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The Dwayne Haskins–Washington Marriage Was Doomed to Fail

The Football Team released Haskins on Monday, ending a tumultuous tenure for the former first-round quarterback. After a chaotic season, both sides needed a fresh start.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Less than two years after Washington selected Dwayne Haskins with the no. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the Football Team has decided to move on from its former QB of the future. As if the decision wasn’t eye-opening enough, the move comes ahead of a must-win game against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football that will determine the winner of the NFC East.

“This afternoon, I met with Dwayne and informed him that we would be releasing him,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways. We want to thank Dwayne for his contributions these last two seasons and wish him well moving forward.”

Haskins’s journey from first-round pick to free agent was rapid, but his departure from Washington has been in the works all season. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Haskins would be inactive this weekend, and his departure occurred as a result of “an accumulation of issues”—including COVID-19 protocol violations and poor play—that have piled up all year. His departure serves as a startling reminder of how drafting quarterbacks remains one of the most imprecise aspects of NFL team building, and how organizational direction and stability impact how a quarterback works out in the league.

Sunday’s loss to the Panthers represented a second chance of sorts for Haskins. After a ho-hum rookie season in which he occasionally flashed his potential, Haskins earned captaincy during the offseason and entered the 2020 regular season as Washington’s clear-cut starter. But Haskins didn’t display much improvement through the first quarter of the year. Through the first four weeks, Haskins ranked 28th among 34 qualified passers in completion rate (61 percent), tied for 32nd in adjusted completion rate (66.2), tied for 27th in yards per attempt (6.4), and 33rd in passing grade (48.0), according to Pro Football Focus. Washington went 1-3 in that stretch, and Haskins was benched in Week 5 and demoted to no. 3 on the depth chart behind former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen and Alex Smith; at that point in the season, the latter hadn’t played since suffering a near-career-ending injury in 2018.

Before Washington’s Week 6 loss to the Giants, Haskins violated COVID-19 protocols by making reservations for a family friend at the team hotel. He was fined $4,833, and remained Washington’s third-string QB until Week 10, after Allen was lost for the season to a gruesome dislocated ankle. Haskins backed up Smith, managing the role until Week 14, when Smith suffered a calf strain against the 49ers that forced him out for two weeks. Haskins started during the Football Team’s Week 15 loss against the Seahawks, after which he was pictured maskless at a private party that he said was a celebration for his girlfriend’s birthday. The NFL fined him $40,000—the largest known fine for a player COVID-19 violation—and Washington stripped him of his captaincy.

Despite Haskins’s second violation, he started Washington’s game Sunday against the Panthers. Haskins completed 14 of 28 passes for 154 yards and two picks, in addition to losing a fumble, compiling a QBR of 4.1 against Carolina. Haskins’s performance was so poor that Washington turned to Taylor Heinicke, a former journeyman backup who was studying for final college exams when Washington reached out. Heinicke signed to Washington’s practice squad on December 8, and replaced Haskins in the fourth quarter against Carolina. Following Sunday’s loss, Haskins initially declined to talk with the media during postgame interviews—NFL protocols dictate that starting QBs speak with media after the game, although Haskins apparently assumed that because Heinicke talked afterward, he didn’t have to. Eventually, Washington public relations got in touch with Haskins, who conducted a presser from his home, sounding noticeably down.

“Definitely the hardest week of my life. I just want to bounce back and just move forward and pray and get my life together,” Haskins told reporters. He later added, “You sign up for this job and it is what it is. Sometimes being human isn’t enough. Just gotta own up to your responsibilities and mistakes, and be a better person moving forward, put your best foot forward and pray for another opportunity. … You never know when you’re going to get another one.”

Haskins struck a similar tone in a statement released after he was cut, saying he takes “full responsibility for not meeting the standards of a NFL QB.”

Haskins’s NFL career isn’t over yet, though it’s not clear he’ll get another chance to start any time soon. Haskins is currently on waivers, and any team that claims him will be on the hook for $68,000 for this week alone, in addition to nearly $4.3 million guaranteed over the next two years, per ESPN’s Dan Graziano. Haskins’s numbers aren’t flattering—the 23-year-old’s career numbers include a 60.1 completion rate, a 12-to-14 touchdown to interception ratio, 6.3 yards per attempt (he dropped from 6.7 yards per attempt to 6 yards per attempt this season), 5.4 adjusted yards per attempt, and only 175.3 passing yards per game across 16 games (13 career starts).

Still, Haskins doesn’t deserve to shoulder all the blame for his flameout. Washington has long been a dysfunctional franchise, and the team wasted no time in bringing him right to the heart of the chaos. Haskins was drafted by former Washington head coach Jay Gruden, and there were murmurs that Gruden and his coaching staff weren’t interested in selecting Haskins, whom Gruden once described as “very raw.” Haskins started for Ohio State only in 2018, his redshirt sophomore season, and broke school records for passing yards (4,831) and touchdowns (50). He finished third in Heisman voting and entered the 2019 NFL draft. As an NFL rookie, Haskins sat behind Case Keenum and Colt McCoy—a pair of longtime NFL backups—for a large portion of the year, before assuming the starting job from weeks 9 through 16.

“It was the direction we decided to go,” Gruden told ESPN’s The Dan Le Batard Show last year. “There were some other quarterbacks that some people liked in that building later on in the draft, but we chose Dwayne and tried to make the most of it. He’s still got a chance to be a great player, without a doubt.”

If Haskins truly has a chance to be a great player, he’ll have to prove it somewhere else besides Washington. Haskins was the third quarterback selected in the 2019 class, behind Kyler Murray (Cardinals, no. 1) and Daniel Jones (Giants, no. 6) and ahead of Drew Lock (Broncos, no. 42). He joins a dubious group of former first-round signal-callers who didn’t last more than two years with the clubs that selected them. Since 2000, that group includes Tim Tebow (Broncos, 2010-11), Brandon Weeden (Browns, 2012-13), Johnny Manziel (Browns, 2014-15), Paxton Lynch (Broncos, 2016-17), and Josh Rosen (Cardinals, 2018-19). Haskins will have to defy the odds to return to the NFL as a starting QB.

As for Rivera and the Football Team, the foundation for their rebuild is very much still in place and looks ahead of schedule. Washington is in position to clinch its first playoff appearance since 2015 with a win against the Eagles on Sunday night. Smith is expected to play, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Heinicke will be the backup. Who will start behind center in the future will be a discussion for a different day. At least now both sides will get a fresh start.