Colt McCoy, Gruden’s guy, gets his shot
More than three years ago, Colt McCoy came to Redskins Park for practice and was stunned to learn that Kirk Cousins not Robert Griffin III would be the starting quarterback going into the 2015 season.
Coach Jay Gruden stood before reporters and declared there had been some sort of secret quarterback competition taking place even though he had named Griffin the starter at the NFL combine in February in a press conference that looked like a hostage video.
“We named Robert the starter, gave him the first reps with the guys. But, when you do that, you still have to compete,” Gruden said. “There’s still competition.”
McCoy, the only one of the three quarterbacks who had not been benched the year before because of performance, said he didn’t know anything about a competition and clearly felt betrayed.
“Did I know that it was a competition like that? No,” McCoy told me in a November 2015 interview. “That’s a hard question to answer without being straightforward and blunt,” he said. “I’ll just say that I didn’t know.”
He didn’t know of course, because there was no real competition. If there had been, and the head coach had the final say, McCoy would have likely been named the starter.
If there had been, Gruden, who is close to McCoy and privately perhaps his biggest fan in the building, would not have hidden it from the quarterback.
But, as is almost always the case when it comes to the football decision-making on this team, the front office had to carefully navigate the choppy waters of the Dan Snyder sea of dysfunction.
Newly-arrived general manager Scot McCloughan would have the responsibility of convincing Snyder that Griffin, the quarterback the owner favored (and had helped destroy), was now too damaged to lead the team.
It would be a hard sell.
It would have been an impossible sell to the owner if the option was McCoy, who was not far removed from being the young college star from Texas who struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his years in Cleveland and, after a year holding a clipboard in San Francisco was now tattooed with the “backup” tag.
Cousins had strong support as well in the building to be the starter, make no mistake about it, and backed up that support with three strong seasons 13,776 yards passing and 81 touchdowns. But this was about convincing Snyder to allow his football people to make a change at quarterback. Cousins was going to be difficult enough. McCoy? Not happening.
It all seems so long ago now as McCoy, who backed up the durable Cousins for three seasons, finally gets his shot.
McCoy gets the chance to do it, Hollywood-style, on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys in a return to the place where he had his finest moment as a Redskin with Griffin injured, leading Washington to an upset 20-17 win in 2014 over the favored Cowboys, completing 25 of 30 passes for 299 yards and running for one touchdown.
“I remember we were struggling at that time and then playing on Monday Night Football against our rival, he came in and competed,” Gruden told reporters this week. “I remember the quarterback draw that he ran and ... some big-time throws in that game and despite being under a lot of pressure. I think this shows the type of toughness he has. I think that’s never going to change with Colt.”
Gruden’s excitement on the field Sunday after McCoy found Jordan Reed for a touchdown on his second play in the game revealed much about his passion for the quarterback not a well-kept secret in the organization.
DeAngelo Hall, who was in that locker room for the entire RGIII and Cousins drama, talked about Gruden’s infatuation with McCoy on 106.7 The Fan. “Jay really likes Colt, man,” Hall said. “I mean really likes Colt, to a point that if situations were a little different with the whole Kirk (Cousins) situation, I think Jay probably would have went with Colt at some point, and let Kirk walk.”
In case you didn’t hear him, Gruden “really, really likes Colt and those guys in the locker room, they like Colt as well,” Hall said. “They’ll fight for him, and I’m excited to see him go out there and play.”
You have to wonder what role Gruden had, if any in the costly offseason trade for the now-injured Alex Smith, with Washington dealing cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round draft pick to acquire the quarterback, and then signing him to a four-year, $94 million contract extension $71 million guaranteed.
Before breaking his leg Sunday, Smith led the Redskins to a 6-3 start. But his conservative quarterback play clearly ran contrary to what Gruden wants from the position.
Colt McCoy? He is the second coming of Arena Football quarterback gunslinger Jay Gruden.
McCoy, 32, will now have the chance he has been patiently waiting for. If he is successful, it raises a whole other bizarre competition scenario moving forward if and when Smith returns.
If McCoy fails, then the organization’s hopes next season rest on the recovering right leg of the 34-year-old Smith. But if McCoy does what Gruden believes he can do and has always believed he could do then who would be Washington’s quarterback moving forward? Would there be a competition? Or, given the burdensome financial investment in Smith, would McCoy be a victim yet again of front-office politics?
⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.