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There’s a line in “The Dark Knight Rises” I keep coming back to when I think about the sad ending to Dwayne Haskins’ journey in Washington, which culminated in his release Monday morning.
“There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world, a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die,” Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth intones. “But sometimes a man rises from the darkness.
“Sometimes the pit sends something back.”
And I think about it not because I see a heroic parallel between Dwayne Haskins and Batman or anything like that. His release was largely of his own making, which he even admitted on Twitter on Monday afternoon.
“My time with the WFT has unfortunately come to an end,” Haskins tweeted. “I thank the team & fans for the opportunity to play for the team I grew up rooting for. I take full responsibility for not meeting the standards of a NFL QB & will become a better man & player because of this experience.”
No, I think of the pit from “The Dark Knight Rises” in this situation because Haskins, a player for whom football has often come easy, is now faced with one of the most difficult tasks in the NFL — turning around the label of first-round bust.
At the age of 23.
That is the football equivalent of the pit. Some, like JaMarcus Russell, didn’t make it out. Some, like Alex Smith, do. It takes a tremendous amount of mental toughness, a tremendous amount of belief in one’s self, to do so.
This is Haskins’ chance to prove it to himself. Prior to the NFL, Haskins has not had to overcome much, football-wise. While only a one-year starter at Ohio State, Haskins possessed a rocket arm with fast eyes that helped him become the only quarterback in school history to throw for 50-plus touchdowns in a season. And though he was largely a pocket passer — which is quickly becoming a dying breed in the NFL — that hasn’t stopped others, like the Rams’ Jared Goff, from at least being adequate.
So yeah, maybe Haskins would never win an MVP. But he is talented enough that things shouldn’t have unfolded this way, with Haskins being released faster than Russell, who lasted three seasons as a Raider.
That’s where Haskins finds himself now, the product of a miserable 20-month stretch in Washington that, in retrospect, was doomed to fail from the start.
Washington let Haskins down, and then he let himself down
The organization must accept some responsibility for this. Forget the myriad issues the league’s most dysfunctional franchise has faced recently — the name change, the spate of bad media surrounding the organization’s history with women, etc. Haskins was drafted by a head coach on the hot seat in Jay Gruden who didn’t want him, and we all know that’s exactly what a team desires when trying to develop a young quarterback (sarcasm alert!).
When Gruden was canned last year and Ron Rivera was brought in, it represented a new life for Haskins, where he’d presumably get a fair shake. So when he was benched after the team’s loss to Baltimore in early October, I didn’t think it was fair — but I also wrote the onus would fall on Haskins to handle it the right way.
Even if he never got his starting job back, other teams would buy that Washington bungled his development; he just needed to act like a professional the rest of the way. In a best-case scenario, he’d do all that and get another shot at the end of this season to show his wares.
That opportunity presented itself the past two weeks, but Haskins failed to take advantage of it.
First came Washington’s 20-15 loss to Seattle a week ago, when he completed 19 of 33 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown but lost a fumble and posted a quarterback rating of 10.4.
Then came the ensuing drama when he was photographed at a party after the loss in which he failed to wear a mask, resulting in him being fined a reported $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy.
Yet Haskins had another opportunity on Sunday to get it right. Due to Smith’s injury, he got the first-string reps all week in practice, and the hope was he would use that embarrassment to remind everyone why Washington used such a high pick on him.
The result: a 14-of-28, 154-yard and two-interception performance that got him benched in the fourth quarter for Taylor Heinicke, a 27-year-old undrafted free agent from Old Dominion who posted better numbers in Washington’s 20-13 loss to Carolina (12-of-19, 137 yards, one touchdown) than Haskins did.
Add that to the conflicting reports about whether Haskins blew off his media availability following the game — the team’s PR staff eventually tracked him down and he did the availability from home — and Washington decided it was too much, deciding to finally let him go.
“Sometimes you have to go through some hard knocks, sometimes you have to reach rock bottom before you can dig your way back out of it,” Rivera told reporters Monday. “Sometimes a change helps, but with Dwayne, it’s what have you learned? What are you going to take from these experiences that are going to help you grow and get better?
“Hopefully he learns from these experiences. Hopefully, they’ll make him stronger and they’ll help him and when he gets his next opportunity, he makes the best of it.”
Best way for Haskins to revive his NFL career
Embarrassment aside, this does not have to be the end of Haskins’ football story. First-round picks, especially quarterbacks, often get two or three or four chances to bounce back in this league. Hell, Paxton Lynch joined two teams after he busted out in Denver. Josh Rosen is now on his fourth team after busting out in Arizona.
And now that Haskins is out of Washington he still has an opportunity to save his career. There are personnel people in this league who liked his talent heading into the draft, and for a team with an old quarterback, signing him could be an opportunity to get a talented backup with some long-term potential, all on the cheap.
Seriously, take a look at some of the second- and third-string quarterbacks in this league. Have you seen the list of quarterbacks still drawing checks in the NFL? There’s no way Haskins isn’t more talented than most of them.
However, those backups are professionals. They study the game plan closely. They help the starter prepare during the practice week. They’re excellent scout team quarterbacks who watch the next opponent’s offense closely and help give the defense a good look. They’re net positives in the locker room.
So yeah, even if Haskins never reaches his potential, his NFL career doesn’t have to be over. Whichever coaching staff takes a chance on him next will be showing a level of belief in him that he likely never had in Washington.
He’s got to decide how important football is to him. If he never gets another shot as a starter, is he willing to do the things necessary to ensure he’ll have a long career in this league? If so, that means becoming the hardest worker in the room and actively avoiding weeks like the past one.
“Definitely the hardest week of my life, but I just want to bounce back and move forward and pray and get my life together,” Haskins told reporters Sunday night.
At the moment, Dwayne Haskins is in pro football’s equivalent of the pit. He’ll have to draw upon a strength he likely didn’t know he had — from within and against all odds — to climb out and save his career.
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