The Lesson Learned in RG3's Washington Disaster? Never Bet the Farm

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterMarch 7, 2016

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26:  Robert Griffin III from Baylor holds up a jersey as he poses on stage with family including his fiancee Rebecca Liddicoat (L of Griffin) after Griffin was selected #2 overall by the Washington Redskins in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 26, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The year was 2012 and Washington was convinced of one thing: The franchise was going to get Robert Griffin III, and they were going to get him at all costs. 

Those exact words weren't used but that was certainly the mindset. Get Griffin. Even if the cost was borderline prohibitive. Just get him, dammit. The leadership of the organization believed that Griffin would be an eternal figure, a game-changer who would transform the fortunes of the team.

The Rams and Washington eventually reached a deal. When it was done, one of the front office members from St. Louis remembers thinking: "They're going to pull out of this."

Meaning, he believed Washington would in the end be too terrified to give up so much to get Griffin and back out of the deal at the last minute. That didn't happen.

The result was a disaster for Washington. One of the great trade cataclysms, actually, in NFL history. This week, just four years after that trade, Washington released Griffin.

When you look at the autopsied remains of that trade, a pivotal lesson can be learned. That lesson is, there can be such a thing as falling in love with a player too much. That's what happened in Washington. It wasn't stupidity. It wasn't arrogance. It was lust.

It was also typical of the Washington organization then. The owner, Daniel Snyder, often made football decisions based on his gut, and not his frontal lobe.

The result of the trade was this. Washington gave up three first-round picks to get him. The Rams squandered some of those picks, but that doesn't make the trade any more lopsided.

The Rams got defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, running back Isaiah Pead, offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins, linebacker Alec Ogletree, wide receiver Stedman Bailey, running back Zac Stacy and offensive lineman Greg Robinson.

When the two teams met last year, Griffin had made 35 regular-season starts, and the combined eight players the Rams drafted as a result of the picks from Washington had 158.

Again, the Rams didn't exactly turn those picks into Lawrence Taylor and Walter Payton, but they had the picks.

The trade also proved problematic because it empowered the egomaniacal Griffin. He became close to Snyder, and that relationship overpowered the authority of Mike Shanahan. Shanahan designed a simple offense where Griffin didn't have to make complicated reads, and it took advantage of Griffin's running abilities. Shanahan handled Griffin poorly, but so did Snyder.

"Once you change schemes," Shanahan told The Dan Patrick Show, "and you want to go to a scheme that really you haven’t done throughout your career, it does take some time. And I don’t think Dan or Robert realized the transition that it was going to take for him to take that step.

"Once the owner and the quarterback decide that the type of offense that we were successful with in 2012, that they don’t want to run a lot of those plays, they want to throw more and run less, and you get a lot of people involved, it takes away from the coach."

Former Washington tight end Chris Cooley, now an analyst, told the Washington Post after one of Griffin's games in 2014: "What we are going to do is we are going to give incomplete to the entire offense. Because I don’t know how to grade them….I can’t grade the pass game. Our quarterback does not allow a proper grading of the pass game, because there was something I’ve never seen go on on a football field before.

"There was a game plan initially installed, which was not run or operated in any way shape or form the way it should have been. There was a quarterback not reading the field when he should have been, there was a quarterback scrambling when he (shouldn’t have been)….You can’t grade anyone else around Robert because of the way Robert played.

"And I want this to be really clear as we move forward with this breakdown. I’m not making fun of Robert. I like Robert. I like him as a person. This is not a personal attack. I am not going to make fun of him. I think he handled the media afterward improperly; we’ve discussed that. And I think he played poorly. And because of that, I’m going to now walk you through the game."

Then Cooley continued to destroy Griffin.

Griffin showed promise. It's that promise which will get him another job.

In many ways, the trade that energized a franchise helped keep it depressed. Griffin gave them one good year. One front office executive said the failed trade would set back Washington another two or three years. It is impossible to give up that many picks and recover quickly.

Griffin is now gone from Washington. It's a fitting end to maybe the third-worst trade in NFL history, right behind the looting of Minnesota by Jimmy Johnson in the Herschel Walker trade, and the Saints giving up their entire draft for Ricky Williams.

The Washington organization on Monday, via Twitter, thanked Griffin for his time in D.C. It was a nice gesture, one of the few positives to come from the terrible trade.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.