Column: What’s next for Dwayne Haskins, Washington Football?

December 29, 2020

Dwayne Haskins #7 of the Washington Football Team walks off the field after losing to the Carolina Panthers 20-13 at FedEx Field on December 27, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Dwayne, we barely knew you.

When the Washington Football Team selected Dwayne Haskins 15th overall in last year’s NFL draft, it seemed like a great pairing. Local kid comes home to play for the team he grew up watching. After decades of searching, Washington finally gets a big-armed franchise quarterback with some pedigree and one with the added benefit of civic pride to boot.

But, as we’ve learned here in Washington, it’s rarely that simple or straightforward with this franchise. Not even two years later, Haskins is gone after accumulating a disappointing 74.4 passer rating in only 16 games, rapidly transforming his first-round selection from seemingly “too-good-to-be-true” fairy tale to a nightmarish draft bust doomed to fail from the start.

Haskins was too raw and inexperienced — and, come to find out, frustratingly immature. Last year was the worst time for Washington to draft a quarterback. Jay Gruden was already on the hot seat when the pick was (allegedly) made for him, and his successor Ron Rivera never seemed sold on Haskins, which made sense because he wasn’t his guy either.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this massive draft failure. Haskins’ actions have shown he never took this opportunity seriously enough, and Rivera should have taken a more decisive approach to the 23-year-old passer. In an unprecedented year that wiped away the critical offseason training program, expecting Haskins to be the day-one starter was always a fool’s errand.

This season should have been a de facto redshirt season for Haskins, whose collegiate career amounted to just one season as a starter. As I said earlier this season, Washington should have added Cam Newton, especially with an inspiring-yet-fragile Alex Smith representing the only non-disastrous option at the position.

But that’s hindsight. As Washington and Haskins part ways, where do they go from here?

Let’s start with Washington:

The best move is to purge the quarterback room. There isn’t a legit starter in the bunch. Smith is the cinch Comeback Player of the Year and a great feel-good story, but the Football Team would be wise to gloss over his 4-1 record as a starter (because, you know, assigning won-loss records to individual players in a team sport is asinine). They should pay more attention to his putrid 79.0 passer rating and 4:6 touchdown to interception ratio.

At this phase of his career, Smith’s value lies in being a backup quarterback/mentor that never actually sees the field — a role for which he’s drastically overpaid (his $24.4 million cap hit in 2021 is on par with Pro Bowl-caliber starters Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes). Washington can save $13.6 million by moving on from Smith in March, and absolutely should.

Kyle Allen is a free agent at season’s end and coming off a serious foot injury that ended his 2020 season. Even healthy, he’s nothing more than a low-cost, “meh” backup. And Taylor Heinicke’s performance in the loss to Carolina was by far the best of his eight NFL appearances.

Washington will be selecting toward the middle of the first round of the upcoming draft, likely too late to get one of the blue chip passers, but maybe the team can find a developmental option they like to pair with a free agent like Newton, Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick.

For Haskins, the perfect landing spot is Tampa Bay. Yes, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a long reputation for being a quarterback whisperer, but it’s really his offensive coordinator that makes this ideal for Haskins.

Byron Leftwich, like Haskins, was a first-round pick who grew up in the D.C. area and didn’t cut it with the NFL team that drafted him. Leftwich carved out a pretty good second act as a backup in Pittsburgh, and if anyone can relate to (and, perhaps more importantly, get through to) Haskins, it’s probably Leftwich. Plus, Haskins wouldn’t be expected to start immediately; he can sit behind Brady for a year or two and learn from the “G.O.A.T.”.

Like most divorces, the one between Washington and Haskins is sad, unfortunate and, in some ways, preventable but absolutely necessary. It also puts the pressure on both sides to be better and get it right the next time.

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