Players, coaches, scouts and media members often talk about "the right situation." This can be a little hard-to-define; in fact, the best way to identify "the right situation" is by first pointing out "the wrong situation."
Few examples of "the wrong situation" are better than Robert Griffin III's time in Washington.
Griffin's release by the organization Monday ends a brief relationship that touched both ends of the quarterback-franchise spectrum. Griffin knows the feeling of being the most beloved player and most reviled player, among an NFL team's fan base. He knows the feeling of success, of utter on-field dominance. He also knows what it's like to be utterly hapless, an abject failure under center.
It was a blessing guys. After 4 years, my days as a part of this team have come to an end. I just want to take the time to say thank you #SkinsNation. Thank you for welcoming my family with open arms in 2012. You guys made it truly an honor to play for you and I couldn't imagine starting my career anywhere else. Thank you to Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen, all the Skins coaches, training staff, equipment managers and everyone in the organization for giving me an opportunity to play this beautiful game at the highest level here in Washington. A special thanks to front desk extraordinaire B.J. Blanchard, who always has a smile on her face and is the plug for chocolate chips cookies. Thank you to my teammates for all the memories & relationships over the past 4 years. You guys have helped thru all the ups and downs over the years and have become a part of my family for life. I wish you all the best and you always have a brother to lean on. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Although my time here is over, I'm excited about what the future brings!!! I look forward to finding the team where God has me to be and growing with that team on the way to World Championships. God Bless #ThankYou
The easy explanation is to write Griffin off as a draft bust. But he wasn't: He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.
The popular alternative is to attribute his failings to his health. Griffin's white-hot start to his NFL career was extinguished by injuries that robbed him of his rhythm and confidence.
There's something to that theory, but it isn't the main reason his Redskins career went up in smoke. For that, you can thank the organization itself.
From that first playoff game of the 2012 season -- the one in which Griffin, already playing through an injury and largely ineffective, tore his right ACL -- Griffin became a point of contention and friction within the organization. Sometimes he invited that controversy, such as when he challenged then-coach Mike Shanahan on play-calling or his own personal rehab. But at the heart of the matter, the problems in Washington were beyond Griffin's control, even if he constantly found himself wrapped up in the controversy.
The very first chapter in that long story concerned Shanahan's decision to leave Griffin in the game, and exposed to injury. The team had continued to play its rookie quarterback in a playoff game despite his obvious physical limitations. Shanahan later said that he consulted with Dr. James Andrews before deciding to keep Griffin in the game, but that explanation didn't pass the eye test.
Even fans watching from home thought it was absurd that Griffin was playing -- that the team would risk injury of their newly minted face-of-the-franchise just to win a wild card playoff game.
The physical problems that followed only validated that outsider opinion.
He became a divisive subject: Shanahan grew tired of dealing with him, while team owner Dan Snyder insisted he was the franchise quarterback. In this rare moment, Snyder was actually right: Griffin still seemed capable of returning to his rookie level of performance, and the risk/reward of cutting bait on Griffin vs. giving him another try was heavily in favor of the latter strategy.
Shanahan was shown the door, and Jay Gruden came in with the task of rehabilitating Griffin. But again, Griffin was never given the chance to get comfortable. In 2014, he dislocated his ankle in Week 2. He returned in Week 9, and the team lost three straight, so Gruden benched Griffin.
That short leash shows what lack of faith Gruden had in Griffin. From that point on, any reasonable hope for Griffin's recovery was lost. It was clear: The quarterback was in "the wrong situation."
Even after a strong end to the 2014 season, when injuries to other quarterbacks thrust Griffin back onto the field, he was seen as a dead man walking. The emergence of Kirk Cousins this season alleviated any lingering sense of a quarterback battle that had brewed between the two in seasons past, so it's easy to forget that Griffin began training camp at the top of the depth chart -- and lost his starting job after suffering a preseason concussion.
The situation in Washington had turned septic for Griffin, and Cousins' success had almost nothing to do with his downfall, other than relegate him permanently to the sideline. Now, Griffin's release is easily the best thing that could have happened to him. Fleeing from a bad situation, where two coaches quit on him while fans turned their franchise-fostered frustrations on him, Griffin has a genuine chance to recover some measure of his earlier promise.
Away from the spotlight, Griffin can continue to rebuild his psyche and polish his mechanics. If he joins a team with an established starter, he can relish the anonymity, the absence of any immediate pressure. Psychic distance from Washington -- far from a model NFL franchise -- can only do him good.
After several years in a bad situation, Griffin has earned this moment. Is he free of blame for how his career progressed? Of course not. Was he a victim of circumstances beyond his control? Without question.
And there's no saying that a change of scenery will re-awaken the potential Griffin once held. It seems unlikely he'll return to the form that made him an instant NFL star in 2012. That's the problem with finding yourself in the wrong situation: The damage inflicted can be permanent.
But if Griffin can find the right situation -- the right situation for this point in his career -- maybe he can still reclaim some of what he lost.