After months of preaching patience and development above all things, Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera revealed that he’d actually been working off of a completely different rubric to evaluate second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.
On Wednesday, Rivera benched Haskins in favor of Kyle Allen as the team enters Week 5 of the NFL season against the Los Angeles Rams. The act of sitting a below-average starter isn’t a surprise, but the timing feels strange.
Just 11 starts into his NFL career (seven in 2019 and four this year), Haskins’ time in Washington may be over before he could get anything rolling. But it didn’t have to be this way. And if Allen doesn’t inspire enough change in Washington’s offense or spark a sudden winning streak, Haskins should get another chance before the season is over.
If not, Washington will be following a troubling trend popping up around the league, in which teams continue to waste top picks on quarterbacks by not setting them up to succeed. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, and starting jobs must be earned, but a switch back to Haskins can be executed before too much time has passed. It’s not about Haskins’ feelings. It’s about poor management from the team’s perspective.
“It leaves me scratching my head,” former Washington Football Team cornerback and current team broadcaster DeAngelo Hall said on NFL Network. “As a former player in that Washington locker room, as now a person who calls their games and I serve in the media, it leaves me in disbelief and almost dumbfounded.”
“I know coach Rivera was saying he owes the rest of the players on that team and in that locker room to put the best person out there. To me, we should’ve did that in training camp,” he continued. “Look, I don’t know if Dwayne Haskins can play or not. The point is I want to find out if he can. I just don’t believe that what we’ve seen from him so far I can make that conclusion.”
This is Rivera’s argument: Look around the NFC East, which is shaping up to be the worst division in the league. Washington is 1-3, but so are the Dallas Cowboys, whose defense continues to undermine Dak Prescott’s heroics. The New York Giants are 0-4 and scoring an embarrassing 11.8 points per game. The Philadelphia Eagles were gifted the division lead when they reached 1-2-1 last Sunday.
While acknowledging that the coronavirus-stunted offseason robbed Haskins of real practice reps in the new coaching staff’s system, Rivera said he hadn’t seen enough growth in Haskins’ game to this point. He feels Allen puts Washington in a better position to win the lowly division. The thing is, whenever you’re defending your decision with phrases like “the short-term glory,” which Rivera said at one point Wednesday, it becomes a harder sell.
“We gave [Haskins] every opportunity,” Rivera said. “We gave him all the reps with the [starters]. We gave him a chance to start four games and truly evaluate. But, with the division where it is right now, I’d be stupid to not give it a shot and see what happens in the next four games.”
While one of the marvels of the offseason was the steady comeback of Alex Smith, who shattered his leg in a game in November 2018 and nearly died from sepsis shortly thereafter, it turns out more focus should have been on the other signal-caller Washington brought into the facility: Allen.
In March, Washington acquired Allen from the Carolina Panthers, where he played for Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who was Allen’s quarterbacks coach for most of that time. By default, Allen knew the new coaches’ system better than Haskins.
So then why not start the season with Allen and see how it goes? Why start Haskins, decide he isn’t coming along fast enough after a month, and then sit him?
The coaches have not only asked Allen to lead Washington to victory in the next several games, which include three straight NFC East matchups after Sunday’s game against the Rams, they’ve named Smith the backup and Haskins the irrelevant No. 3.
“This is not as much an indictment on Dwayne as much as it is an indictment on the situation and circumstances that we are in,” Rivera said.
Haskins isn’t the first victim of “circumstance” at the quarterback position. The news drew comparison to Josh Rosen, whom the Arizona Cardinals drafted 10th overall in 2018. The Cardinals started Rosen for 13 games, then traded him away because they not only replaced the coaching staff, but owned the No. 1 pick in 2019 and could use it on top prospect Kyler Murray.
There are undeniably quarterbacks who are drafted too high, like the Chicago Bears’ Mitch Trubisky, and fail to deliver. But that determination usually comes after they get three or four seasons to show whether they can lead a team. Trubisky is in his fourth season with the Bears.
Other quarterbacks enter a situation where success is made impossible. The New York Jets’ Sam Darnold is throwing to a weak receiving corps, under a coach who’s failed to live up to his reputation as a quarterback guru. Former Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota started out strong for the Tennessee Titans, but got progressively worse as he was coached and re-coached by four different offensive coordinators in five years. It’s an indictment of the organization, not the player, when a team doesn’t treat a highly-touted quarterback like the investment he is.
So was Haskins drafted too high, or was he not given an opportunity to succeed with the inconsistencies around him in Washington? Both can be true. He might never pan out elsewhere. But 11 starts under multiple head coaches and coordinators isn’t enough of a sample to make the call.
In those 11 starts, Haskins has a 59.1 percent completion rate, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Some NFL analysts pointed out that the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, a former No. 7 overall pick, had completed 53.4 percent of his throws for 10 touchdowns and 12 picks in the same span. But Buffalo stuck with Allen, and now he’s one of the highest-performing quarterbacks of the young season.
Haskins’ agent tweeted last weekend that his client was receiving too much blame, being in a new system with a young offensive line and “limited weapons” around him. When that charge was brought up to Rivera Wednesday, his response was somewhat sarcastic: “Kyle will have the same guys out there. He’ll have the same unfair shake.”
Forget what’s fair to Haskins. The fairest thing to do for the team as a whole isn’t to chase “short-term glory,” but to solidify who will be your franchise quarterback. Maybe Haskins isn’t the answer, but you can’t know until you give him an actual chance.
Photo by All-Pro Reels/Joe Glorioso, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.