Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III talks about wanting to play for the Ravens and being a leader. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
As Robert Griffin III weighs the 4 1/2 months he’s spent as a Ravens quarterback and his potential fate when the team cuts its roster to 53 players Saturday, he needn’t look far for reinforcement.
“The players seem to tell me every single day they want me to be here,” he said after a beastly hot Tuesday afternoon preparing for the team’s final preseason game Thursday evening.
In some respects, it’s the referendum he most wanted to win.
Not long ago, a reporter asked if he wanted to shed his identity as RGIII, the one-time Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Rookie of the Year who was out of the league entirely in 2017.
“Some people associate some bad things with that, and I don’t. It’s who I am,” he said. “When I came into this locker room, these guys didn’t expect me to come in and be the first guy in, last guy out, do all the things you would say a rookie would do. They expected me to come in with that moniker as RGIII and just expect it to be laid at my feet. So I think I’ve earned their respect by how I’ve come out and worked every day, whether I get all the reps or no reps.”
Given the bitterness and missteps that characterized his later time with the Redskins, it’s easy to forget how Griffin reigned over Washington just six years ago as a brilliant rookie quarterback leading a tortured franchise back to the playoffs.
He sticks to the good when reflecting on his previous life, 45 minutes down I-95.
“I’ve got nothing but love for the Washington Redskins. They’re the organization that drafted me in 2012,” he said. “I’m really grateful for that. If I get the opportunity to go out and play against them, it won’t be any more special or less special. But I’ll always know where I started.”
Griffin said he’s a wiser player than he was during that magical first season, when he threw his body around with abandon and ultimately paid the price. It was notable that when he ripped off a 21-yard run in Saturday night’s preseason win over the Miami Dolphins, he finished it with a slide.
“I know where I’ve come up short in my career, and one of those is being available,” he said. “I think I’ve proven throughout the preseason that I’ve learned to protect myself while also still playing aggressively. I think that’s something I didn’t do earlier in my career. I was a little reckless.”
Now he finds himself in the odd position of watching rookie teammate Lamar Jackson — another former Heisman Trophy winner with dazzling feet — take ferocious hits at the end of inspired runs.
“We have a similar skill set, so I try to get in his ear as much as I can on some of those things,” he said. “I think coming from me, he hears it a little bit more. … That is something he will have to master on his own, just like I did. I thought I was protecting myself when I was a rookie too, just diving into guys.”
No one quite knew what to think when the Ravens signed Griffin shortly before the NFL draft and then traded back into the first round to pick Jackson. Did Griffin have a real shot to make the team? How would he react to seeing his opportunity threatened by another former Heisman winner?
“You try to maximize the days,” he said. “You’d have to ask the coaches and [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and [assistant GM] Eric [DeCosta] to see how they feel about what I’ve done. But I’ve just tried to earn the respect of my teammates and get the coaches to trust me, and I think I’ve accomplished those things.”
Before the Ravens played the Dolphins on Saturday, coach John Harbaugh acknowledged how difficult Griffin had made his decision on whether to keep three quarterbacks.
He reiterated that Tuesday.
“I think Robert has done everything we’ve asked him to do and more,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens, like most NFL teams, have treated third quarterbacks as a luxury. They haven’t carried one since 2009. But if there’s ever a year, this would seem to be it, with the team harboring playoff ambitions and Jackson still a work in progress.
With plenty of teams searching for backup quarterbacks, it’s also possible Griffin will be a trade target.
“I would be doing my guys, the players and the coaches, a disservice if I was going out there trying to play to showcase for another team,” he said. “I’m solely focused on being here and seeing this thing out. If it doesn’t happen and a trade happens, or whatever comes, then you just adjust on the fly to that.”
Regardless of what happens, he’s proud of the work he’s put in to rebuild his career. He’s 28, so he looks at quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees, thriving in their late 30s and early 40s, and figures he still has time.
“Being out of football for a year teaches you a lot about yourself,” he said. “If I had just folded and said, ‘You know, what, I’m done. I’ve made enough money and played enough plays, lived out my dream,’ that would tell me where my heart is. But I didn’t do that. I watched the tape, I studied, I worked hard. I stayed in it.”