Ashburn, Va. — Washington has made a quarterback change: Kirk Cousins will be the starter this season, not Robert Griffin III.
“We feel like at this time, Kirk Cousins gives us the best chance to win,” coach Jay Gruden said, unseating Griffin, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year. “It’s Kirk’s team.”
Although Gruden said that it’s Cousins’ job for the season, not just the Sept. 13 opener against Miami, the quarterback is not overconfident.
“It’s a step in the process,” the former Michigan State star said. “It doesn’t feel like a finish line by any means. Time will tell. It’s going to be an interesting ride.”
Griffin, who has struggled since tearing his right ACL and MCL in a January 2013 playoff loss to Seattle, was scheduled to start last Saturday’s exhibition game at Baltimore before being scratched the previous day in the wake of a concussion suffered on Aug. 20 against Detroit.
Griffin participated in non-contact drills on Monday but remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol and won’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale against Jacksonville. Cousins is expected to sit out that night with Colt McCoy playing the entire game.
Cousins, taken in the fourth round in the same draft that Griffin was chosen No. 2 overall, took over and led Washington’s starting offense to its first two touchdowns of the preseason. Those two drives seem to have clinched the starting job for Cousins.
“It’s not so much what somebody didn’t do; it’s just what Kirk has done … has really opened our eyes,” said Gruden, who admitted that he was a little surprised to be making this move. “Kirk has played so well … that he has earned the right to be the starter for 2015.”
Gruden added that Cousins “has taken a giant leap” since being benched in Week 7 of 2014 after committing 11 turnovers in five games.
“Certainly I had some nights where I wasn’t sleeping well,” Cousins said. “My wife would tell you that I was a bear to deal with.”
But Cousins learned from the experience and less than 11 months later, he’s the starter because of his performance not because of another Griffin injury.
“There’s something powerful about feeling believed in and there’s something powerful about knowing where you stand,” Cousins said.
Gruden said the team still believes in Griffin, who has been plagued by injuries since leading Washington to the 2012 NFC East title.
After meeting with Washington owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen — who were instrumental in making the trade that sent three first-round picks and a second-round selection to St. Louis for the right to draft Griffin — and general manager Scot McCloughan since Saturday night, Gruden informed the quarterbacks of his decision on Monday morning.
“Ultimately … it’s my job to say who starts,” Gruden said. “I like Robert as a quarterback. … The door is not shut on Robert Griffin. There have been no discussions about letting him go. We plan on playing with these three quarterbacks.
“Last year, we used all three. We didn’t want to, but we had to. I anticipate Kirk taking this job and running with it. I don’t want him to go out there and every incompletion see if (another) quarterback’s warming up.”
Griffin dislocated an ankle in Week 2 of the 2014 season and missed the next six games. Cousins took over until being pulled in favor of McCoy at halftime of Week 7.
Griffin got the job back in Week 9. McCoy replaced him in Week 13, but suffered a neck injury the next week. Griffin finished out the season as Washington went 4-12.