Football is coming back to Los Angeles. The City of Angels. La-La Land. There will no doubt be pomp and circumstance. Glitz and glamour. A bright spotlight.
Especially now that the Rams are about to go under the reality-TV microscope as the subject of this year's edition of HBO's Hard Knocks.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement from this year's owners' meetings that the Rams would be 2016's entrant in the cable series:
"The @RamsNFL, and their return to LA, will be chronicled through the eyes of #HardKnocks & @NFLFilms." -@nflcommish https://t.co/tyymHyvpz93/23/2016, 2:43:40 PM
ESPN's Trey Wingo surmised that it's no coincidence the NFL is pushing their return to America's second-largest media market:
trey wingo @wingoz
Not surprised at all that Rams are on Hard Knocks. League is going to milk the LA return hard . Don't be surprised if draft is there in 20173/23/2016, 2:49:16 PM
Well, duh. There are no accidents in the NFL. Not where the potential to make money is concerned.
It's just the latest storyline for a team that will be the center of attention across the NFL all spring and summer long. And it came at just about the same time that rumors began to swirl that the Rams might have interest in bringing Griffin out West with them.
As the team's website reported, while at those same owners' meetings, head coach Jeff Fisher admitted the Rams had at least a cursory interest in Griffin while at the same time talking up incumbent quarterback Case Keenum: "I think it’s something we have to consider. We’ve looked at the tape. I was very impressed with him prior to the draft. It’s a position we need to upgrade, but we can win games with Case."
Granted, it isn't hard to see why the Rams would be kicking the tires on the notion of adding a quarterback. In fact, the phrase "incumbent quarterback Case Keenum" explains it quite nicely.
Keenum is 5-10 in 15 career starts over three seasons, although he did go 3-2 a season ago in relief of Nick Foles. Of course, Keenum won those three games while averaging all of 138 passing yards per game.
Foles, on the other hand, was a mess in his first year with the Rams in 2015. He managed only seven scoring passes in 11 starts, won just four of those starts and posted a passer rating south of 70. The Foles who threw 27 touchdowns against only two interceptions for the Philadelphia Eagles during a magical 2013 season appears to have vanished in a puff of smoke.
|Rams QBs 2015|
|Pro Football Reference|
The moment Griffin signs on the dotted line in L.A., he would be the favorite to start in Week 1.
He would also be almost certain to fail.
After experiencing great success and leading the Washington Redskins to the playoffs in 2012 en route to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year, Griffin's inaugural campaign ended with a torn ACL. And things have gone steadily downhill since.
Griffin's mobility appears a fraction of what it was. Defenses adjusted to his freewheeling style. And as Griffin struggled to transition to a more conventional pocket passer under head coach Jay Gruden, criticism began to surface about his work ethic.
Criticism like this levied by Hall of Fame passer Steve Young on the Michael Kay Show, via Pro Football Talk, in 2014:
I’ve talked to his previous coaches, people I really trust and admire, that know quarterbacks. He doesn’t put the time in. Success is really about expertise. May, June, July work, and going to school.
Guys that can use their legs, it’s like they’re not desperate. Guys who can’t use their legs are more desperate so they’ll put more time in.
Last year? Flatline. Benched in favor of Kirk Cousins before the season, Griffin watched as Cousins led the Redskins to an NFC East title. The man who was supposed to lead Washington to the promised land was done in D.C. just like that.
The fall from grace was so stunning, so complete, that Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians wondered aloud to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (h/t A.J. Perez of USA Today) whether Griffin will ever recapture his OROY form.
"For me right now, it would have to be going back and looking in his eyes and finding out, are the scars too deep?" Arians said. "But talent-wise? He's got all the talent in the world."
It's the $64 question with Griffin. Have we seen the best there's going to be, or can he get things back on track?
The chances of that question being answered in the affirmative in L.A. just aren't good.
It isn't just the bright lights (and distractions) of a huge market in Los Angeles. Or the fact those lights will be amplified that much more by the return of pro football after a two-decade absence. Or that that return will be chronicled in great detail by the ever-present cameras of Home Box Office.
The fact is, the Rams just aren't a good offensive football team.
Sure, the team has a phenomenal young running back in second-year pro Todd Gurley. But aside from that, there ain't much. L.A.'s top wideouts, Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin, are themselves first-round disappointments. Britt paced the team in receiving yardage in 2015—and didn't clear 700 yards.
The Rams did have the league's best pass-blocking offensive line in 2015, per Football Outsiders, but all the time in the world is of little use if receivers just can't get open. Neither Foles nor Keenum used that extra time in the pocket to their advantage a season ago.
Add in Fisher's spotty (at best) record with young quarterbacks (see Young, Vince and Bradford, Sam) and the built-in hype Griffin's return to the team that traded his draft rights in 2012 would bring, and he would be set up to fail at a time when he just can't. Not if he ever wants to be an NFL starter again.
Are the Cleveland Browns an even worse team? Yes. But new coach Hue Jackson has a solid track record of developing passers, and given the disaster that has been the quarterback position in Cleveland the past 17 years, the bar couldn't be any lower.
Gruden admitted to ESPN's Eric Williams (h/t ESPN.com's John Keim) that Cleveland is an interesting fit for his former quarterback:
He has a little bit of a grasp on what Hue does. I think there will be a little bit of a change. I think it’ll be a good fit for him. I haven’t talked to Hue at all about Robert, but I think a change of scenery could be good for Robert. Like anybody, sometimes you just want to get out of a situation and start new and fresh. Learn something new, I think it’s a good fit because a lot of things Hue does I believe are similar. I think Robert can play in this league for sure, just needs another opportunity.
As Keim's colleague Jeff Legwold wrote, head coach Gary Kubiak and the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos are also a potential suitor for the former Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor. "[Griffin] is one of the free guys out there," Kubiak said. "He's obviously been part of the conversation. We'll see what happens; he's a talented young man."
Granted, in replacing Peyton Manning with the defending champions, that bar I mentioned would be a lot higher. Griffin would also be surrounded by an exponentially better supporting cast in an organization that has been more successful of late than the Browns and Rams combined times 10.
Even the Sheriff's shadow would be preferable to that of the Hollywood sign. L.A. fans aren't exactly world-renowned for their passion (they did have two NFL teams and lost both, after all), but the novelty of the NFL's return is going to bring out scrutiny galore. From fans. The media. Celebrities.
And now the entire country, thanks to HBO.
There's going to be enough of that no matter where Griffin lands, whether it's the shores of Lake Erie or the Pacific.
Adding to it unnecessarily is only going to heighten the chances his slide from star to stinker continues as well.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.
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