(Reuters) - The Washington Redskins have benched quarterback Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season to safeguard the reigning rookie of the year from injury, the team said on Wednesday.
The struggling Redskins (3-10), who reached the playoffs last season, have three games left in the 2013 National Football League campaign (NFL), starting with Sunday's road contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan expressed concern about the welfare of Griffin behind an offensive line that has allowed 24 sacks in the last five games.
"He's getting hit too many times," said Shanahan, who added he had consulted with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen before making the decision. "Eventually it's going to take its toll."
Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, will start in place of Griffin, the coach said.
Griffin was disappointed.
"We talked. I expressed my desire to play and he explained to me his reasoning. At the end of the day the coach's decision is what we go with," Griffin told a news conference.
"I have to do whatever I can to help Kirk, to help this team win. My parents, being two military parents, have taught me to respect authority and I have to respect what coach says."
Griffin, the number two overall pick in the 2012 draft, led Washington to the NFC East title last season with a 10-6 mark before injuring his knee in a playoff loss to Seattle that required off-season surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
This year the Redskins have slumped as Griffin, who used his running talents to great advantage in his stellar rookie season, has regressed.
Shanahan said missing his off-season football preparation hampered Griffin.
After throwing 20 touchdown passes, five interceptions and rushing for 815 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in earning a trip to the Pro Bowl, Griffin in 2013 has tossed for 16 TDs and 12 interceptions, and gained just 489 yards on the ground.
"I think it would set him back so much if he got hurt and missed another off-season. I didn't think the risk/reward was worth it," Shanahan said.
"I think the best thing to do is give him the opportunity to go into that third off-season injury free, and get a chance to get better throughout the off-season.
"The quarterback needs an off-season program, it's important. He's your future. If you miss two off-seasons in a row, it's the hardest thing in the world to recover from that. It would be devastating to him."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)