- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Robert Griffin III is out indefinitely with a dislocated left ankle. Kirk Cousins will be the Washington Redskins’ quarterback for the foreseeable future — a future that will be consumed by a quarterback controversy.

Don’t you love it?



The Redskins quarterback controversy was brought back to life Sunday when Griffin went down in the first quarter against Jacksonville, and Cousins came in and led the previously-dormant offense to a 41-10 home opening win.

But the controversy has always been there, smoldering at times, simmering at others. It began on April 28, 2012, when the Redskins – after trading three first-round picks and a second for the chance to take Griffin with the second choice of the draft — picked Cousins in the fourth round.

This controversy began that day, and will continue until one of them is not in a Redskins uniform. It was the first time a team had selected two quarterbacks in the same draft in the top four rounds since the Dallas Cowboys chose Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh in 1989.


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Griffin was to be the starter, and Cousins the backup. But Cousins was never a backup. He was a rival. Griffin himself recognized that, which is why he lashed out behind the scenes after Cousins got the start against Cleveland following Griffin’s knee injury in the Baltimore game in 2012.

Cousins may have gone in the fourth round for a number of reasons, but many NFL observers, including Mike Shanahan, thought Cousins could be an NFL starting quarterback. That’s a rival, which has always meant quarterback controversy.

Isn’t that great?

If you haven’t been paying attention, the NFL has become daily fodder for TMZ, a steady stream of shocking scandal. If it’s not Ray Rice beating his then-fiancee, it’s whether or not Greg Hardy should be playing for the Carolina Panthers after his assault conviction, or Ray McDonald for the 49ers while his domestic violence charges are in the system. It’s advertisers pulling away from the Minnesota Vikings after Adrian Peterson is charged with child abuse and the team, after one week of deactivation, announces he will be reinstated.

It’s one former NFL player after another diagnosed with brain damage or worse.

It’s a disgusting parade of football pornography.

A quarterback controversy? That’s tea with the queen.

It’s part of this franchise’s DNA, born more than 40 years ago when George Allen traded for Billy Kilmer and the “Sonny” or “Billy” battle began, bumper stickers and all. There’s been Jay Schroeder vs. Doug Williams, Stan Humphries vs. Mark Rypien, and others, some very forgettable.

Three years ago, the quarterback controversy was Rex Grossman vs. John Beck. Think about that one. What other town could possibly get worked up about Rex Grossman vs. John Beck? At least now the debate is about better quarterbacks.

And not just better quarterbacks. In a league where the police blotter is checked as often as the disabled list, this controversy is between two boy scouts. Griffin’s self absorption may be frustrating, and sometimes comical, but from all we know, he is an A-plus citizen with a good heart. Cousins makes the Boy Scouts look like a motorcycle gang.

So you are rooting for one of two good guys here. In today’s NFL, that’s like holding a big ticket quinella at the track.

The question is, will you be able to cash it?

Can either of these fine, young gentlemen be a star NFL quarterback?

We thought Griffin was — not just a star, but after a remarkable rookie season like we’ve never seen from a first-year quarterback, a quarterback who would change the game. But since then, nothing but questions. Can he adjust to being an NFL pocket passer? Can he stay healthy?

Both those questions are still very much on the table.

After a lackluster opening game against Houston, where he rushed for just two yards and led his team to a loss, Griffin seemed to come to the realization that he needs his legs to play quarterback in this league when the game opened Sunday against Jacksonville at FedEx Field. He ran the ball twice for 22 yards while completing two of three passes for 38 yards. It was a snapshot of 2012.

But now, after suffering a dislocated ankle that will keep him out indefinitely — coupled with two knee surgeries in five years — you have to wonder if Griffin can take the beating that comes with the position, especially if he needs to use his fragile legs to succeed. All those questions remain.

Now, though, the questions about Cousins will get answered. He fueled the rivalry in his one 2012 start against Cleveland when he led Washington to a 38-21 win, tossing two touchdown passes and 329 yards passing. Then questions about his ability to play in this league were back on the table after Griffin was benched for the final three games last season and Cousins struggled in his three starts.

That was leading a 3-10 team with a head coach on the way out and a roster still hamstrung by a salary cap penalty. Now Cousins is taking over a 1-1 team with a new coach early in his tenure and a far more talented roster around him. And he will be doing it for a while.

What happens if he does it well? What happens if Kirk Cousins is playing well whenever Robert Griffin III is ready to return?

“Well, we’ll cross that bridge when that comes,” Gruden told reporters Monday.

That’s a bridge known as the “Sonny and Billy Memorial Bridge.” We remember that bridge with fondness. So enjoy the trip to the other side. It may be the most innocent controversy in the NFL.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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