bench, Gruden wanting Cousins to keep the job, and Cousins failing to do that. Admittedly, under much stranger circumstances.
I have watched the tape on both quarterbacks since 2012 and both have played poorly. The only difference is the price and expectations. Three 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick vs. a 4th round pick. 2,890 vs. 92 on the draft value chart. Griffin was already a star and a brand before he took an NFL snap. Cousins was a mid round pick trying to prove he belonged on a roster. When both play equally as bad, there is only a gaping hole in the expectations of one. On top of that, working against Griffin are his sensational rookie year, the public dispute he eventually "won" with the coaches that helped tailor that offense (meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan is receiving unlimited praise for his success in Atlanta), his proclamation that he can be a pocket quarterback with no proven development in that aspect and the perceived favoritism from the owner.
It's easier for many to criticize the star who fell down a few rungs than the guy who was already down there. That is not to say Kirk Cousins is without denunciation. Cousins is also criticized on a daily basis. If you can't admit both have supporters and detractors you're not looking. Just because Jay Gruden doesn't stand behind a mic and publicly sacrifice Cousins as he did with Griffin, doesn't change that. I don't know if that can be chalked up to a lesson learned from last year or something else but when former players have said that Gruden and Griffin have arguments that don't belong between a head coach and quarterback while Cousins is more of a "yes, sir" type, it's not hard to see why Gruden would rather work with the Michigan State alum. Either way, fans and media will continue to debate the right answer when both are probably wrong for Washington.