The decision for Indianapolis was a no-brainer. Of course the Colts would pick up Andrew Luck's fifth-year option: He'd delivered everything they’d hoped he would during his first three seasons. Regardless of what happens this season, he is their future.
It’s not so easy for the guy drafted one spot behind him in 2012. The Washington Redskins have less than a month (until May 3) to decide if they want to pick up Robert Griffin III's fifth-year option, which would pay him $16.155 million. To put it mildly, it’s a risk -- and it’s one they don’t need to take.
The injury risk is the single biggest reason the Redskins must be smart about the extension. You can debate all night long about why he hasn’t played well the past two years, but there is no denying injury issues. Griffin already has had one torn ACL in the NFL, to go along with one suffered in college. And he tore ligaments in his ankle last year, sidelining him for six games.
The point: He gets hurt. It’s not just his style of play, though that contributes to it. He’s still learning to protect himself on the run, when to get rid of the ball, how to keep his eyes downfield. Seattle’s Russell Wilson gets hit a lot, too; he hasn’t been hurt.
And here’s the real bottom line: The $16.155 million is guaranteed only for injury. So if a player gets hurt in 2015 and the team wants or needs to cut him because of that injury, all of that money would be guaranteed and would count against the salary cap.
Any team picking up that option assumes that risk, of course, but we already know there’s a divide in the organization about what Griffin can do at quarterback. When it comes to quarterbacks, the organization must feel good about what it has but a split is bad. Scream unfairness or bias or whatever makes you feel better but the Redskins have a split. That’s the truth.
If he plays the way his doubters fear and then gets hurt, you’re now talking about $16 million in 2016 cap space for a player coming off another injury that you’re not sold on. At that point you’re either carrying a lot of dead money or a player you might not want at a hefty sum. And you’d then need a quarterback because he either wouldn’t be the answer or would be unable to play.
If he has a year like last season where an injury occurs early but he returns, they could then cut him after the season and there’s no guaranteed money.
It’s not a pleasant scenario by any means. And the hope is that Griffin doesn’t get hurt, that he’s able to show, good or bad, all that he can do. But if you’re the Redskins and you’re trying to decide on the fifth year, you have to take all of this into account. The durability concerns are real. This isn’t personal, it’s business as they say in my favorite movie. (You have to ask? It’s "The Godfather.") The NFL is very impersonal: Play well, get paid; play poorly, get cut.
The Redskins named Griffin their starter already, hoping it provides a boost for him and settles a situation that would be chaotic even in the spring. That’s fine. But you don’t hand out $16.155 million just to make someone feel better or more secure or because he has a good relationship with the owner. After two tough seasons by Griffin and the team, is there anything wrong with proving yourself once more? For a variety of reasons -- some Griffin could control, others he couldn’t -- he hasn’t been the same player since his injury.
Thing is, it’s too early to write off Griffin and I'm not going to do that. The point isn’t to say he can’t play well. He can. Griffin can help himself in many ways. The Redskins can help him get better, as well. It’s not a one-way street here. No doubt many people would like to see Griffin return to having the swagger he showed in 2012 when he energized a city and fan base. As a beat writer, it sure beat covering the past two years -- by a mile.
But it’s not as if the Redskins would lose him if they don't pick up the option and he plays well. They can still sign him to a long-term deal. Or if he balks at that and is angry about the option year, they can use the franchise tag on him. Either way, if Griffin succeeds, it’s not as if they’d lose him because they did not use the fifth-year option. Heck, he could end up with a better deal.
The Redskins have less than a month to decide and I’m not sure what direction they’ll go. But I know one decision carries more risk.