On Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, Redskins HC Mike Shanahan addressed the media following afternoon practice at Redskins Park in Ashburn, VA.
On the decision to start Kirk Cousins at quarterback instead of Robert Griffin III:
"Well, the first thing I did is I talked to Dan Snyder about a week ago, talking about the amount of hits Robert has had. Anytime you're hit as many times as he's been hit, I thought it was in his best interest, the organization's, to talk about if we should continue playing Robert if he's hit as many times as he's been hit. Dan thought about it and talked to [Executive Vice President/General Manager] Bruce [Allen] about it, and at the end of the day we felt that the best thing to do for Robert was to not play him – give Kirk an opportunity to play – so he could go into an offseason healthy. Any time you miss an offseason in the National Football League it does set you back quite a bit, and we thought going into this offseason [after] missing last year, that this was the best way to do it."
On if he had a change in thinking that led to this decision:
"No, to be honest with you, as I've stated before, I wanted to give Robert as many reps as he possibly could have, and that's always the nature of guys getting better by repetition. Sometimes you have to evaluate, when you're getting hit repeatedly, you've got to take a look at the risk and reward, and with Robert I thought that his hits were piling up on him, giving him his toll, and I was afraid that we would set him back. And the only way you realize you're going to get set back is if he gets hurt, and I said it's not worth it right now. I said, 'Hey, the best thing to do is give him an opportunity to go into that third year injury-free, to get a chance to get better throughout the offseason." And I thought we put a lot of pressure on him this year going through the ACL and the LCL, we put him in a situation, and I think he's got a lot of experience that has helped him, but I think this next offseason will be his key to making that jump."
On if he would do things different going into this season regarding Griffin III now that he can reflect:
"I think you can always go back and always question yourself on what's the best situation, but at the time that we decided to go with Robert, the doctors said he was 100 percent. So you go with the doctors. Robert felt that he was 100 percent. You take a look at a quarterback that has missed an offseason. Even though he has done a lot of good things, you take a look at it from top to bottom, it's a pretty good year statistically — probably one that he's not happy with because he's got some high goals and high aspirations — but what we have to do, or at least as an organization, what is in the best interest of Robert? What is the best thing going forward for him? To have those next three games, the experience of going through those reps or having him healthy in the offseason? That's why Dan told me, I said, 'Hey, Dan, we're not going to go this direction unless you fully support it. Same thing with Bruce. You've got to tell me that you're behind this and you're in favor of it, but I don't want anybody coming back in a game or two and saying, hey, we should have talked about this, Robert's been getting a lot of hits.' Because I know that will be the difference in him, when he starts the offseason, being 100 percent healthy, him going into the offseason being the leader, I think we would set him back so much if he went out the next three games and set himself back and missed another offseason, which could happen. I didn't think the risk or reward was worth it."
On how the move doesn't say he is giving up on the season:
"I think it's 100 percent different when you take a look at the quarterback position. A quarterback needs an offseason program. It's important to him. When you take a look at a quarterback who is your franchise quarterback, he's your future. If you miss two offseasons in a row, it'd be the hardest thing to do is recover from that. I take a look at the next three games, I'd like him to have that experience, but at the risk of setting him back where he doesn't go into the offseason [healthy], I think that would be devastating to him. I think it was tough enough as it was to go through what he went through coming off an ACL, coming off of an LCL, and still put him in a situation like we did. You always look back at yourself, which was the question over here, should you have played him after the fifth game or the eighth game? I go through those questions all the time, and saying, 'Hey, would it have been better off doing this or doing that?' At the end of the day, he had 13 games of great experience with somewhat of a different type system. Even though some of the things we did were very similar to the first year, there was a lot of things that were different. So he did gain that experience. But at the end of the day, what would be devastating to him – which he doesn't realize at this time – that if you did get hurt in the next three weeks and you miss the whole offseason again with some type of knee injury, the chances of coming back, to me, would be very, very tough, and I did not want to put him in that situation."
On what message this sends to the rest of the locker room:
"Well, the locker room is if you're a franchise quarterback and you miss the second season, it's, 'We're going to protect you.' I do believe that Kirk Cousins will come in and play well. He is a proven quarterback I believe, at least from what we've seen when he's played. I don't think it's worth the risk for the future of this organization to put him in there. You can take any position and you say, 'Hey, that position doesn't need an offseason like a quarterback.' I don't care if you're talking about outside linebacker, inside linebacker, corner, offensive lineman. What's critical to the development of the quarterback is, at least in my opinion, that second- and third-year offseason. He didn't have the second, I don't want to take the chance on the third."
On if how the decision was made between Snyder, Allen and him:
"Well, just put it this way, I said if either one wasn't 100 percent behind my reasoning that I'm giving you, I said we won't go there. Nothing needs to be said. We'll just keep it status quo."
On if there was discussion about not playing Griffin III against Kansas City:
"Yeah, there was talk. I brought it up. I brought it up. It was in the back of my mind. Really, anytime you're out of the playoffs, I look at all the different positions. The one thing I thought was most important to this organization, and that's one of the reasons why I talked about it with Dan because I thought it was very important to include him that, 'Hey, this is your guy of the future, what do you want to do? What's important for us making the right decision?' It's easy to say after somebody gets hurt, 'You should have took him out,' and I didn't want to put our organization in that type of situation."
On if there is any thought that Cousins was better suited to lead this team right now:
"I understand what direction you're trying to take this, but I'm honestly trying to tell you, man-to-man, we made a decision that I think is the best for Robert. We're dealing with somebody that's young, wants to be in there — I would be disappointed if Robert did not want to be in there with his teammates. I mean, I'd be the most disappointed guy. I'd be the most disappointed guy in myself if he played in the last three weeks and had an ACL or an LCL and it set him off for his second year in a row with no offseason program. That would be devastating to him, as well as the organization."
On the division of responsibility for the hits Griffin III has taken:
"That's the key. That's what you would like to know. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, when you're taking hits, it doesn't matter who's at fault. What matters is do you protect your quarterback or don't you protect your quarterback? If it's his fault, if it's the offensive line, if it's the receivers, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter who's fault it is, what matters is he's getting hit. Are you going to take that chance to keep him up, keep him down, and that's one that we have to live with, and after it happens it's too late, just like the Seattle game at halftime. I could have kicked myself in the rear end because my gut was — even though the doctor said, 'Hey, he was fine, it was all stable. Hey, you don't have to worry.' Robert said it was fine — I knew in my gut, I watched him, I said 'Hey, that's what I should have done,' because I did see it, but you have to go with your gut sometimes and say, 'Hey, this is what you do for a living, you've been around it, you've got to make sure you take care of your best players in a situation like this.'"
On if he has to run his decisions by Snyder:
"In theory, I don't, but would you ever make a decision like that with your future quarterback that you gave up two number ones and a number two without having the courtesy to talk to the owner and say, 'Hey, would you make this move? If not, this is your football team. I'm the head football coach, I would not make it unless I've got your blessing,' because I don't want to do that to him if he feels it's not the right thing to do. So that's what you do I think when you have at least the communication and respect level with owner and head coach."
On if it is abnormal for him to check with the owner before making a decision:
"That's exactly right. Well, that's what you do about a quarterback. He's your franchise. That's why you ask those questions. You don't do it about the other positions. Dan could care less about the other positions.* 'Hey, that's why you coach, that's why I own.' I understand that. That's not a problem, but I do ask it about a quarterback because we're going to have a circus atmosphere any time you make a decision like that."
On clarifying his comments (from his conference call with Atlanta media):
"What I was saying ... that if I'm starting somebody like a wide receiver or offensive guard or offensive tackle, Dan would never ask me going into a game about any position – corner, linebacker, defensive lineman – who I was starting for a game. He could, he's gonna let me do all the football decisions. But, I would think any owner, when you talk about the quarterback position, wants to be informed what's going on. That was what I meant by that… I appreciate you bringing it up because if you felt that way probably a number of other people felt that way." *
On what his and Snyder's talks about the quarterback position are like:
"First of all, we could go through the Donovan [McNabb], we could go through Robert, at the end of the day we make decisions as an organization. We don't go who was feeling what at what time. At the end of the day when somebody's here, they're here. You're all on the same page. So we don't talk about everybody's opinion, because what do you give up for a draft choice? Is it two ones? Is it two twos? All that stuff is talked about every day with every draft choice. At the end of the day we move forward, and whoever our players are, they're our players, and we obviously have a group collectively."
On if there are concerns on how this will affect Griffin III's psyche:
"Well, let me ask you this – his psyche, if he goes down next game on the fourth play and all of a sudden we're talking about that, what is going to be his psyche missing the [second] offseason in a row? We've got three games left. We're going to play those games hard. Do I take a risk of putting him in there to gain some more experience — he just had 13 games — and have a chance of setting him [back] that third year? I didn't think it was worth the risk. I didn't think it was."
On if he is worried about how a competitor like Griffin III will come back from this:
"That's what you love. You love guys that want to play. If he would have said to me, 'Hey, Mike, I think that's a good decision,' I've got the wrong guy. I don't want a guy that wants to be benched. Nobody thinks they're going to get injured, I can promise you that. Everybody thinks they're superhuman and they're going to go out there, but we all know that those things occur. The reason why I had mentioned it is because he was getting hit more than normal and I said the same thing we've talked about why you make decisions like that which you think are in the best interest of the organization. And that's why you do talk to the owner before you make those decisions, because it's a big decision to make."
On if he is confident that he'll return next season:
"That's Dan's decision at the end of this year. My job is to do the right thing for the organization. I don't care if it's the first year I came here, the second, the third or the fourth. It started with bringing the right guys in, making sure that we deal within the cap, deal with everything the right way. That's my job is to build this organization the right way, and I think we've been able to do that. Now you have to make a decision what's in the best interest of the organization for the next 10 years. I think that's what we did. I know it's tough when you've got a competitive guy like Robert, and I know he won't understand. He won't. I understand it. At the end I'm hoping maybe in two years or maybe in a year, 'You know what, God am I glad I went through that offseason. We had three games left and Kirk got a chance to play. Wow.'"
On if he and Snyder have discussed the future of Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan:
"First of all, we are just talking about the season. I haven't talked to Dan about any assistant coach. All we're trying to do is fight for our lives and get a couple of wins here."
On if he wants to come back and finish his contract next season:
"Yeah, you always want to finish something you've started. You always want to. Dan and I will sit down at the end of the season and I will give him the things that I believe it takes to get to the next level, and I'm sure he'll give me his viewpoint. So at the end of the year we'll get a chance to sit down, chat with one another, feel if we're on the same page — all the things coaches do going into the last year of their contract."
On how he feels that one question hasn't been asked about facing Atlanta on Sunday:
"I understand that anytime you make a quarterback change we're going to talk about that. You've got to understand what I'm thinking. Some people will agree with it, other people won't, and I understand what happens with these type of situations, but at the end of the day you've got to feel like, you know what, your football team believes you did the right thing. At the end of the day it's those guys in the locker room. I know it's tough and sometimes hard questions to answer, but they have to believe that you're doing the right thing for the organization."
On if the Seattle game played into this decision and if he has mentioned his feelings on it to Griffin III:
"Oh no, I've talked to Robert not only about the Seattle game, that 'Hey, I've had people just like you fool me at halftime. I've got the experience to watch in that second quarter that you weren't playing normal. I don't blame it on you at all. I blame it on me.' Because even the doctors, they can take a look at a knee and see if it's all right — it might have been alright from a structural standpoint — but I can see and I can go with my gut, and I should have went with my gut, but I thought he had earned a right to play because he convinced me he was OK. I think in the long term, because we're talking about honesty right here, it cost us the game because the guy that goes in can play at a certain level. So not only did it hurt Robert, but it hurt us from winning the game. As a coach, you've got to look at all of those scenarios, and that's why you have to make some tough decisions."
On how to quiet distractions and how it affects the locker room:
"I think anytime that you have a year left on your contract and you have three wins, that's going to be out there. That's what happens. That's the nature of our business. If you had three years on your contract, there probably wouldn't be any noise. I think we all understand what goes on with the length of a contract, but that's the nature of the National Football League. You've got to perform every year, you've got to perform at a very high level, and you've got to do what you think is in the best interest of your organization."
On his reasoning for benching Griffin III:
"I mean, it's sacks — and I use that as a reference — it's hits. It could be a sack, sometimes sacks aren't really bad hits. Other times it's running to the sideline. It's scrambling. Whatever it may be, it's the contact and you think, is it worth the risk for three games to play Robert or is it smarter just saying, 'Hey, you know what, Kirk you take over, OK? We're going to make sure Robert, that this offseason you're going to be there. Kirk, you had an offseason last year. You had a chance to get all these reps. You get a chance to play the last three games, and if anything else, if he does well it helps the Redskin organization as a whole.'"
On if he thinks the offensive line is where it needs to be in terms of protecting the quarterbacks:
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter where it's at. You'll see as time goes on — is it the offensive line? Is it the quarterback? Is it the receivers? There's a combination of different things and I don't get into detail, but at the end of the day you're always trying to improve your football team. I think when you take a look at the year before, when we're the No. 1 offense in the National Football League — for every time the ball's snapped we had more yards rushing and more yards passing — that's pretty good with a bad offensive line, isn't it? I mean, how many teams with a bad offensive line, a horrible offensive line, are No. 1 in passing and rushing per attempt? I haven't been around any. So, there are some good things about our offensive line."
On if it has been a while since he has been this worked up:
"Well, it's not really worked up because you hear things and it affects our football team. What I'm trying to do is be as honest as I can, and I don't normally do that because I don't really think it's anybody's business except the guys in our locker room. And I don't get into a lot of detail, but here I think it's a must for people to understand what I'm thinking relative to Robert, what I'm thinking relative to Kirk, this organization, and what direction we're trying to go in moving forward."
On if questions about his motivation behind this decision add to the aggravation:
"Somebody said, 'Hey, the reason why you're going with Kirk is you're trying to get fired and you've got a year left on your contract.' If I'm trying to get fired, I'm not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on a player. I don't have to. If he says no, I'm not going to go that direction. So that's the reason why I share some of those stories with you."
On if he consulted any players about the decision:
"I really don't talk to players about it because it's a decision I have to make. I know there are a lot of people with a lot of different ideas, so I really don't get into that. But normally, after you make a decision, you talk to the captains and you say, 'Hey, it's your job to keep these guys together.' I know there's a lot of noise. It goes with the territory when you've got three weeks – I mean when you've got three games left and you're in the last year of your contract, you and the quarterback supposedly don't get along – all those things go on, so that's part of the noise."
On if the decision is a course correction from last season's playoff game against Seattle:
"You make decisions all the time with being a head football coach. I could talk about timeouts. I could talk about third-and-twos or fourth-and-ones. It's a constant learning experience. You're trying to grow all the time. You reflect on mistakes that you make during the season with different injuries. That's part of the process. If you've got to make decisions, you are going to make mistakes, but I share that with you, relative to Robert at halftime, because we really haven't talked in much detail. I share a story like that with Robert. I said, 'Hey, Robert, I don't blame you. I blame me. I've been through this before. I've got a guy just like you that pretended like he's all right and you're not all right. I've got to be able to see through it with the play on the field and sometimes, for some reason, you don't let it happen, you get mad at yourself. In other situations like we're going through right now, why are you going to take him out with three games left? I think the risk is too great. I don't want him to go into his third year on IR. I think it would devastate him, not having the ability to practice every day throwing the ball with his teammates. Then, it's good for Kirk. He gets some playing time. He is practicing and playing and, I believe, will play at a high level. That's good for the organization, but I'm not going to take just somebody out of the game like Rak [linebacker Brian Orakpo] or [linebacker] Perry Riley. We're in here to win games, but I'm going to do the right thing."
On if he expects to return next season:
"You know what, I can't say that. I don't know until I've sat down with Dan. Then we'll find out what I think, I'll give him my opinions and he'll give me his opinions. Maybe we just hit it off and everything goes – I get that 12-15-year contract [laughter]. Well, maybe three-year. Anyway, whatever it is, but that's where grown men talk at the end of the year. You find out, 'Hey, what's the best way to go?' We may have big differences and we said, 'Hey, I believe in this, you believe in that,' and you go. Or you say, 'Hey, we're on the same page and let's go forward.' I can't tell you that until I talk with him."
On if Griffin III will be deactivated and quarterback Rex Grossman will be the backup:
On if there is anything else he would like to share:
"No, I've talked more right now than I have in the last six months [laughter]."
On if quarterbacks today are more difficult to manage than in previous years because of all of the outside factors including media scrutiny and endorsements:
"I think Robert – anytime you deal with a person as a head coach, it's always different. When you're in college, it's much different than pro football. My job is not always to be somebody's friend. My job is to coach them. My job is to get the best out of somebody. I'm not looking to Robert to be liked. I'm hoping that the respect level is there and that he does like me through time. Why? I thought we did a heck of a job together last year, both of us getting everything done. This year's been a little bit more difficult, but that's part of personalities and that's part of relationships. What you've got to do is you've got to find a way to come together and make sure you find a way to win."
On if he considered quitting last season, as claimed by a media report:
"What I said is there's always bits and pieces of an article that are true. I'm not going to go into detail what was true about the article. I don't think it's fair to the organization and I would speak to that person first before I would speak to anybody else. But when you get partial truths – and I'm not one to say somebody is lying or this isn't reported correctly – but I've heard that my whole life. I think everybody in this room knows that I don't talk to anybody off the record. I don't, and if you do, you say, 'Hey, what's wrong with him?' We've all had lunches together back in camp and you guys know that I'm not going to tell you anything. It's not my job, because once you tell it to somebody, he tells it to somebody and it spreads. That's me. I got that from coaching. I can't get the respect from Grant over here if I'm talking to Joe and vice [versa] – 'Oh, he's talking to me and he's not talking to me.' I can't go down that road."
On why he did not sit Griffin III last week against Kansas City if health is truly the primary issue:
"I think I gave you an idea a little bit last time. I said, 'Hey, Kansas City had two sacks in five games,' and we had six. When he got hit a couple, I said, 'Hey, this is what I believe.' So it doesn't matter – if it was sacks – whose fault it was. He's getting hit too many times. I brought it up a week ago, because you go back and look at all the hits and you're saying, 'Hey, eventually, it's going to take its toll.' That's the reason I did it. Now, if he would've gotten hurt in the last game, I would've been sick to death because I was thinking about it. But that's why sometimes you don't make the right decisions."
On how his offensive philosophy would change next year to preserve Griffin III's health:**
"One thing I think we've gotten better at – or Robert has gotten much better at – is sliding. Now, he's not perfect at it, but he's made some drastic strides in that area. And throwing the ball away, that helps. The one thing that the option did, at least the threat of it and it still does, if you will slide, it does slow down the pass rush and that's one of the reasons we had so much success a year ago. We're just not the same team right now, but in a year, you can decide on whatever direction that an offense may go because there's so many different ways you can go. You can go with the high-tempo, you can go with the turbo, you can go with the no-huddle, you can go with the standard offense – a lot of different directions if you've got that talent at quarterback and a lot of different ways to skin a cat."