After watching the Detroit Lions use Robert Griffin III as a practice dummy, I texted a head coach, one whom I know is a huge RG3 fan, to get his thoughts. His immediate reply: "I have never, ever, on any level, seen a head coach treat his quarterback with such a lack of respect."
The coach does, beginning with the game tape of the offensive line. "It's easy to see that the line play was in shambles," the coach said. "That happens, especially this time of year.
"That Lions front, even without [Ndamukong] Suh, is pretty ferocious. As a coach, you see your guys getting beat, and you see your quarterback especially take that first shot, every coach I know would have taken their quarterback out of the game."
The coach stressed it's not that Griffin might take hard shots. It's that the line was playing so poorly that he was destined to.
"You can see from the tape it just wasn't their night," the coach said of the line.
"What is baffling," he said, "is that I can't think of a single head coach in the NFL who would take an injury-prone quarterback, put him behind a very shaky offensive line, in a preseason game, watch him take those kinds of hits and leave him in the game. It looks personal to me."
That last sentence is not an uncommon thought around the NFL. More than a few assistant coaches and one player I spoke to believe that the strained relationship between Jay Gruden and RG3 has not improved, and that what happened in that game is proof. (NFL.com compiled the hits in this video.)
In Tennessee's preseason game against St. Louis on Sunday night, after Marcus Mariota was hit once—and not nearly as hard as Griffin—he was taken out on the very next play. The Titans protected Mariota.
Gruden didn't leave Griffin in the game to get injured, these people believe. He was left in the game to do what Gruden has done since he became coach of the team: to show Griffin who's boss, the way some dog owners stupidly rub their pooch's noses in poop to keep them from eliminating on the carpet again. This has been a Gruden trademark with Griffin. More on that in a moment.
All of this points to one problem in Washington: It's likely Gruden and RG3 are headed toward more strains on what has been an already terribly strained relationship, and the team overall seems headed for another horrible season.
RG3's health will be a constant story and his relationship with Gruden its twin brother. These two things, in the past, have proven disastrous companions. There's no reason to believe that will change. The franchise has two playoff wins since 1992 and in the last two seasons is 7-25.
While RG3 is far from faultless in what's happened to his career—he at times has been, like many stars, a pompous ass—how he's been handled by the organization, especially under Gruden, is the primary culprit.
Gruden has at times displayed open hostility to Griffin. Some of his comments have been unlike anything ever seen in the modern NFL, when it comes to a coach publicly talking about his quarterback. Remember these staggering comments after a 20-point loss last season to the Buccaneers?
"His footwork was below average," Gruden told reporters (h/t NFL.com's Dan Hanzus). "He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can't happen. He stepped up when he didn't have to step up, and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times."
Gruden once said it was important for Washington to get a lead so Griffin didn't have to do a lot of dropback passing and reading of defenses. That was an unnecessary moment of nastiness.
Then there were the reports like this one from Jason Reid of the Washington Post that clearly came from the coaching staff. Then there was the almost unbelievable remark from Gruden that RG3 needs to get up faster after getting hit. Remember, during his tenure with Gruden, RG3 has endured some of the more physical hits you will ever see.
It's not that a coach can't speak about a quarterback that way; it's just that it almost never happens. Ever. It's comments like those that make people around the sport think Gruden purposely left Griffin in the game too long.
Again, RG3 is partly to blame here. It is totally fair to go off on him, as former Washington running back turned analyst Brian Mitchell did this week. His comments on CSN Mid-Atlantic were absolutely scathing, centering on Griffin's best-in-the-league, in-context/taken-out-of-context comments to WJLA's Alex Parker, but also putting into splendid focus what some people think of Griffin.
The quote below from Mitchell is run in its near-entirety because it represents the other side of this story, that this isn't personal by Gruden. It's that Griffin is an egomaniac:
The media didn't take off with anything. I think everybody that heard him make the comments took off with it. And he says things over and over again, and then he has to come back and he wants to explain what he said. He's a smart enough young man with enough intelligence to know how to say something the first time, where you don't have to constantly come back and give a press conference after your football team said you weren't speaking, and he forced his way into speaking.
What I'm seeing right now is a team that's coddling a young man, which is hurting him in the process. If they want to sit up here and blame the media for every damn thing that he does and every mistake that they make, it's about time that they start doing their job. ...
You talk a lot less, you have a lot less problems. I don't think [any] of us in the media will sit there and say, "Well, we're gonna use Robert to make something happen." No, Robert says something that's off-kilter and sometimes...absolutely stupid and asinine that makes us say things about him. ...
We don't wake up in the morning looking for him. And, dude, you're not that damn important where you think we need your name to go out there and get people to click on stories. There's enough stupidity going on around here. ...
[Y]ou're not that damn important. What's gonna make you important...you need to shut the hell up and start playing football. That will make you important. Win football games in this city, and you would have this city at the palm of your hands. You had it, and you're starting to lose it because you talk.
And there are a lot of people that were supporting him that are now starting to turn their back, because they see a guy who seems to be so full of himself and not doing what he's supposed to be doing. You came here to be a football player, not a damn philosopher...not a guy that's always giving us these damn quotes. Who gives a damn? Normally people care about quotes when you are successful, and he has not been successful enough to be giving me a quote.
I'm 47 years old. What the hell, I'm gonna listen to a little wet-behind-the-ears 24-year-old kid who's done nothing—nothing—to be sitting up here and think we're gonna listen to him all day? Do your job. Which he hasn't done.
So don't sit up there as a franchise, as a PR department, and sit up here and like this kid is so right. He's wrong. He does a lot of stupid stuff, and it's about time he hears it instead of people kissing his tail all the damn time. ...
I watch this team. I'm passionate about this team. And I see this one dude who we talk about every day too damn much because he doesn't know to shut up and perform.
Who's to blame for Robert Griffin's woes in Washington?
So, there's that.
But Gruden, and the culture of the organization—the remarkable, unbelievable, almost historic dysfunction of the organization—are the main culprits. Not RG3. Griffin didn't create it. It was there before he got to Washington and Gruden fits snugly into that dystopia. It's almost impossible to find, across the length of NFL history, a starting quarterback treated by his team the way Griffin has been by Gruden.
Even the fact that backup Kirk Cousins has a weekly radio show is typical of this dysfunction. No, it's not unprecedented for a backup QB to have a radio show, but close, and in this case, remarkably inappropriate. It makes no sense, but that's Washington.
If Gruden doesn't want Griffin, the team should get rid of him, instead of continuing this awkward dance. This insane dance. This dysfunctional dance where once again something on Griffin's body seems destined to shatter.
And stop making it personal.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.