Nations: Benching RG3 is the wrong move

Interesting news out of Ashburn this week, where the Washington Redskins brain trust continues to hole up and await better days.

Embattled Redskins coach Mike Shanahan floated the possibility on Monday of benching starting quarterback Robert Griffin III for the remainder of this lost season, ostensibly to spare him the wear and tear of three more meaningless games.

It’s interesting that this would occur just now to Shanahan, considering he had no problem sending RG3 out to scramble for his life on dreadful field conditions in a similarly pointless (in terms of Washington’s non-existent playoff hopes) home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Griffin was out there long enough to get sacked five times before Shanahan pulled the plug in favor of backup Kirk Cousins to play out the fourth quarter of another dismal 45-10 loss.

At Monday’s press conference at Redskins team headquarters, Shanahan mentioned the fact that RG3 has been sacked 24 times in the last five games as a potential reason for the benching. Reports surfaced Tuesday that team owner Daniel Snyder wouldn’t move to block Griffin’s benching, which is an entirely different issue. Most owners still tend to let their coaches make those game day decisions, but then most owners aren’t Daniel Snyder, long known for his “hands-on” approach with his lucrative franchise.

Back to Shanahan and the timing of this particular idea. Why now? Why not last week, or two or three weeks ago if there was a real concern for Griffin’s well-being? Some Redskins fans might reasonably ask, why not last year, when Shanahan allowed the then-explosive rookie to play banged-up in the Redskins’ playoff lost to the Seattle Seahawks. That’s the game where RG3 sustained torn ligaments in his right knee, an injury that forced him to miss the entire preseason and by most accounts has sapped some of that explosiveness and speed from his game this entire season.

That’s Monday morning quarterbacking, I suppose, but still it seems disingenuous that Shanahan would suddenly exercise such caution with his now healthy if somewhat diminished second-year quarterback.

Of course, it matters little who plays quarterback the rest of the way for the Redskins — Cousins would be fine and could conceivably be showcased as a potential trade chip — or next year’s starter, if you listen to the Griffin naysayers. If Shanahan is worried about his prized quarterback getting injured behind a suspect offensive line, why risk Cousins? He’s unproven, but he still has real upside. Why not send Rex Grossman out there for the rest of the season? Or Pat White? Why risk anymore injuries to any potential starters, or key reserves, for next year’s team? This is, after all, the equivalent of garbage time now so why not play the third-stringers the rest of the way?

That’s not a legitimate or reasonable idea, of course, not for Redskins fans that have paid steep prices to see the best product the franchise is capable of putting on the field each and every week. Not for the NFL, which is trying to showcase that product to fans in the stands every week and does care about the legitimacy — real or perceived — of its regular season.

So back to RG3 … if he’s healthy, and reports all season have been that he has been healthy enough to play, shouldn’t he be out there on Sunday when the Redskins visit the Atlanta Falcons? If Griffin does give the Redskins the best chance to win — and if Shanahan still believes that — the answer is yes. Trying to protect an asset like Griffin in a lost season by holding him out the rest of the way simply isn’t the right thing to do, not for Griffin and not for the Redskins. If RG3 truly remains the future of the franchise, the remaining three games represent an opportunity to continue to progress and gain experience, which could pay off next season and beyond.

Whether Shanahan has much future beyond this dreadful season is very much a question mark. He still has one year and $7 million left on his contract, and has posted a less-than-impressive 24-37 record thus far as Washington’s coach.

Should Shanahan be serious about this benching, now might be a good time for Snyder to exercise that control as he’s done so many times in the past. As it stands now, RG3’s future still looks a lot brighter than Shanahan’s in Washington.

If the concern is for next year and if Shanahan isn’t going to be a part of it, making the best decision for Griffin’s future is a decision best made by somebody else. In this case, that’s Snyder.