Ryan Griffin has been employed by an NFL team for the last 2,063 days, without interruption. That includes a few stints on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad in 2013 and 2014, but since being claimed by waivers by Tampa Bay on September 6, 2015, Griffin has been on the active roster for all but the first half of 2017, which he spent on injured reserve.
Ryan Griffin is a quarterback, and one the Buccaneers clearly think quite highly of, but despite being in the league for six seasons he has yet to throw a regular-season pass. Circumstances simply have not transpired to get him on the field beyond the preseason.
There is a possibility, perhaps slim, that this could change before the end of his sixth season. The Buccaneers have 60 more minutes to play, against Atlanta next Sunday, and Head Coach Dirk Koetter has given some thought to getting Griffin in the game…again, if the circumstances are finally right. Koetter made the decision on Sunday in Dallas to keep Griffin active as Jameis Winston's backup, the obvious first step needed for Griffin to get his shot.
"I've been thinking about it for a long time, since Jameis came back the last time as a starter, and I just think that we'd love to get Ryan Griffin in a game if the situation called for it," said Koetter. "I mean, the guy's been here for [four] years and he’s worked his tail off."
When Griffin first arrived in that September of 2015 waiver claim, he was coming off two years split between the practice squad and active roster in New Orleans, which is not a situation conducive to getting a young quarterback on the field. Drew Brees threw all but one of the Saints' passes during those two seasons combined, and the other was thrown by tested backup Luke McCown. Griffin landed in Tampa just as the Buccaneers were beginning the grooming process of Winston, the first-overall pick in the draft. Winston threw every pass for Tampa Bay in 2015 and all but 11 of them in 2016, as he was backed up by former starter Mike Glennon.
Still, it is telling that the Buccaneers have avoided exposing Griffin back to the waiver wire since that first acquisition in 2015. At a time when some teams carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, with a third on the practice squad, Tampa Bay has repeatedly found a way to keep Griffin on that active roster. They also signed him to a new deal early in 2017 that kept him under contract through this season.
Griffin spent his first two years in Tampa drawing inactive status for 31 of the 32 games in that span, the other contest being a fluky situation in Carolina in 2016 when the Buccaneers had so many players out due to injury that Griffin was active by default. He didn't get into the game. In 2017, he headed into training camp in a real battle with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, a spring free agent pickup, to be Winston's primary backup. He started off well but then suffered a shoulder injury in a preseason game and had to go to injured reserve. He was designated to return at midseason, and the timing was perfect because Winston had just sustained a shoulder injury of his own and Fitzpatrick was stepping in as the starter. Griffin was active but didn't play for four games, including another one after Winston's return in which the Bucs didn't have 46 other healthy bodies. He was inactive for the final four.
So, the four-season count for Griffin in Tampa so far, during a string of 63 possible games: 46 inactive, nine DNP, eight I.R. And yet, he has continued to impress Koetter and the coaching staff, both in the preseason and on a daily basis in practice, as he runs the scout team.
"I think Ryan Griffin is a really good quarterback," said Koetter. "He tears it up in practice every day, but he's never gotten a chance to prove it in a real game. After it was clear where our season was going to end up – Ryan Fitzpatrick did his job for us this year and is going to be a free agent, may or may not be back. That's not for today's topic. We'd just like to see Ryan Griffin get a chance to get in a game if the opportunity presents itself. He's been killing it in practice."
In the 2018 preseason, Griffin completed 51 of 75 passes for 518 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 105.3, without taking a sack. That made the Bucs feel confident heading into the regular season with Griffin as the backup, as Fitzpatrick started while Winston served a three-game suspension. Still, Fitzpatrick came out red hot, winning NFC Player of the Week honors in both of the first two weeks and there was no reason to turn to Griffin. The Bucs have subsequently alternated between Winston and Fitzpatrick and have put up the most passing yards in the entire NFL, albeit accompanied by too many turnovers.
When Winston returned to the starting lineup five games ago, the Buccaneers were still reasonably alive in the postseason hunt. A Week 15 loss in Baltimore ended those hopes, and it was the next weekend that Griffin got his active status ahead of Fitzpatrick. Koetter emphasized on Monday that the decision had absolutely nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with Fitzpatrick
Of course, the Buccaneers also have reasons to be pleased with the way Winston has performed since he regained his starting job. He's thrown just two interceptions in that span, as opposed to 10 in his first 14 quarters of play earlier in the season. He's had seven touchdown passes in that same time and has completed 63.7% of his passes. Even if Griffin is active again in Week 17, the team is likely to start Winston and see if he can finish the season strong as he heads into the option year in his rookie contract.
Koetter complimented Winston on his patience and his decision-making in Sunday's game in Dallas, in which the Bucs lost despite a 366-yard, no-interception game from Winston. Winston was credited with two key fumbles, one on a blindside hit from behind on a scramble and the other on a botched handoff with Bobo Wilson, but he checked down when he needed to, according to Koetter.
"Well, yesterday was a good example of his [decision-making]," said the coach. "I think we had him for 13 checkdowns yesterday, 13 times. I'm sure that's the high for his career in a game. We knew we were going to have to do it, we knew they were going to play coverage the way they did and that's how they try to get you to play. And I thought Jameis stayed pretty patient throughout the game. He strayed a couple times, a couple of times that he could have stuck with his checkdowns and he went for the big one. But I thought for the most part he made good decisions, so I think he's improved there, definitely improved his accuracy, has improved protecting the football. I think Jameis has improved across the board. Our team has to improve on winning close games."
In the bigger picture, improvement by Winston is probably a more important issue for the Buccaneers then Griffin getting a shot in the regular season. That said, Koetter has at least contemplated the latter option, and he left the possibility open last Sunday by keeping Griffin on the gameday active list. If that happens again next Sunday, there's a chance Griffin could throw his first regular-season pass on his 2,070th day in the NFL.
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