BALTIMORE -- With a modest pinch of tobacco tucked into his lower lip, the new Washington Redskins boss strolled the sideline Saturday, hours before the third preseason game began, wearing a smile as sincere and ordinary as any executive we've seen with this team in years.
"No drama on this one!" general manager Scot McCloughan said, his voice deep and his handshake firm and sturdy. "Just got to get him healthy."
McCloughan, of course, was talking about the wildly weird day that unfolded in the wake of a decision from a league-hired independent neurologist to sideline Robert Griffin III against the Baltimore Ravens. And McCloughan wasn't lying: That's not where the drama lurks.
Behind the scenes, according to team sources, McCloughan is attempting to maintain his same blunt charm as he navigates what now feels like an inevitable reality: Not only is Griffin's tenure with the Redskins likely coming to a close, but another kerfuffle will soon ensue if this is not handled with decisive tact.
As the clock ticks for Griffin to undergo his second neurological exam -- which won't happen until Friday at the earliest, and possibly not until next week -- so too does a separate but simultaneous count for the team to pull the trigger on Jay Gruden's growing desire to move away from Griffin altogether.
For now, the quarterback can participate in non-contact drills, which was the case at Monday's 11 a.m. practice. But the moment Griffin is cleared by neurologist Robert Kurtzke to resume full activities, the Redskins will have a $16.1 million liability on their hands. That's the figure Griffin would be owed next season through the fifth-year option on his rookie contract -- a figure that is fully guaranteed for injury in 2015.
The Redskins would be indecisive and financially irresponsible to bench Griffin and still allow him to practice, but they would also be naïve to think this will end quietly if that's the path they choose. Which is why cutting Griffin, sooner rather than later, is the only diplomatic choice.
Otherwise, we're staring down an obvious path to the type of grievances filed by Steve McNair against the Titans in 2006 and Daunte Culpepper against the Dolphins in 2007. In each of those instances, the respective teams barred their quarterbacks from participating in team drills -- despite both being healthy -- to limit the possibility of injury. In McNair's case, the team was on the hook for a salary-cap hit of nearly $24 million if he got hurt -- so the Titans were trying to force a renegotiation. In Culpepper's case, which is perhaps more relevant, the team had traded for Trent Green to be its new starter -- so the Dolphins did not want Culpepper to suffer an injury while they tried to trade him.
In both instances, the players filed grievances for breach of contract while fueling major headlines in their respective cities. And you'd better believe, two weeks before the season's start, Griffin eventually could be forced to do the same. Don't think he won't. After all, Griffin is the same guy who still took the field before Saturday's game in Baltimore to throw 30 minutes worth of passes, even though he wasn't playing in the game. He is the same guy who, despite awaiting clearance to return from a dislocated ankle last October, took the field before Monday Night Football to throw passes in front of the pregame crowd.
He is not above a spectacle. He is not afraid of the drama.
So, the clock ticks ...
» The clock ticks on a football decision that already has been made in the mind of Gruden, who team sources say is entirely convinced Griffin is not the quarterback to make his team a winner.
» The clock ticks on a financial dilemma that was created by the Redskins' decision to pick up Griffin's fifth-year option this offseason -- which ultimately has landed them in a situation that is now far more urgent (because of the injury clause) as a result.
» And the clock ticks on a very real locker-room distraction for every day Griffin remains a backup quarterback.
Sure, if the Redskins do cut Griffin, it would cause them to eat the $3.7 million Griffin is guaranteed for this year and take a salary-cap hit of $6.7 million. But it still might be the best option for the team at this point.
A trade is highly unlikely, since any interested team would need to sacrifice a draft pick and/or player(s) while also committing to the same contract burdens facing the Redskins right now. Such a cost would only be worth it if a team wanted Griffin as its starter -- and very few teams have such needs this close to the season. A New York Jets team source, for instance, says Gang Green would not be interested in acquiring Griffin, which eliminates one of the most likely potential suitors from the mix.
So where does this leave this fluid situation?
Griffin, according to sources close to the player, had not asked to be traded or cut as of Monday morning -- but he certainly has had multiple people in his ear telling him it is time to accept the reality of an inevitable divorce. It seems, at least, like he sees it coming. At this point, who doesn't?
So don't let the weekend's situation involving bad communication about the status of Griffin's concussion -- yes, a blunder in its own right -- cause you to become so distracted that you miss the real story, which has been lurking for days. Concussion or not, the Redskins have been contemplating a decision that could end this odd episode once and for all.
Drama? Oh, the real drama still lurks.