Dwayne Haskins is out in Washington, but he isn’t the only one to blame
Yet again, the Washington Football Team gets it wrong at quarterback
Let’s get this out of the way: The Washington Football Team on Monday released struggling quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whose combination of immaturity and unproductiveness resulted in the only logical outcome of this disastrous relationship. Haskins is responsible for much of his own failure, and anyone who argues otherwise would be ignoring mountains of physical evidence. The story doesn’t end there, however, because when a team gives the boot to its former first-round pick who’s only 23, and plays the game’s most important position no less, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Essentially, Haskins entered the NFL with his passing hand tied behind his back, as has every quarterback drafted in the first round (including Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell and Robert Griffin III) by the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports over the last generation or so. Initially foisted upon a coaching staff that didn’t want him and then begrudgingly accepted by a new staff tasked with salvaging an unsalvageable situation, Haskins was ill-equipped to rise above it all and thrive in a toxic environment. It’s a sad, old story that repeats itself as the club’s long-suffering fans continue to hope that, well, maybe next time things will be different. History suggests change will not occur unless the principal owner does.
Yet another franchise quarterback debacle must be laid at the feet of owner Daniel M. Snyder – because that’s where it belongs.
Only moments after Washington used the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft to select the former Ohio State standout, word emerged that then-head coach Jay Gruden wasn’t pleased. Around the team, it was no secret that Snyder, whose affinity for being involved in football operations despite his historically bad ledger is well documented, thought Haskins could finally fill the role of the longtime franchise passer the organization has lacked throughout his tenure. And the fact that Haskins was a big name locally, having starred at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland – the school Snyder’s son currently attends – was an added plus for Snyder, who puts marketing the team above all else, former club executives say.
Problem was, Gruden, as well as others in the organization, had major reservations about Haskins, primarily because of concerns about his inexperience. Haskins started only 14 games for the Buckeyes, and he left school with two years of eligibility remaining. Even the final draft grade on Haskins from Washington’s own scouting department was not as high as relative to where the team picked him. That’s a big red flag.
Everyone in power in Washington’s football operation last season knew that Haskins should not have played as a rookie, people familiar with the situation said. The plan was to bring Haskins along very slowly. But amid the club’s inevitable self-inflicted crises that arise each season, partly as a result of perpetually poor decision-making from the top, the best-laid plans often give way to wrongheaded decisions intended to stir hope among fans and keep them coming back for more. Haskins was thrust into the spotlight just four weeks into the season, replacing a struggling Case Keenum during the second quarter of a game against the New York Giants.
For anyone who knows Gruden, though, his displeasure with Haskins was clear before he was ultimately fired after an 0-5 start. Gruden wears it on his sleeve. Were things as bad as they seemed? “No,” one club executive told me at the time. “They’re worse.” Haskins simply didn’t work hard enough. He wasn’t engaged in the meeting room. It didn’t burn inside of him to be great, was the impression of many. Before a road game last season, I ran into a prominent former Washington player. While chatting about the team, Haskins came up. “He ain’t about this life,” the retired player said.
Haskins’ supporters will say that he was set up to fail, a rookie quarterback playing for a head coach who was openly hostile to his mere presence. There’s definitely something to that. On the other hand, Haskins didn’t help himself. At all. When you’re supposed to be “next,” you can’t be pictured slouching on a bench late in a loss while the offensive coordinator and the starting quarterback are behind you putting in work together. It’s an awful look, which only served to reinforce what Gruden and his assistants too often witnessed behind closed doors.
Which brings us to head coach Ron Rivera, who has culpability in this mess as well.
Granted, Rivera entered a difficult situation. Undoubtedly, Rivera heard some of the stories about Haskins’ lack of professionalism. And as the saying goes, “The tape doesn’t lie.” But Rivera had to at least attempt to make it work with Haskins. Rivera’s mistake, as it turned out, was that he went too far in building up Haskins, to pull the plug as quickly as he did. It was a rookie mistake by a coach who is anything but a rookie. To say the least, Rivera could have handled Haskins’ initial benching in Week 5 much, much better.
Rivera also erred in how he managed Haskins’ return to the lineup in place of injured starter Alex Smith.
Hours after a Week 15 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, a maskless Haskins was photographed at his girlfriend’s birthday party with strippers. Washington fined Haskins $40,000 for his second breach of COVID-19 protocols and stripped him of his captaincy. Earlier in the season, Haskins was fined for making a reservation for a family friend at the team hotel the night before a game in New York.
Despite Haskins’ recklessness, Rivera, who talks often about building the right culture in Washington, kept Haskins atop the depth chart. With Washington in position to clinch the NFC East division title, Haskins started and played poorly before being benched in Sunday’s 20-13 home loss to the Carolina Panthers. You can talk all you want about removing a team captaincy and fining a player, but here’s what Rivera’s decision to start Haskins screamed: establishing the right type of culture is great and all, but it goes out the window if I can win the division in my first year and Haskins is my best option, albeit an awful one. Nothing much noble in that.
Some will praise Rivera for releasing Haskins quickly despite the cap implications. It’s true that decision-makers in such situations prefer to make moves after the season, hoping things settle down and trades can be completed. Haskins is so young, perhaps Washington could have received a low-round pick in exchange for him. Really, though, the Washington-Haskins partnership had become so toxic, waiting wasn’t feasible.
Haskins leaves the franchise with a ton of baggage. He has been labeled as a problem, and in the NFL, that’s a hard label to shake. It’s just that no one should forget Haskins isn’t the first advertised quarterback savior to leave Washington bruised amid unfulfilled promise. And odds are, he won’t be the last.