Dwayne Haskins deserves blame, but Washington failed him originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Dwayne Haskins displayed bad judgment during his tenure with the Washington Football Team, a display of immaturity. And combined with his subpar play, his release on Monday can be justified. But while those factors expedited his departure from the team he grew up rooting for, they weren’t the only ones at play.
Make no mistake about it, if Haskins was a Ron Rivera guy, a quarterback handpicked and drafted by the team’s first-year head coach, he would still be on the roster regardless of his transgressions. That’s not to say Haskins should be absolved for his actions or Rivera should be blamed for his handling of them. But it simply is what it is.
Haskins was the first-round pick of the team’s previous leadership (though reportedly team majority owner Dan Snyder was heavily involved). He was drafted with the intention of giving him time to develop behind veteran Case Keenum but was forced into action just four games into his rookie season to replace the struggling starter. Jay Gruden was fired a week later and replaced in the interim by Bill Callahan. Haskins permanently took over as QB1 later in the season with the team clearly out of playoff contention. Washington finished the year 3-13, and team president Bruce Allen also was fired.
With Rivera on board, already Haskins' third coach, one of the team’s earliest offseason moves was to trade for his former quarterback in Carolina, Kyle Allen. In a vacuum, the move made sense. It was a pandemic-altered offseason, and having a quarterback who knew the offensive system was a nice failsafe. But combined with Rivera’s early resistance to declare Haskins his starter, the move made clear that Haskins had an uphill climb that simply didn’t exist for the other 2019 first-round quarterbacks -- or at least competition waiting if he didn’t impress.
The players rostered with Arizona’s Kyler Murray and New York’s Daniel Jones weren’t threats to take their jobs. Even second-round pick Drew Lock’s spot in Denver was solidified. Those players were allowed to go into their second seasons as unquestioned starters and have a chance to succeed or fail. Haskins was eventually named starter before Week 1, but there was always a sense that he had a much shorter leash than his counterparts.
That turned out to be true, as he was pulled just four games into the season. He certainly wasn’t lighting up the scoreboard, but his passing stats were comparable to Murray, who had 20 fewer yards on slightly less yards per attempt and two more interceptions than Haskins through four games. Yes, there were Rivera’s reported frustrations with some of his sideline behavior, but Haskins was also easily outperforming what Jones was doing in New York. In fact, Jones’ terrible play was a theme across the entire NFC East, which provided Rivera the excuse he used to make the switch: The division was wide open.
Never mind the division being wide open also meant the Giants still had a chance to win it. Yet, they were sticking with their quarterback. Why? Because they invested a first-round pick in him and had to be sure he was or wasn’t the guy to carry their team into the future. They also didn’t create a dynamic where there was another option, because the same GM who drafted him remains invested in a way no one in Washington was with Haskins, outside of Snyder.
And though a similar changing of the guard took place in Arizona just a year ago, with the team hiring Kliff Kingsbury a year after taking 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen, the Cardinals traded Rosen immediately after drafting Murray. Conversely, Washington opted against drafting a new quarterback in April, a wise decision considering the team landed probable Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young. But even after getting Allen and keeping Alex Smith on the 53-man roster, Washington also decided to keep Haskins. It was a situation never ideal for him to thrive in.
Rivera recently admitted that he knew before the start of the season he would eventually turn to Smith as his quarterback.
"Based on the way [Smith] was practicing and getting better and better and healthier and healthier, I honestly felt at some point, we would end up going to him. I really did," Rivera recently told NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay.
Demoted to backup, the 23-year-old Haskins made some poor decisions off the field. He broke COVID-19 protocol twice, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. The final time, which included a mask-less party, was apparently the final straw. Consider, however, just down the beltway, the Ravens’ strength and conditioning coach was blamed for potentially causing their COVID-19 outbreak, one of the largest in pro sports, and was welcomed back to the team after just a 30-day suspension. Several other teams, without jobs being lost, also suffered outbreaks this season due to failures to follow protocol.
Playing better certainly would’ve helped his cause, being a more responsible adult would’ve gone a long way too, but it’s funny how guys are afforded more time to develop and/or “grow up” when their organizations are invested in them -- Jameis Winston, Ezekiel Elliott and Tyreek Hill come to mind.
That wasn’t the case in Washington, and now Haskins is on a short list of quarterbacks to part with their teams within two years of being taken in the first round. Whether or not he would’ve developed into a capable NFL starting quarterback remains in question, because he was never given a proper chance to begin with.