Thus far, 2016 has been a pretty good year for sports fans from the supposedly cursed city of Cleveland. LeBron James made good on his promise to deliver an NBA Championship in June, UFC heavyweight and proud city son Stipe Miocic claimed the UFC’s heavyweight title a month earlier, and as of Monday, even baseball’s Cleveland Indians were enjoying a six-game lead atop the American League Central.
Now, with NFL training camp about to begin, the Cleveland Browns are hoping that the off-season acquisition of quarterback Robert Griffin III will help to push the franchise towards a desperately needed turnaround. And after riding the pine for the Washington Redskins last season, Griffin III is hoping that a change of NFL scenery and a new team with a history of quarterback disasters will be enough to resuscitate a once-brilliant career.
In March, Cleveland inked Griffin III to a two-year deal at a time when no other NFL squads were showing any interest, and despite a lack of recent playing time, the former Baylor Bear is expected to compete with incumbent Josh McCown, 2015 backup Austin Davis, and rookie draft pick Cody Kessler out of USC for the position’s top job.
Shortly after acquiring Griffin, recently hired head coach Hue Jackson talked to reporters about the former first-rounder’s potential.
”We are excited about Robert joining the Cleveland Browns,” said Jackson via CBS Sports. ”He brings starting experience to our team and organization. He’s a young, athletic, talented passer and he’s really just starting out in this league. Just like every other player on our team, Robert will have to earn every opportunity he gets. He will compete with the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster and he helps improve our QB room, which was one of my goals upon taking the job. It’s a special room and we want to put special people and players in that room. We are looking forward to working with Robert, as well as the rest of the quarterbacks on our roster.”
While Jackson’s comments didn’t come close to cementing RG3’s status as the team’s starter, he, as well as others within the organization, felt confident enough in Cleveland’s quarterback situation to trade the second overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles, passing on the opportunity to take either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz — whoever wasn’t selected with the top overall pick, only a month after Griffin III’s arrival.
That move said a lot about the second chance that Griffin III is currently being given in Cleveland. But even if the Browns believe that Jackson can somehow use the same magic he used on Andy Dalton while employed as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator to re-shape Griffin III, a lot of folks seem to think that drafting either Wentz or Goff would’ve been a safer long-term bet.
Of course, since their triumphant homecoming in 1999, the Browns have had unbelievably bad luck with starting quarterbacks — especially those they’ve drafted. Along with having the prestigious position held by a total of 24 different signal-callers since then, first-round bust Tim Couch is the closest that they’ve come to stability under center in the last 16 years.
Just two years ago, the ”Dawg Pound” thought that they’d landed Cleveland’s starting quarterback of the future when Johnny Manziel fell down the draft board and into a Browns’ uniform. Unfortunately, Manziel’s on-field mediocrity has only been overshadowed by his self-destructive antics off the field, and recently Cleveland wisely cut ties with the troubled quarterback.
Entering training camp, McCown is the favorite to regain the starting gig simply because he’s the only quarterback on Cleveland’s current roster to have spent any real time at the position in 2015, throwing 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games for last season’s Browns. And after learning that Griffin had joined the team, McCown told Pro Football Talk that he’s actually looking forward to the competition.
”You want to compete and you want to have a shot to play, and so if a guy comes in and he’s perceived to be the starter, as a competitor, you don’t like that,” said McCown. ”But at the same time, understand that when you go through a coaching change and a restructuring of the organization, they’re going to do whatever they can to help this football team be better. And so as a Cleveland Brown, I’m all for that and behind that 100 percent, so we welcome Robert into the quarterback room as a part of our team, and I’ll do everything I can to help Robert.”
Along with the addition of Jackson, who replaced Mike Pettine as the team’s head coach in January, Cleveland also canned general manager Ray Farmer and broke tradition by replacing him with the two-man team of vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta — a former front office executive from baseball who was famously portrayed by actor Jonah Hill in Moneyball.
On Monday, both Griffin and the Browns were given potentially great news when the NFL announced that it was reinstating suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon. He’ll have to miss the first four games of the regular season, and nobody can blame Browns fans for tempering their expectations for a player who’s been suspended for 27 of the team’s last 32 games. But alongside pass-catching tight end Gary Barnidge, Gordon would be very tough to cover.
However, before everyone starts dreaming of Griffin III dashing down the sideline in a Browns’ jersey and tossing thirty-plus touchdowns with the help of Gordon and Barnidge, we can’t forget that RG3 hasn’t been the best teammate and has a history of ducking responsibility when things go south.
Among the many enemies he made in the nation’s capital, Griffin had obvious issues with some of Washington’s offensive linemen, and when he left the team, respected veteran tight end Chris Cooley made it known that almost everyone was thrilled to see the former first-rounder go.
Best case scenario? Griffin III wins the starting job, develops unbreakable chemistry with Gordon and Barnidge on the way to eclipsing his statistical bests, and leads Cleveland to just its second playoff appearance of the century. Worst case? The Browns are in this exact place a year from now, and all the questions about RG3’s football future have been answered.
[Photo By-Alex Goodlett/Getty Images]