Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tampering With Nature

As published in The County Times (, September 4, 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Before jumping into this week’s piece, here’s a revelation: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads The County Times

When this column last appeared, it condemned Goodell’s paltry two-game suspension of Ray Rice for beating his wife.  Well, last week, Goodell acknowledged the error and announced that domestic violence would net a six-game suspension for first time offenders and a lifetime ban for a subsequent offense.  Better late than never, Mr. Goodell.  And thanks for reading (and heeding) The County Times.

The athleticism, cannon arm and charisma aside, he had me after his 4.4 second, 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.  Apparently former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan fell in love too – head over heels in love. 

Owing the sixth pick in 2012 NFL Draft, a consequence of a 5-11 season and the uninspiring quarterback duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman, the ‘Skins didn’t just need a quarterback, they needed a reason not to dread the upcoming fall.  Instead of waiting in line and selecting a blasé player like Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill, the ‘Skins cut a huge trade with the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection.  The price was steep: three first round picks (2012-2014) and a second round pick (2012).  The prize was a shot of organizational adrenaline: Robert Griffin III.

My goodness it worked initially.  Griffin was sensational in 2012.  His run-pass threat had defenses reeling and the pistol formation and the read-option offense became part of the NFL’s staid lexicon.  In Griffin’s debut, the ‘Skins scored 40 points in an upset win over the New Orleans Saints.  By November, “RGIII, RGIII, RGIII” chants were routine at FedEx Field.  And in week 17, a hobbled but heroic Griffin led the ‘Skins to a division-clinching win over the Dallas Cowboys.

It was fool’s gold.  A week later in the playoffs, Griffin’s abused right knee, a joint he had injured weeks earlier, collapsed in grotesque fashion.  It was a franchise pivot point.  Shanahan’s incompetent handling of the injury and of the team’s greatest asset essentially cost the coach his job a year later.  As for Griffin, his career derailed; the magic of 2012 vanished.  He limped through a moribund 2013 season and has looked, depending on your perspective, either tentative or lost thus far in 2014.    

The Rams’ story, despite the Griffin bounty, is even worse.  They are better, but the team representing the gateway city has posted two inconsequential seven-win seasons since the trade.  Further, QB Sam Bradford, the guy who justified them passing on Griffin, tore his left ACL last season and again this preseason.  He won’t play again until 2015; his future in St. Louis – and the NFL - is in serious doubt.

I’m not suggesting that Griffin and Bradford would have been better off in St. Louis and anywhere but St. Louis, respectively.  What I am saying is that the ‘Skins-Rams trade hasn’t worked.  It still could, but the prospects are dim.  At this point it looks like a forced action between an anxious, quarterback-desperate team and another with such a talent void that quantity was more alluring than quality.  Instead of letting the draft come to them, the ‘Skins decided to tamper with nature and make the Rams an offer they couldn’t refuse.  Both teams secured the prize they wanted – a quarterback for Washington and a slew of players-to-be-named-later for St. Louis – but are still seeking a foundation for consistent success.

In the late sixties, Paul McCartney penned the iconic song “Let It Be.”  It is an elegant reminder that “in times of trouble…there will be an answer” if we keep the faith and stay the course.  It is hard to argue with that advice.  The worst of times are often best navigated by simply putting one foot in front of the other – first moment by moment, then hour by hour and eventually day by day.  Similarly, the best things in life (defined as you see fit) are often attained not through contrived actions or stubborn defiance but through a series of completely organic events.  The gist is that optimal answers aren’t acquired; they are revealed.  In their “times of trouble”, the ‘Skins and Rams seemingly overreacted to the moment and re-engineered reality; perhaps each would have been wise to simply “let it be.”   

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