By Jason Keidel
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While Ryan Fitzpatrick gambles with his football future, the Jets are playing a little poker of their own. And it seems like Robert Griffin III is one of their hole cards.
For now, Fitzpatrick has a better hand.
Who doesn’t think RGIII is shot? First his knee betrayed him, and then his inflated sense of self did him in. By the time Griffin was officially an outcast, he had destroyed every ounce of goodwill he had received from the Redskins, a team that traded the bulk of its 2012 draft for him.
So if the Jets let emotion shove Fitzpatrick out the door, it would be a grave mistake.
Sure, Fitzpatrick is hardly Tom Brady, but the Jets went 10-6 and came within a whisker of the playoffs with him, thinking initially that Geno Smith would be the starter. If the Amish Rifle spends all summer with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and newcomer Matt Forte, the Jets should be quite potent come the fall. Again. There’s a lot to be said for chemistry, particularly in football, where the QB/skill position dynamic is essential.
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And let’s not forget the reports that say RGIII can hardly read a defense, barely knows the difference between a three-step and five-step drop, and may still regard himself as a star. These aren’t the accounts of opposing defensive players or others who have no stake in his future. These are from some of his former coaches.
A knee injury thwarted his game, and then he quickly ruined his name. RGIII came to represent the resentment fans feel toward the nouveaux player, equal parts baller and brand, straight out of the HBO show starring The Rock. Redskins owner Dan Snyder reportedly took Griffin under his opulent wing, providing security, limos, and perhaps a private plane. That wasn’t exactly good for locker room Dharma.
It’s a lot easier to forgive a star of his eccentricities when he produces on the field, but Griffin became the emblem of excess, someone who felt entitled to the spoils before he became the victor.
Jets fans are oddly angry at Fitzpatrick. When I wrote Monday that his value shot up with the obscene contract signed by Brock Osweiler, I was called all manner of moron.
But Fitzpatrick has averaged 26 touchdown passes per season under Chan Gailey, who coached him in Buffalo and then last season as the Jets’ offensive coordinator, so the results have been hardly a fluke. Fitz tossed a franchise-best 31 TDs last season and nearly hit 4,000 yards.
Since 2013, Griffin’s record is 5-15, with 20 TDs and 18 interceptions. And he hasn’t played a single snap since 2014. If not for his glittering, rookie campaign, RGIII would be in the booth, headset wrapped around his head and calling football games for a living, while wondering how it all fell apart so fast.
Don’t just take my word for it. Former NFL fullback Heath Evans has been keenly vocal about RGIII, calling his resplendent, rookie campaign a mirage. Evans spent the bulk of last season reiterating that stance, even when Kirk Cousins was 2-5, long before he cemented his place in Washington.
People who have much to gain from Griffin’s success have backed away from him at record rates, while the unbiased observer isn’t seeing enough to invite him to their team and town for a tryout. Unless you’re the Jets, who may have a sudden and epic void at quarterback.
This is a dual referendum on a team used to losing and a player proving he’s not a loser. The two don’t mix. RGIII needs a team that has its mail forwarded to January, and can help him find his inner winner. While the Jets just need to get the guy who almost got them there a few months ago.
If the Jets go with Robert Griffin III, siding with cash over cachet, then you’ll understand why they haven’t won a world title since man landed on the moon.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel