The Washington Redskins Must Play It Safe with Robert Griffin III

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 11, 2012

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 07: Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III #10 (L) and Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins take the field before playing the Atlanta Falcons at FedExField on October 7, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Washington Redskins didn't invest their life savings in Robert Griffin III so that they could baby him. They want to get everything they can out of their franchise quarterback, which is why if Griffin is deemed healthy enough to play effectively against the Cleveland Browns in Week 15, the NFL's highest-rated passer should of course be under center.

But if what transpires in the training room and on the practice field this week shows an RG3 who won't be sufficiently mobile or healthy enough to perform up to his usual standard, the Redskins have to play it safe for at least one week.

I understand what's at stake.

The Browns—a laughingstock more often than not in recent seasons—are playing their best football in years. They've won three straight and five of eight, and their defense is actually above average on paper.

They've surrendered 17 or fewer points in five of their last seven games and have nothing to lose. They're 4-3 at home this year, while the 'Skins are 3-3 on the road. This game is a toss-up, even with RG3 at quarterback.

And that's being generous—Vegas had the Browns favored by nearly a touchdown on Monday evening.

Beyond fearing their opponent, the Redskins and their fans are almost certainly fearing the unknown.

Kirk Cousins has dropped back to throw 12 NFL passes, completing seven. Two have gone for touchdowns, but two have been intercepted, and one of those dropbacks resulted in a sack. He's taken a grand total of 20 pro snaps, excluding plays negated by penalties, in two relief appearances.

No starts, no expectations.

But this is precisely why Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan hand-picked Cousins to act as a human insurance policy for his franchise pivot. Cousins isn't Griffin, but he's mobile enough that the Redskins offense doesn't have to make dramatic changes if and when he takes over. 

Cousins has looked steady enough in a small sample size, but it goes beyond that. He possesses intelligence, maturity and accuracy, all of which is important when we're discussing a young backup quarterback.

He is also two years old than Griffin, for what it's worth, and he spent five years learning and working in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. 

Cousins might never be a star in this league, but Shanahan might be right about the 24-year-old being tailor made to back up a stud like Griffin.

And if rookie starters like Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden can experience some success from the get-go in this league, there's little reason to believe Cousins can't manage to lead this offense in the spot role he's been preparing for since early May. 

This is the exact situation for which Shanahan used a fourth-round draft pick on Cousins.

If Griffin isn't healthy enough to play a positive role or avoid risking further injury Sunday, Shanahan has to show the football world why he selected Cousins in April rather than adding another pass-rusher, defensive back, or offensive tackle. 

I hate to say it, but Griffin is going to miss time in the coming years. It's inevitable.

Cousins is here to soften those blows. The 'Skins are desperate, but they can't force anything. Otherwise, they're already admitting that they wasted the 102nd pick of the 2012 NFL draft.