Match Made in Heaven or The Odd Couple? – Cleveland Browns & Robert Griffin III

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

So you’ve all now heard that the Cleveland Browns, the team that has had 24 different QBs since 1999, signed former Washington Redskins QB, Robert Griffin III.

So the Browns end up paying RGIII approximately $7.5 million per year, as compared to the approximately $4.8 million per year that they’re paying current veteran staff QB Josh McCown.¬† That’s a lot of money to pay a guy who didn’t play a single snap in 2015.¬† But regardless, both the Browns and RGIII seem pretty excited about the signing.

OK, so the Browns are happy, RGIII is happy, and apparently, at least based on a totally unscientific TMZ Sports poll, the fans appear to be happy:

TMZ Poll RGIII

But perhaps the important question is “Should they be?”

Well, let’s take a quick look, shall we?

Robert Griffin III

Roger Goodell and Robert Griffin III - Getty Images

Roger Goodell and Robert Griffin III – Getty Images

Griffin, a Heisman Trophy winner in college, was the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, right behind Andrew Luck, after the Redskins traded two first round picks and a second and swapped first round picks with the Rams.  At first, everything seemed rosy in DC, as RGIII brought the Redskins to an NFC East title and was named the offensive rookie of the year after setting an NFL record for rookies with a 102.4 passer rating.  But, in part due to his aggressive style of play, which included a significant amount of scrambling outside the box, he partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee late that season and then, due in part to questionable coaching, tore the ACL in that knee in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Still, even with the injury, there was significant optimism and anticipation among Redskins fans that RGIII would be back to lead them to another shot at the playoffs in 2013.  Heck, Adidas even made a commercial about it.

But after a record setting 2012, RGIII fell back to earth in a big way in 2013, with a whopping 12 INTs in just 13 games played, ultimately leading to 82.2 passer rating.  Part of the regression might have been from returning from injury, but a significant part was due to forcing RGIII to be more of a pocket passer (he had 63 more passing attempts in 2 less games in 2013, coupled with 34 less carries and not a single rushing TD) as well as significant friction with head coach Mike Shanahan and the rest of the coaching staff.

Jay Gruden took over as head coach in 2014, but it didn’t help. Griffin continued to struggle, ultimately missing six games because of a dislocated ankle suffered in Week 2 and three games due to being benched.¬† And, of course, we know how 2015 went, as Griffin permanently lost the Redskins’ starting QB job in the preseason and was active for only one game while sitting at no. 3 on the Redskins QB depth chart.

And, to put the final nail in the coffin, RGIII was then released by the Redskins on March 7.

Is RGIII a Fit for the Cleveland Browns?

It was widely believed, and still is now by several draft pundits, that the Cleveland Browns would draft their next “franchise QB” with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.¬† I certainly was one them, believing that Jared Goff or Carson Wentz would be the next in line to handle the ball under center in Cleveland.¬† In fact, with Josh McCown still under contract for another two years, it made sense to draft a QB and have him bide his time and learn in 2016 while McCown manages the team.¬† McCown wasn’t going to win them any games, but he wasn’t going to lose them any games either.¬† So this move to RGIII, at least for me, is a bit of an odd move.

Assuming the Browns were looking for a “franchise QB” in the draft, it didn’t make sense to spend even more money on another “veteran” QB, particularly one who hasn’t had a good season since 2012 and who didn’t play a single snap in 2015.¬† I suppose, on the plus side, the Browns now have some flexibility to trade McCown to help fill gaps at WR and defense, and could use their second pick of the draft (ostensibly a first round pick at 32nd overall due to the Patriots forfeiting their first round pick) to draft a QB other than Goff or Wentz.¬† Perhaps Paxton Lynch will be available that late, who would be a real value, but would require more seasoning in the NFL.¬† If RGIII is successful, it could provide the Browns more time to spend developing one of the deeper QBs in the draft.¬† But therein lies the big “if”.¬† The real question is whether RGIII and the Browns can be successful together.

RGIII Sacked

One of the major issues with RGIII from his Redskins days was the sheer volume of sacks and hits he took.  That was the reason he was injured in 2012 and was the reason cited for his benching in 2014.  Fortunately for RGIII, Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns offensive line 5th overall and 3rd for pass blocking.  Unfortunately, a lot of this ranking was based on the outstanding play of OT Mitchell Schwartz and solid consistent play of C Alex Mack, both of which were loss in free agency this offseason.  In fact, even with Schwartz and Mack, Football Outsiders ranked the Browns pass protection as 7th WORST in the NFL in 2015, with an adjusted sack rate of 8.1% (compared to a league average of 6.4%).

In addition, on the WR side, only two Browns WRs caught at least 50 passes in 2015, Travis Benjamin and Brian Hartline.¬† And out of 87 qualifiers, Benjamin and Hartline ranked 65 and 71 in terms of defense-adjusted yards above replacement (“DYAR”).¬† Worst yet, Benjamin has moved on to San Diego, leaving Cleveland with a huge question mark regarding who will be catching the ball in 2016, outside of standout TE Gary Barnidge.

And also of concern is the fact that¬†there isn’t a consistent reliable RB in Cleveland to take pressure off of RGIII.¬† Isaiah Crowell (185 carries for 706 yards and 4 TDs) and Duke Johnson (104 carries for 379 yards and 61 receptions with 2 TDs) did fine in 2015, but neither are huge threats.¬† But assuming they remain serviceable in 2016, perhaps there’s some positive that can come out of this.

Through almost three years, Alfred Morris (then Redskins RB) actually averaged over a full yard per attempt more WITH RGIII under center (4.82) than without (3.79).  So, assuming that RGIII is able to right the ship under Browns new head coach Hue Jackson and assistant head coach/QB coach Pep Hamilton, the Cleveland ground game may also improve.

And don’t forget where Hamilton has been over the last three years.¬† He’s been in Indianapolis as the offensive coordinator preparing and honing the guy drafted one spot ahead of RGIII in 2012, Andrew Luck.¬† After a rookie passer rating of 76.5, Hamilton helped Luck improve to 87.0 in 2013 and 96.5 in 2014 before Luck fell off in 2015 due to injury.¬† So, although RGIII is different type of QB, Hamilton does have a track record coaching up younger QBs in the NFL.

And the Conclusion is…

Well, it’s basically all up to the Browns and what they do to provide RGIII with some guidance and with viable weapons on the field.¬† Personally, I don’t think it was necessary to add RGIII, since McCown was perfectly capable of holding down the fort as either Goff or Wentz developed.¬† But on the flip side, if you’re going to gamble, this is the kind of gamble I like.¬† RGIII has performed at a high level in the NFL before, and if the Browns shore up the gaps in the offensive line and provide a few additional targets on the field (perhaps using a hopefully reinstated Josh Gordon as one of them), sky is the limit.

And honestly, when was the last time Browns fans used the phrase “sky is the limit” in reference to their team?¬† Feels good, doesn’t it?

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