Mike Shanahan is still the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and now a team source has confirmed to John Keim of ESPN.com that Shanahan will start Kirk Cousins in place of Robert Griffin III this week at quarterback.
If that's the case, Shanahan is cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Team source confirms NFL AM report that Kirk Cousins will start for the #Redskins against Atlanta Sunday.— John Keim (@john_keim) December 11, 2013
According to CSN Washington's Rich Tandler, Shanahan has stated that Griffin is "100 percent healthy." And according to the weekly injury reports released by the team, so are all five starting offensive linemen, both of Griffin's starting receivers and the team's Pro Bowl-caliber running back, Alfred Morris.
Shanahan has had full say over personnel matters for four years. Everybody he handpicked to represent this offense—save for rookie tight end Jordan Reed—is healthy, and yet he is reportedly going to bench Griffin.
Frankly, doing so is an indictment on his track record in free agency and the draft.
If he has decided to bench Griffin simply because his play isn't up to snuff, then it's the first indication that he is conceding that the mega-trade for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft—which Shanahan certainly supported—was a mistake.
"There's a scapegoat in every situation," said Donovan McNabb late last month, per CSN Washington. "And who's the scapegoat? Robert Griffin."
Make RGIII the scapegoat if you please, Mike, but the reality is that you're responsible for this offense and the individual performances put forward by the players you drafted and/or signed.
Shanahan has reiterated that he's worried about Griffin's health. That's understandable, because the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year has been sacked 24 times in Washington's last five games. The pass protection hasn't been good, and Griffin hasn't been making great decisions.
But again, if Shanahan is admitting that the offensive line that he himself built from scratch and the offense that he designed is performing so badly—and/or the quarterback he drafted is doing such a poor job protecting himself—that he's being forced to literally remove Griffin from harm's way, he's essentially admitting that he has failed.
The whole thing does cause you to wonder if maybe the pre-draft trade with the Rams for the pick used to select Griffin was indeed something owner Daniel Snyder was more passionate about than Shanahan himself.
If that's the case, and if Shanahan feels undermined by the relationship between Snyder and the franchise quarterback, this would be one hell of a ploy to not so subtly deflect blame within the organization.
Sadly, that's a possibility. On Tuesday, Mark Maske of The Washington Post detailed the politics behind Shanahan's decision to even flirt with the prospect of switching to Cousins:
A person with ties to the organization said late Monday that Shanahan’s announcement about possibly sitting down Griffin appeared to be an attempt by Shanahan to provoke Snyder to fire him this week to avoid such a benching of Griffin.
He wasn't fired this week, but maybe he's too stubborn to back off of that stance now. Or maybe he's not giving up on the possibility of being set free before the end of the regular season.
At this point, it's possible everything being said and done by Shanahan is a ploy that has little if anything to do with what's best for the long-term health of the franchise, the offense and the players themselves.
That's not healthy.
Benching Griffin merely for being Griffin could be the ultimate parting shot from Shanahan, even if it would serve little purpose.
Shutting him down rather than adjusting the offensive game plan to better protect him makes no sense. Experts agree that it usually takes a year back on the field to fully return from reconstructive knee surgery, but you don't get credit for time served in that reacclimation process if you're standing on the sideline.
If Shanahan is just now realizing that the system in place, in combination with Griffin's tendencies, is endangering the franchise quarterback, then he was clearly wearing blinders during the previous 12 weeks.
This decision—whether right or wrong, whether based on injury risk or lack of productivity—is coming far too late, because these problems have been clear as day from the outset of the 2013 regular season.
But Shanahan is cornered now. It's a lose-lose for him.
Nothing good can come of this.