In his weekly appearance on my show, the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, Mel Kiper suggested that the Robert Griffin III era may have already ended. Mel said that if Kirk Cousins is good, maybe comparable to the level that Andy Dalton has played at in Cincinnati, that Griffin may never regain the starting quarterback job.
There are of course, multiple variables, including an injury to Cousins, but it’s something to consider. Cousins is expected to have at least eight starts, while Griffin recovers from a dislocated ankle, to prove that he’s the right man to run Jay Gruden’s offense. And although Gruden has denied a report from Mike Wise in the Washington Post that he has preferred Cousins as his starter all along, there’s no denying that Cousins has looked smoother running that offense so far.
Yes it was against Jacksonville and Jacksonville is terrible, but the whispers out of Redskin Park are that Cousins is definitely more ready right now than RGIII. We should know a lot more after the upcoming games against the Eagles and Giants. As we like to say in the sportsradio business, “we’ll have to see how it all plays out.”
For whatever history is worth, we’ve seen a couple of similar scenarios over the years with the Redskins. One occurred in the 1980’s, the other in the 90’s. One produced a Super Bowl Championship, the other just produced more bad Redskin football.
Like Cousins, Jay Schroeder got his chance to start because of injury – and oh, what an injury it was. The infamous Joe Theismann broken leg in 1985 put Schroeder behind center and he proved to be up to the task. Schroeder not only beat the stunned New York Giants coming off the bench in that Monday nighter, he won four of the last five games of the season as the starter. With only one wild card team in each conference in those days, the Skins missed the playoffs at 10-6.
Theismann’s injury ended his career and it was Schroeder’s team in 1986. The folding of the USFL brought in Doug Williams as the backup, but Schroeder was the unquestioned starter. And he had a great year, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Redskins finished 12-4 and went all the way to the NFC Championship game before losing to the Giants. Then came the 1987 season.
During the offseason, Williams was nearly traded to the Raiders before coach Joe Gibbs changed his mind at the last minute. The season opened against Philadelphia, Schroeder started, but hurt his shoulder early. Williams came in and threw for 272 yards at the Skins won 34-24. But in week two with Williams starting, they lost at Atlanta. Then the players went on strike.
While they were out, the replacement players went 3-0. So when the season resumed with the regular players in late October, it all looked good for Schroeder and the Skins. He was healthy and taking over a 4-1 team. Schroeder was good enough to beat the Jets and Bills, but after going 16 for 46 with two interceptions in a loss at Philadelphia, he was on shaky ground.
Between injuries and poor play, Schroeder and Williams spent the next six games replacing one another. Finally in the second half of the season finale, Gibbs had enough. Williams was in, Schroeder was out. It worked out pretty well. The Redskins went to the Super Bowl and beat Denver 42-10. Williams was the MVP. And to top it off, the following season, with Schroeder now buried deep in the Gibbs doghouse, the Redskins dealt him to the Raiders for Jim Lachey. Three years later, with Lachey establishing himself as the best left tackle in football, the Redskins won another Super Bowl.
Fast forward to 1994. Gibbs has retired, Norv Turner is the new coach and his choice to be his quarterback is Heath Shuler. They used the third pick of the draft to take him. Just as a flyer in the same draft, they took Gus Frerotte, also a quarterback, in the seventh round.
Shuler held out of his first training camp and really never recovered. Not a quick learner to begin with, he clearly wasn’t ready for the regular season. Veteran John Friesz started the first few games of the season before Shuler got the nod. But after throwing five interceptions in a home loss to Arizona, with nothing to lose, Turner turned to Frerotte.
The result was stunning. Frerotte threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 upset at Indianapolis. He was named NFC offensive player of the week! He started the next three games and played fairly well, but lost all three and was benched. Shuler went the rest of the way as the Redskins finished 3-13.
The following year, 1995, Frerotte and Shuler battled for the job with each having his ups and downs. Shuler even quarterbacked a win at Super Bowl bound Dallas, but did nothing to cement the job.
Finally in 1996, Turner put his two third-year quarterbacks head to head in training camp in a winner take all battle. It wasn’t close. Frerotte won the job and played well enough to make the Pro Bowl. Shuler appeared in only one play all season as the Redskins narrowly missed the playoffs at 9-7. At the end of the season, Shuler was shipped to New Orleans.
Unlike Williams, however, there was no Super Bowl fairy tale ending for Frerotte. He never played in a playoff game for Washington and was benched and bounced out of town within two years. He spent the next decade bouncing around the league as a backup.
What happens with Griffin and Cousins? Will it unfold the way Mel thinks it might? Again, as we say in the sportsradio business, “We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”