Robert Griffin III is heading to Cleveland.
In a move that pairs the former offensive rookie of the year with a dynamic, offensive-minded head coach in Hue Jackson, the Browns have acquired one of the most perplexing talents of the last decade in an effort to end years of tumult at the position. Griffin, who did not play a single snap in 2015 after being ousted by Kirk Cousins in Washington, will gamble on his future in a place known for its laundry list of swings and misses at the position.
The Browns confirmed the news in an official release Thursday. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports Griffin’s deal is for two years and is worth a total of $15 million with $6.75 million guaranteed. Rapoport adds that RGII is set to make $7.5 million in 2016 with $3.5 million coming in the form of a signing bonus.
“We are excited about Robert joining the Cleveland Browns,” Jackson said. “He brings starting experience to our team and organization. He’s a young, athletic, talented passer and he’s really just starting out in this league. Just like every player on our team, Robert will have to earn every opportunity he gets. He will compete with the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster and he helps improve our QB room, which was one of my goals upon taking the job. It’s a special room and we want to put special people and players in that room.”
Added Griffin: “I’m excited about the opportunity to join the Dawg Pound and help build something here in Cleveland,” Griffin said. “Coach Hue and Pep, I had a great meeting with them. I really believe in what they preach and how they can help not only me as a player but this team win games and that’s what we’re all about.
“I’m just excited to come in and compete. Nothing’s ever been given to me in my life, so I just want to go out and compete with the guys and grow with this team. I feel like that’s all I’m really focused on.”
Griffin, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, led Washington to the playoffs in his first NFL season. Over 15 starts that year, he won nine games, threw for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for more than 800 yards.
The departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and a significant knee injury complicated the rest of Griffin’s career to this point. A coaching change to Jay Gruden only made his chances of reclaiming a starting job in Washington worse. Between 2013 and 2014, Griffin threw for 4,897 yards, 20 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Griffin was barely active on game day in 2015.
Acquiring Griffin could scatter mock draft boards at this point, many of which expected Cleveland to acquire one of the NCAA’s premiere talents — Jared Goff, Carson Wentz or Paxton Lynch with the No. 2 overall pick. The Browns were a heavy presence at both Goff and Wentz’s Pro Days and figure to be active during Lynch’s as well. However, Griffin wanted to go to a place where he could start. Should the Browns take a passer high up in the draft they would run the risk of exposing Griffin to the same confidence-shattering competition that aided his downfall in D.C.
The team’s new brain trust, led by executive vice president Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta might have preferred a veteran option in order to build the rest of the roster around their quarterback first.
Based on the length of the deal and comments by those in decision-making positions, this is Griffin’s team now.
“We are excited to add Robert to our team,” Brown said. “Robert possesses a unique skill set at the quarterback position. He has played at a high level in this league and is intent on doing everything in his power to return to that level on a consistent basis. After meeting with him, having him work out for us and doing our diligent research, we felt it was right to grant him an opportunity with our organization. We were able to see and feel his passion and commitment to re-establishing himself as a starting quarterback in this league and his embrace of the hard work that will be is essential to his development.
“We’ve been clear on the importance of improving and stabilizing the quarterback position for our franchise. We have said that the draft is and will be our primary focus, but we will always look to complement the draft through free agency, and this is one of those examples. We look forward to working with Robert and getting him in the building with his teammates at the start of the offseason program on April 4.”
The move will be applauded by Browns fans tempted by the endless carousel of promising quarterbacks that have marched in and out of the doors of the team’s facility since 1999. Since that year, the team has started 24 different quarterbacks: Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thaddeus Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown and Austin Davis.
Griffin’s debut, though, might be the most anticipated since Couch’s in 1999 — or Manziel’s in Cleveland two years ago.
Manziel’s flame-out in Cleveland served as a catalyst for the team’s massive shift in organizational philosophy, which makes the Griffin acquisition so fascinating. Coaches and executives are defined by the quarterbacks they select to head the franchise, and Cleveland just picked a player pocked by question marks.
On one hand, Griffin is a victim of circumstance. His greatest asset — speed — was compromised by two serious injuries. He was pigeon-holed into an offense he wasn’t suited for, and in the white-knuckle spin cycle that is the NFL, he emerged as a supposed malcontent. The Redskins were a lightning rod of rumor and inference during the Griffin era, from favored treatment to strife in the locker room.
How much of that was actually true? That is part of what the Browns worked to find out over the past few weeks. Griffin visited with club higher-ups last weekend and also took a visit to the Jets earlier in March. Starting over gives him the chance to erase all doubts. Jackson is widely considered as one of the most innovative offensive minds in football. Even with the plodding Andy Dalton in the Bengals‘ backfield, he was able to incorporate read-option and triple-option elements into Cincinnati’s offense. Assuming Griffin is healthy, this is the skillset Jackson could have only dreamed of a few years ago.
Griffin was good enough to warrant a treasure trove of picks from the Rams back in 2012, a haul that netted Los Angeles eight players over three years: Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Isaiah Pead, Rokevious Watkins, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy and Greg Robinson.
During that first season, he seemed 100 percent worth it. Griffin made mind-boggling plays that separated him from the traditional mobile-quarterback moniker. Alongside Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, it looked as though the NFL was riding the new wave of positional athleticism, leaving drop back passers in the dust.
Griffin has been waiting for a chance to show this was not an aberration ever since.