"I'm trying to be as honest as I can," he said. "And I don't normally do that."
Nobody had to worry about that on this day. With Kirk Cousins and a dejected Griffin himself ceding the podium, Shanahan went off-script, delivering a strong defense of why he has said he wants to rest Griffin -- which is not necessarily the real reason he's benching him, it's important to note -- and offering an intriguing tidbit that might shift the narrative in what appears to be an increasingly public game of chicken with Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
Shanahan said he consulted with both Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen before deciding to bench Griffin -- that, in fact, he started the conversation with Snyder last week about how many hits Griffin was taking -- saying he told both men that if they were not on board with the decision, he would not have gone through with it. He repeatedly indicated that the decision to sit Griffin was a group one. That put the issue squarely in the lap of the owner, whose relationship with the quarterback is reportedly one of the reasons Shanahan is disgruntled and wanted out of Washington as early as last offseason.
"Shanahan unplugged" wasn't over. The coach conceded that he could "kick myself in the rear end" for leaving Griffin in to tear his ACL in the playoff game against Seattle last season, even though he said "the doctor" -- that's you, Dr. James Andrews -- and Griffin assured him the quarterback's knee was still stable. And when someone asked him if he has to regularly review football decisions with the owner, here is how Shanahan helpfully replied:
"Dan could care less about the other positions," the coach said, by way of explaining why he doesn't consult Snyder about who is playing right guard.
Snyder was at the Special League Meeting in Dallas while Shanahan was speaking. But you can be sure he knows exactly what was said back home.
Whatever the real reason that Shanahan is shutting down a healthy Griffin -- whether it stems from a curious concern about his readiness for the offseason or, more intriguingly, if Griffin has become a pawn in a high-stakes power play -- Shanahan's remarks are sure to inflame an already tense and surreal situation.
It was hard to view Shanahan's tour de force as anything other than the next chapter in the Redskins' long-running psychodrama, and his next move in an increasingly bald attempt to shoot his way out of town, to force Snyder to set him free and pay out the estimated $7 million remaining on his contract. For weeks, the apparent dysfunction of the organization -- from the soured relationship between offensive coordinator (and coach's son) Kyle Shanahan and quarterback, to the tension between owner and head coach, to the quarterback's sensitivity about his bad plays being shown to teammates -- has been leaked to media outlets. The Washington Post reported this week that the team was sorting through its options, among them firing Shanahan and trying to withhold some of that $7 million.
Shanahan didn't miss an opportunity to pressure Snyder on that, too, saying he was absolutely not trying to get fired, and that he wanted to return to finish what he started. He even joked about perhaps receiving a 12- to 15-year contract. It was an amusing moment, but the laughter that followed it was telling -- nobody in the room could imagine Shanahan returning at all, let alone for such a long period of time.
Often in these franchise showdowns -- and Shanahan should be familiar with them after his time with the Raiders -- it is easy to identify the sympathetic figure. There would seem to be none here -- not the quarterback, not the coach and not the owner, just a mix of personalities that has led to a lost, embarrassing season and a wealth of sound bites.
The only questions remaining now are when and how it ends -- or, more to the point, if it ever does. If Shanahan is ultimately fired, does that solve the problem? Does Griffin get better at going through his progressions and improve as a pocket passer, as Cam Newton has, to preserve his body and lift his offense for the next coach? Does Snyder, now in his 15th year of ownership and likely soon hiring his eighth coach, create a winning culture and stable structure in which the only thing that matters is the team?
The Redskins need only to look across the field Sunday to see that it is possible to handle such disappointment much differently. The Atlanta Falcons' Super Bowl aspirations have melted into a three-win season. But Matt Ryan is playing out the year, and owner Arthur Blank has already made it clear that Mike Smith will return as coach to fix the problems. Most critically, nobody is burning down the team for their own ends.
Snyder runs one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world, worth an estimated $1.7 billion, according to Forbes. Smith has never won a Super Bowl as a head coach, but Shanahan has won two. Griffin, in just his second year, is a superstar of a wattage that Ryan will probably never equal. Snyder and Shanahan and Griffin, operating in their own very separate universes, probably don't envy much about the Falcons. But they might consider emulating them.