The big news Saturday morning was the Redskins’ decision to keep Robert Griffin III on the 53-man roster.
The big unknown, though, is what effect, if any, the move is going to have on Kirk Cousins, who was installed as the team’s starter by Coach Jay Gruden last week.
Cousins is Gruden’s guy for now, but it’s possible he’ll struggle to completely emerge from Griffin’s shadow. Obviously, Griffin still has support from powerful people within the organization, hence the decision to keep him.
According to NFL.com, Griffin is expected to be listed second on the Redskins’ depth chart this season behind Cousins and ahead of Colt McCoy. The report adds that McCoy will serve as the backup in Week 1 due to concerns about Griffin’s health, though there could be a change in that order after the Miami game.
If that change in order does happen, and Griffin suits up on gamedays as Cousins’ backup this season, the dynamic instantly changes. McCoy is a journeyman. Griffin is a former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick.
Could Griffin's presence as the No. 2 create a distraction for Cousins? Could it cause the newly anointed starter peer over his shoulder following an interception or stalled drive? Will FedEx Field erupt into chants of “RG3!” if things go poorly for Cousins?
They're all valid questions because it’s not like Cousins has a long and successful track record. Cousins, like Griffin, is still trying to establish himself four years into his NFL career. The last time we saw Cousins in a game that mattered, in fact, was against Tennessee last October. He finished that afternoon on the bench, pulled at halftime by Gruden when he fired another risky pass after being intercepted on a previous drive.
One criticism of Cousins has been his ability to respond to adversity and perform under pressure. And with Griffin in uniform and a snap away from playing, there is going to be pressure.
“You know, it could be,” Gruden acknowledged recently, asked if Griffin's presence might be an issue for Cousins. “But I think Kirk has been here long enough and everyone understands the dynamic that Robert brings. He’s a high profile player and deservedly so. He’s done a lot of great things in his career. But moving forward, when you’re the starting quarterback, it’s your job to keep that job and you can’t let outside noise influence you as a football player.”
“So,” Gruden continued, “I think Kirk is strong enough to handle it and I know if there’s an incompletion or interception, there could be some chatter about, ‘Put Robert in,’ or what have you. But we’re not worried about that.”
There’s really only one way to prevent that from becoming a real concern—and that’s to make McCoy the back up on Sundays. Because if you’ve spent any time at all in Washington, then you already know that most popular player on the Redskins’ roster is often the No. 2 quarterback.
And you can multiply that popularity by 10 if that backup is Robert Griffin III.