When NFL and television executives gathered to lay out the 2013 NFL regular-season prime-time network TV schedule, nothing could be more of a blockbuster start to the new season than the highly publicized return of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. However, is the NFL behind the rush for his return?
Griffin, one of the league's biggest stars and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, returns for season two after total reconstructive surgery on his right knee on January 9—an injury sustained days earlier during the nationally televised NFC Wild Card Game.
Offseason questions surrounding a date for his return have circulated for months without a definitive announcement by Redskins coach Mike Shanahan or RG3. The second-year QB has repeated on numerous occasions, including a Twitter message to ESPN's Trey Wingo, his goal to return by Week 1—"but if he is not ready he will wait."
By selecting the Washington Redskins to host the Philadelphia Eagles, an intense NFC East rivalry in and of itself, in Week 1 on Monday Night Football, could the NFL possibly have different motives by having the Redskins quarterback as its marquee star?
After all, the MNF game starts at 7 p.m. ET, and the early start allows viewers across all time zones to see his much-anticipated return. That in turn would ultimately generate the biggest audience and the largest advertising dollars the NFL could find in a Week 1 matchup.
Is it possible that pressure for his return is not coming from the Redskins coaching staff or owner Dan Snyder but the league itself? It may be hard to believe or accept, but it is possible since the NFL is a multi-billion-dollar business. One of the goals of the NFL, as any business, is to maximize profits and earn money.
The league has certain expectations placed on each team to draw a certain level of fan support. That in turn has the potential to generate as much income as possible for the NFL and the various levels of distribution throughout the combined partnerships.
Let's look at the level of pressure on RG3 and his return as we move up the pyramid of power from Coach Shanahan to team owner Dan Snyder and ultimately the NFL.
I seriously doubt Coach Shanahan would put RG3 and his career in jeopardy after the harsh lesson learned last season. Shanahan needs RG3 as much as RG3 needs him to mature and grow in this league as he develops into the star quarterback he proved he is capable of being during his 2012 debut in the NFL.
If the pressure to return is not coming from Coach Shanahan, what about Redskins owner Dan Snyder?
Snyder has a lot to gain out of this rush to have RG3 return. With any nationally televised game comes exposure every time the Washington Redskins' name is mentioned. The mere mention of the team name is something that can lead to more income for the organization—either through jersey sales or any of the various lines of Redskins' merchandise.
The NFL season debut on MNF, which drew nearly 11 million viewers last season, is the only game on television at that time, as opposed to a Sunday game that is broadcast in regional markets. The Redskins vs. New Orleans Saints Week 1 game in 2012 drew approximately one million viewers, according to The Washington Post.
With this added exposure for the Redskins with RG3 as the starter on a national level, Snyder stands to benefit greatly from the display and showcase of talent individually and as a team.
At the top level with the most to gain is the NFL.
Allow me to use this analogy. Think back to days of the three-ring circus when they had an announcer in front of the crowd who would entice people into the big top tent: "Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Children of all ages. Step right up. Come closer. You won't believe your eyes."
If the NFL were to have this grand unveiling and display of talent with RG3 and his return to the Redskins on their NFL season debut on prime-time TV, many non-Redskins fans might be enthralled or interested.
Should RG3 not be ready to return for this big event and top billing, then it would be the equivalent of the circus having to put up a sign up that said, "Event Canceled."
The NFL has built a level of excitement and anticipation with the scheduled return of RG3. Should he be declared unable to play in Week 1 due to precautions or concerns with his long-term health and safety, it would be a tremendous letdown.
Overall, it builds great excitement, generates interest and is an intriguing scenario to see how well RG3 does perform if he does play. On top of that, RG3 is a very athletic and flashy player when he is on the field.
Obviously, I find the entire possibility a very interesting storyline that has financial gains as the root of the decision. I honestly would not be surprised if behind closed doors, it is the NFL who is making the phone call to Snyder.
With so much to gain, Snyder in turn passes along this information to Coach Shanahan and team doctors to medically clear and approve RG3's return. In doing so, it would allow all parties mentioned and RG3 to be happy while essentially getting what they wanted in the first place.
With so much to gain on a financial level from the top of this NFL pyramid, there is far too much to lose when a talented player such as RG3 is the focal point of the argument. The Redskins are in a position to have the best quarterback in the Dan Snyder era around for years as long as he remains healthy.
Winning is critical to any benchmark of a quarterback's success, but an injury can take that away in an instant. While an article such as this is meant to generate conversation, it is a travesty if it even resembles a true scenario in which players can be used as pawns in a chess game and the end justifies the mean.