BEREA, Ohio — It is a fresh start for Robert Griffin III after his quick flameout in Washington, and he seems to have found a good landing spot in a place where the expectations are low and the possibilities are intriguing.
After RG3’s electrifying rookie season in 2012, knee problems, a coaching change and the emergence of Kirk Cousins led to his eventual ouster after last season — a season in which he didn’t play a single down and earned $3.3 million — the 26-year-old quarterback gets his next chance with a franchise steeped in disappointment.
And yet he couldn’t be happier.
“We have the potential to be great,” Griffin said. “It’s really exciting to see our roster. When you have guys like Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, Andrew Hawkins, guys that have been in the league for a long time, when they show up every day ready for work, it’s easy to fall in line and do that.”
Ah, August in Browns camp, a time of great anticipation and optimism — perhaps the only time of year when those two words can be used to describe a franchise that has known little but soul-crushing sadness. Since football came back to Cleveland in 1999, four years after Art Modell absconded with the franchise to Baltimore, the Browns have suffered like few other professional franchises.
There have been only two winning seasons and one playoff berth. First-year coach Hue Jackson is the eighth different head coach. Griffin would become the 24th — 24th! — quarterback to start a game and the 14th — 14th! — Week 1 starter.
So if you’re going to be excited about playing for this team, you might as well be excited now, because history says the feeling won’t last. At least not when it comes to winning games.
But give Griffin this: After burning out as quickly as a shooting star in Washington, and after enduring withering criticism — some of it brought on by himself, especially when he barely concealed his frustrations with coaches Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden — Griffin has a quarterback-friendly coach in Jackson and at least a handful of quality players with which to work.
Now we see whether the emotional scars from his ill-fated run in the NFC East have fully healed, or if he is sucked into the vortex of failure like so many before him — including the spectacular implosion of recently banished quarterback Johnny Manziel — in a place dubbed the Factory of Sadness because of all the losing.
“It’s hard not to carry your scars,” Hawkins, the Browns’ 30-year-old receiver and locker room leader, said of Griffin. “There are two ways you can react. Your scars can beat you down, or they can make you better. I see [Griffin] as a guy who has learned from the past and the roller coaster that the NFL is, and I think he’s going to use that as motivation, take the lessons taught and make himself a better player. I think he’s learned a lot from his past situation, and I think it’s going to make him a better quarterback.”
Veteran quarterback Josh McCown, the Browns’ 2015 Week 1 starter who likely will serve as RG3’s backup, thinks Griffin’s difficult experiences in Washington can help him moving forward. McCown, the subject of trade rumors with the Cowboys after Tony Romo’s backup, Kellen Moore, suffered a broken leg, has counseled Griffin on how to deal with adversity.
“I think he already has benefited from things he has gone through,” McCown said. “It’s a credit to Robert for being able to say, ‘There are some things I did that I liked and I’m going to continue to do those things, and there are the things that maybe it wasn’t the best at that time.’ He’s thrown those away and trying to move forward. I think that’s the mark of a guy growing, and a mark of growth and wisdom to say, ‘I’m not going to make the same mistakes twice.’ ”
Griffin has gotten most of the starter’s reps, and Jackson is expected to go with him as his starter, with the coach indicating he’d like to make that decision sooner rather than later. If Jackson can help Griffin recapture the dynamic playmaking ability he showed as a rookie, Griffin has the chance to enjoy a Comeback Player of the Year season.
But with continued questions about Griffin’s mechanics and decision-making ability, and with unrelenting failure as the backdrop for a franchise that has been hideously bad since returning to Cleveland, Griffin will be fighting against some imposing obstacles.
Good luck with that.