- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2016

Thousands of fans packed FedEx Field on an April afternoon nearly four years ago, filling the stands and milling about on a playing field dominated by a makeshift stage. They were drawn by the chance to lay their eyes on Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor, the Washington Redskins‘ prized draft acquisition, the player they were certain would rescue the moribund team from decades of mediocrity.

The chants of his initials reverberated consistently around the stadium, and once the pep band began to play, Griffin emerged from the tunnel leading to the locker room, his black pinstripe suit accompanied by a Redskins cap on his head. He strolled to the front of the stage, briefly thanked the crowd and walked off singing the team’s anthem, which he vowed to learn after hilariously bursting into the incorrect lyrics shortly after being drafted.

“I understand the anticipation and the excitement, but you’ve got to realize, it’s about more than just one person,” Griffin said minutes later at a press conference. “Whoever gets all the attention also gets all the criticism, so it’s not necessarily how you can take the praise and the attention. It’s how you can deal with it.”

Griffin rode a rollercoaster of emotion during his time in Washington, leading the team to a division title during his rookie season but failing to duplicate that magic. This past season, when the Redskins returned to the playoffs for the first time since Griffin took them there, he was reduced to being a spectator, standing on the sideline each game not only as the backup, but the backup’s backup.

In the span of four short years, he was deified, disfigured and disgraced. On Monday, he was discarded.

The Redskins have cut Griffin, delivering an outcome that seemed certain the minute the team exercised its option on the quarterback’s contract for next season in May.

SEE ALSO: Timeline: Robert Griffin III’s tenure with Redskins full of excitement, controversy

“It was a blessing guys,” Griffin wrote on his Twitter account on Monday morning. “I just want to say thank you.”

Griffin, who made $3.2 million in base salary this past year, was set to count for $16.2 million against the salary cap during the 2016 season. That option was guaranteed only if Griffin were unable to pass a physical once the season ended — which is what the Redskins guarded against by refusing to put him in a game at all this year.

His last appearance was in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 20, when he played 16 snaps and completed two of five passes for eight yards before sustaining a concussion. Less than two weeks later, Kirk Cousins was installed as the team’s starting quarterback and remained that position all year, culminating with a team-record 4,166 passing yards and a playoff appearance.

Just last week, Cousins signed a one-year deal under the team’s franchise designation, allowing him to return to the team next season for $19.95 million.

Griffin will be eligible to sign with a team immediately as opposed to waiting until Wednesday, when the free agent signing period begins. It’s likely that he will find a suitor relatively shortly, as there is no dearth of teams looking for an experienced backup — and coaches believing that they can fix whatever ails Griffin.

That was the intent when Jay Gruden arrived as the Redskins‘ coach in January 2014, when Griffin was exiting a dismal season in which he was visibly hampered for a significant stretch by surgery on his right knee.

Griffin tore the ACL in his right knee for the second time in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks the year before, and the dynamic, exciting player who thrived in an offense orchestrated by coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle Shanahan, never returned.

An inability to make the transition from a true dual-threat player to more of a pocket passer drove Shanahan, as well as most of his staff, from the franchise after the 2013 season ended. Gruden, a former quarterback who had significant success in the minor leagues as both a player and a coach — not to mention his football pedigree — was hired in an attempt to continue that transition, which Griffin was unable to do.

Hampered by a dislocated left ankle that cost him six games in 2014, he returned, struggled, and was benched after just three games. Only following an injury to Colt McCoy, who was set to finish the season as the Redskins‘ quarterback, did Griffin return to the field; his last regular-season performance was in a 44-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 28, when he completed 27 of 41 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

The Redskins surrendered four draft picks — three first-round selections, as well as a second-round choice — to obtain the No. 2 overall pick from the St. Louis Rams in 2012 that turned into Griffin. He set multiple team and league records as a rookie, was named the offensive rookie of the year and helped the Redskins claim their first NFC East title since 1999.

In the future, Griffin may be regarded more highly for what he accomplished with the Redskins, considering the franchise’s relative lack of success since winning their third Super Bowl following the 1991 season.

But for now, the future is the past.

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