Robert Griffin III Has Minimal Trade Value Because of Contract, Should Be Released Once Concussion

By Jason Lisk
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With Jay Gruden’s announcement that Kirk Cousins would be the Washington starter for the 2015 season, you can almost certainly place a bow on the Robert Griffin III era in the nation’s capital. He has very likely played his last game in Washington. I say “almost certainly” and “very likely” because, well, this is a dysfunctional franchise, and we can never rule out them making another sub-optimal move and costing themselves even more.

Kirk Cousins might struggle. I’ve been critical of Cousins in the past, calling him ridiculously overrated. Remember, he did get benched last year after throwing interceptions, replaced by Colt McCoy. In fact, over the last two years, among all quarterbacks in each year who threw 150+ passes, Cousins had the highest interception rate in 2014, and the third-highest interception rate in 2013.

But even if/when that happens, it’s pretty unlikely that RG3 gets the call if he is still on the roster. Colt McCoy will play if necessary, and I could actually see the team signing a quarterback off the street to start ahead of Griffin, if there were injury issues.

Robert Griffin III’s contract situation is the reason. In May, the team exercised the fifth-year option on Griffin. What this means is that Washington still holds his rights for the 2016 season, and a $16.5 million salary is guaranteed for injury only, until the 1st league day of 2016, at which time it would become fully guaranteed for skill, cap reasons, or injury. If Griffin were to struggle, or not play, Washington could release him after the season ended, with no further commitment. However, if Griffin were to play this season, and get hurt, they could be on the hook for 2016 if he remained injured past mid-March, when the new league year begins.

According to Mark Levin, the NFLPA Director of Salary Cap and Agent Administration, a team is obligated to pay an injury-only guarantee if they release the player while he is injured. A player is considered injured so long as he has suffered a football-related injury that prevents him from playing. If the team and the player were to disagree about whether the player was injured at the time he was cut, the NFLPA could get involved in the factual dispute.

What this means in the short-term is this: Washington isn’t releasing Robert Griffin III while he is still not medically cleared to participate because of the concussion he suffered in the preseason. At minimum, a player would be injured so long as the team’s physician had not cleared him to return to football activities. He is not scheduled to undergo further concussion tests until next week, so there won’t be any official movement while he is injured.

The team could, of course, use this time to explore trade options now that it’s clear head coach Jay Gruden is ready to move on. However, Griffin’s trade value is minimal, if not non-existent, because of the contract situation (and because everyone knows Washington will likely let him go for nothing in absence of a willing partner).

When he signed his rookie deal, it included no “offset language,” which means that Washington is on the hook for his entire 2015 salary if they release him, and don’t get to offset the amount owed against any other contract he signs for 2015. For this year, that is an approximate $3.3 million in base salary according to Spotrac. Other teams know this, and it allows Griffin to both get paid by Washington if released, and sign a new deal, and get money both ways.

Add in the injury-only guarantee that would also become part of the deal for any team trading for Griffin, and his value in trade in pretty non-existent. Maybe a team would be willing to give something up to Washington, to bring Griffin in to serve as a backup for $3.3 million, rather than let him get to the open market. Chase Daniel, for example, has a base salary of $3.75 million in Kansas City to back up Alex Smith, and Chad Henne has a $3.5 million base salary to backup Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. But the added possibility that a team could be on the hook for another $16.5 million if Griffin gets hurt late in the year and is still injured in March is probably not a risk other teams will want to deal with.

At the time the deal was signed, I expressed my doubts about the wisdom of exercising the option given the particular circumstances:

There is plenty of disagreement over whether Washington should exercise the option. While the guarantee is injury only for the next several months, I don’t think that I would make that choice if I were Washington. If Griffin were to have a breakout year and stay healthy, you still have the franchise tag option and nothing prevents the team from reaching a contract agreement. This year, the QB franchise tag number was about $18.5 million.

Yes, we don’t know what next year’s number is, but is the risk of paying an additional $2.5 million (and yes, losing flexibility to use it on a different player) worth the risk of paying out $16.5 million to an injury-prone player you won’t want? And that doesn’t even get into the discussion of whether he would be worth that amount to begin with.

Nevertheless, Washington appears like they might be ready to start the latest drama chapter with Robert Griffin III.

Given today’s move, where the head coach clearly does not want Griffin, that fifth-year option basically destroyed Griffin’s chances of playing in Washington, or Washington getting anything in trade. Do you really think Washington is going to trot him out on the field in November or December and risk an injury that would lead to that injury-only guarantee triggering? (Okay, maybe don’t answer that, because Daniel Snyder could do anything). Washington would be more likely sign a quarterback off the street than plug Griffin in for a week 14 start.

And to be honest, the situation is so toxic on a variety of fronts that the best move for all sides is just to release Griffin when he is cleared. A player can get hurt in practice during the week, even a non-starter. The injury-only guarantee issue simply makes it a disincentive to ever having Griffin touch another football, if the team has mentally moved on from him.

Is Griffin worth a chance to a different organization? Sure, but because of the fifth-year option, not at that price. Other teams would be better off just waiting for Washington to release him and sign him to a team-friendly deal. I guess all it takes is one sucker, but I would be stunned if he was traded. The realistic option, and the one that would be better for Griffin, is to just get released as soon as he is healthy. Otherwise, he’s probably sitting around for another year in a bad situation for all sides, packed away in bubble wrap, as stories about his time in Washington linger.

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