ASHBURN, Va. -- Mike Shanahan gave Robert Griffin III a rest, and may have turned up the pressure on himself, too.
The Redskins' coach announced Wednesday that he was benching the star quarterback for the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will start, and Griffin will be the inactive No. 3 quarterback behind Rex Grossman.
Shanahan said he is benching Griffin to keep the quarterback healthy for the off-season, pointing out the 24 sacks and other hits Griffin has taken over the last five games. He said he ran the idea by owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen, and that both offered their support.
"You've got to take a look at the risk and reward," Shanahan said. "And with Robert I thought that his hits were piling up on him, giving him his toll, and I was afraid that we would set him back."
Shanahan cited the need for Griffin to have a full off-season of development after missing this year's workouts while rehabbing from knee surgery. But there's no certainty that Shanahan will be around to coach in the off-season: The Redskins have lost five straight and are 3-10, their third losing season in Shanahan's four years in Washington.
"I think anytime you have a year left on your contract and you have three wins, that's going to be out there," Shanahan said
Griffin was clearly unhappy with Shanahan's move.
"I expressed my desire to play," Griffin said. "Of course I want to be out there and finish the season with my guys, see it through. He explained to me his reasoning, and at the end of the day Coach's decision is what we go with it."
Cousins took the first-team snaps as the team worked out in the indoor practice bubble to prepare for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. Players say Griffin ran the scout team.
The benching is the latest twist in a Shanahan-Griffin relationship that has been bordering on contentious since a playoff loss to Seattle last season, when Griffin remained in the game even though he was clearly injured. Shanahan conceded for the first time Wednesday that continuing to play Griffin "cost us the game."
Griffin had reconstructive knee surgery a few days later and missed vital months of developmental work before returning for Week 1 in September, but he hasn't been the same player that won the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. With defences taking away the read-option, he has struggled as a drop-back passer, ranking 26th in the NFL in passer rating with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
However, while Griffin hasn't had the same explosiveness, both he and Shanahan have insisted that the quarterback is medically healthy. Until this week, Shanahan publicly quashed any suggestions about a possible switch, saying Griffin needs as much game experience as possible.
Shanahan said Wednesday that he first brought up the idea of benching Griffin last week in a conversation with Snyder, having decided that risk of injury outweighed the reward of experience.
Both Griffin and Cousins are second-year players. Cousins played in all or part of four games, including the playoff loss, last season because of various Griffin injuries. Grossman hasn't taken a regular season snap since 2011.
In recent days, the open question has been whether Shanahan might resign -- and thus forfeit a year's salary -- or wait to be fired at the end of the season. There's also the possibility he and Snyder could negotiate a settlement, and that the benching of a healthy franchise player could in some way be Shanahan's way of getting some leverage in those talks.
"Somebody said, 'Hey, the reason why you're going with Kirk is you're trying to get fired and get a year left on your contract,"' Shanahan said. "If I want to try to get fired, I'm not going to call up Dan Snyder and ask his opinion on a player (when) I don't have to. And if he says no, I'm not going to go in that direction."
But Shanahan again conceded he might not return for a fifth season.
"I don't know until I sit down with Dan," Shanahan said. "Then we'll find out what I think. I'll give him my opinions, and he'll give me his opinions. Maybe we just hit it off and everything and I get that 12-, 15-year contract."
"Well, maybe three-year," he added with a smile. "Whatever it is. That's where grown men talk at the end of the year and you find out, 'Hey, what's the best way to go."'