GREEN BAY — Robert Griffin III saw the breaking news earlier this month and was thrilled. His NFL journey has now included a host of position coaches, offensive coordinators and head coaches, and Matt LaFleur just might be the one with whom he has the closest connection.
And he believes Aaron Rodgers will eventually feel the same way about LaFleur as he does, once the Green Bay Packers new head coach and his quarterback start working together.
“The Packers got a great one,” Griffin said in an interview.
While Griffin’s football career has had its ups and downs since the Washington Redskins chose him as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, he said LaFleur has remained an ardent supporter and believer in him — something he greatly appreciates and believes Rodgers will feel as soon as the two get together at the spring offseason program.
“Matt’s a great coach, and a better guy,” Griffin said. “And he never abandoned me while he was in Washington or after he left.”
In his two seasons with LaFleur as his quarterbacks coach in Washington, Griffin started 28 regular-season games while leading the Redskins to the NFC playoffs as a rookie. In those two years, he completed 532 of 849 passes (62.7 percent) for 6,403 yards with 36 touchdowns against 17 interceptions (91.5 passer rating).
In the five years since, the former Heisman Trophy winner has endured injuries (a dislocated ankle in 2014, a concussion in 2015 and a significant shoulder injury early in 2016), losing his starting job (to Colt McCoy for part of 2014 and to Kirk Cousins in 2015), being released by two teams (the Redskins and Cleveland Browns) and spending the 2017 season out of football.
He spent 2018 with the Baltimore Ravens behind Joe Flacco and rookie Lamar Jackson, playing just 21 snaps while being active for just four games.
What Griffin’s career trajectory might have looked like had he stayed healthy is anyone’s guess, but after the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month, he suggested he’d be interested in staying in Baltimore as a veteran mentor to the 21-year-old Jackson — even though he’s only 28 and could still find a place to compete for a starting job.
Certainly, LaFleur’s influence was only one piece of the puzzle during Griffin’s most successful seasons, as the aforementioned injuries, a coaching change (from Mike Shanahan to Jay Gruden in 2014) and other factors obviously played a role. But his affinity for LaFleur and his belief that his coaching made a difference in his game is clear.
And, comparing his numbers with LaFleur and his stats since the end of the 2013 season, when Shanahan and his staff — including LaFleur and Shanahan’s son Kyle — were let go, bear that out. In 12 starts from 2014 through 2018, he completed 236 of 367 passes (64.3 percent) for 2,601 yards with six touchdowns and nine interceptions (80.4 rating).
“I loved playing for Matt. He is all the things that NFL owners and executives are looking for right now — young, innovative, ambitious,” Griffin said. “When he was my QB coach in Washington in 2012 and 2013, he really helped me make the initial transition from college football to NFL football — fundamentals, footwork and just how the game is played on the pro level.
“He has worked under a plethora of head coaches that have found a way to get the best out of their rosters. I’m excited to see what he does now that he’s leading the ship and can truly do it how he sees fit.”
Crucial to LaFleur’s success, of course, will be his connection to Rodgers, the two-time NFL MVP who is coming off a decidedly un-Rodgers-like season in which head coach Mike McCarthy was fired with four games to go.
Not only was LaFleur important to Griffin’s development, but he helped Atlanta’s Matt Ryan to an NFL MVP season in 2016 and was the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017, when quarterback Jared Goff’s game took off under head coach Sean McVay. The Rams are set to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.
LaFleur said in an ESPN Wisconsin interview last week that he has had “multiple” conversations with Rodgers, and he seems to be formulating a staff — with the additions of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, who is set to return after serving as the team’s wide receivers coach in 2016 and 2017. Getsy and Rodgers formed a strong bond even though Getsy wasn’t his direct position coach.
“The one thing that came across early is how passionate (Rodgers) is for the game of football and how much he wants to win. There’s nothing that’s going to stand in his way of really getting after it,” LaFleur said. “I’m looking forward to working with him and continuing our relationship.
“I really do view that just philosophically, I think that anytime you have a quarterback of his stature — I went through this with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, a guy who’s had success — it is a partnership, not only offensively but as a team, as a leader. Guys are going to follow guys of their caliber.”
For his part, Griffin believes LaFleur and Rodgers will bond over LaFleur’s desire to help players improve, his competitive streak and his ability to connect with players on a personal level — as Griffin has experienced firsthand.
“Matt knows how to navigate those waters,” Griffin replied when asked about the LaFleur-Rodgers relationship. “He knows how to pull out the best in people. He knows how identify and pull on what motivates you, which may be different from guy to guy.
“Most importantly, he knows how to win — and ultimately, that’s something Aaron and everybody in between can jump on board with.”
The Packers remained in the market for a new special teams coordinator, and another possible candidate — ex-Packers special teams coach and Central Michigan head coach John Bonamego — was hired by the Detroit Lions. Bonamego was in charge of the Packers’ special teams from 2003 through 2005 under head coach Mike Sherman and led the team to back-to-back top-10 finishes in overall special teams grades. He also played at Central Michigan in college when LaFleur’s father was on the Chippewas’ staff, and once babysat the Packers new head coach. … The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that after it initially appeared that tight ends coach Brian Angelichio would stay on from McCarthy’s staff, the Packers are instead going another direction at that position. LaFleur instead will hire Justin Outten, Atlanta’s offensive quality control coach/assistant offensive line coach, the paper reported. LaFleur and Outten worked together with the Falcons in 2016 when Outten was offensive coaching intern.
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.
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