For the most part, there is no quarterback controversy inside the Beltway. Robert Griffin III is Washington’s starter, face of the franchise, championship cornerstone and future Ring of Famer.
But that’s not the case outside the DMV.
Everywhere else in the continental 48 – the Rust Belt, Bible Belt, Great Plains, Northeast Corridor and Wild Wild West – RG3 is simply a leading character in the national entertainment show known as NFL football. Whether he fails or succeeds is irrelevant at the moment.
Viewers are thoroughly engrossed because he remains an interesting story line. And nothing spices up a drama like a little contention – imagined or not.
Nine other quarterbacks were selected in the 2012 draft after Andrew Luck and RG3 went one-two at the top. One even landed in the same locker room with Griffin, an unusual and intriguing twist that drew extra attention from the start.
First-rounders Ryan Tannehill (middling) and Brandon Weeden (a bust) landed starting jobs immediately with Miami and Cleveland, respectively. But other QBs faded into the background as quickly as their names were called.
Second-rounder Brock Osweiler remains gainfully employed in Denver as Peyton Manning’s seldom-used backup. Sixth-rounder Ryan Lindley recently was cut by Arizona, his original team, and signed to San Diego’s practice squad. Seventh-rounders Chandler Harnish and B.J. Coleman are out of the league, having never seen regular-season action.
But two other quarterbacks in that draft have expanded beyond their third-round status and individual markets to become national characters in their own right. They have joined Griffin on the stage he set when he followed up his Heisman Trophy with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
One, Russell Wilson, won the Super Bowl last season and leads Seattle as it kicks off the NFL season Thursday night against Green Bay. The other, Nick Foles, threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions last year while leading Philadelphia to the NFC East title, a feat they’re widely expected to repeat.
Can RG3 keep up? Can he recapture the magic? Can he retain his job? Tune in next season!
Forget about Luck, who’s virtually the sole reason Indianapolis reached the playoffs in each of his two seasons. Washington would’ve picked him, too, if given the choice.
But Wilson and Foles (and to a lesser extent, Washington backup Kirk Cousins) have become significant subplots to the RG3 drama that fascinated the country from the beginning and has grown ever since.
Start with the king’s ransom in draft picks and the breakout rookie season. Throw in the gruesome knee injury and the 3-13 sophomore campaign. Add a few TV commercials for ubiquitous national brands. Mix it all together with his playful eyes, camera-ready smile and me-against-the-world attitude.
The result is a star player who draws scrutiny from all corners – especially when he struggles to develop new skills in a new system while the understudy draws raves from broadcasters and sources on opposing teams.
There are no mixed emotions from outsiders when young QBs tear through the league. Spectators just wait for a national telecast, sit back and enjoy the show. We saw as much two years ago, when RG3 led Washington to a 7-0 record down the stretch for an unexpected playoff berth.
Wilson is 24-8 in two seasons as a starter. Luck is 22-10. Foles led the Eagles to wins in seven of their last eight regular-season games in 2013. When signal-callers are rolling in that fashion, life is carefree and their backups might as well be in witness protection. Fans turn on the TV with no thought of anyone else under center, barring injury.
Griffin would’ve been a nationwide obsession even if he stumbled badly as a rookie, like another ballyhooed QB taken second overall 14 years earlier. Ryan Leaf wasn’t successful at much besides drawing scorn and derision, but he held everyone’s attention while flaming out in three years.
Like Leaf, RG3 was captivating coming out of college, entering the NFL with an ingrained level of interest that doesn’t wane quickly. Conversely, Russell and Foles worked their way into national consciousness, which only adds to the focus on Griffin as he’s compared and contrasted with those classmates.
First-rounder Tannehill doesn’t have to handle any of that in Miami. The discussion about him is nonexistent because he hasn’t done anything (15-17 as a starter) and his backup is a nobody (Matt Moore). Tannehill can enter his make-or-break third year with no outside noise.
But RG3 is destined to be in the midst of a din. He needs to shut up his newfound detractors so his supporters can clamor on, unimpeded.
The nation looks on and the extra scrutiny won’t decrease soon. In fact, it’s bound to increase unless his production does likewise.
Either way, it’s a fascinating story line that extends far beyond Washington.
Everyone here might as well get used to it.