Dwayne Haskins Has Little Room for Error as Washington Redskins' Franchise QB

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 3, 2020

Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins works out prior to an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Dwayne Haskins has a whole lot going for him right now. 

The 2019 first-round pick had plenty to fear after completing just 55 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns to seven interceptions for a 61.2 passer rating in his first seven NFL games with the Washington Redskins. But he might have saved himself by completing 72.1 percent of his passes and throwing four touchdown passes to zero interceptions for a 131.1 rating in his final two starts as a rookie. 

He might have again become concerned when the team fired Bruce Allen, who drafted him last April, and when it installed a new regime led by former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. A braintrust with no ties to Haskins would likely be less concerned with the optics associated with benching or parting ways with Haskins. But sure enough, the Redskins didn't sign a starting-caliber free-agent quarterback in March or draft one in April. 

"The new staff knows that Dwayne Haskins is the starting quarterback here," Redskins' senior vice president of player development Doug Williams told reporters earlier this offseason. 

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 22: Dwayne Haskins #7 of the Washington Redskins warms up before the game against the New York Giants at FedExField on December 22, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

But there were caveats. 

"The only thing that can happen is for Dwayne to give it back to them," Williams added. "It's up to him to learn the playbook, wear the coaches out. He's got to stay at the facility until they run him out of the building."

Nobody expects that last part right now, but Williams also noted that Haskins "has a long way to go" and reminded us that the new staff is "not married to him."

"Dwayne has to let them know 'I'm here, I'm the leader, this is my team. I'm going to be the starter and I'll show you why I should be starting,'" Williams said. 

In other words, there's a leash. 

The reality is, even without obvious competition right now, that leash is likely petite. 

It's a good sign for Haskins that Rivera didn't immediately replace him with his MVP quarterback from Carolina, Cam Newton, but the organization did acquire Newton's 2019 injury replacement, Kyle Allen, and the three-time Pro Bowler remains on the open market. 

"I think with Cam, and I have thought about it, I mean, it's something that's run through my mind, and it's about the situation and circumstances," Rivera said on NFL Network on Thursday. "I'm not sure I would do it. I'm not sure if I wouldn't do it. It depends on circumstances."

Ron Rivera could still push to reunite with Cam Newton.
Ron Rivera could still push to reunite with Cam Newton.Mike McCarn/Associated Press

You'd have to imagine those circumstances relate to Haskins' first impression, which has yet to be made unless you count Zoom chats. 

Interestingly, when breaking down his quarterback situation in that interview, Rivera also alluded to Allen before discussing Haskins. 

"We're in a situation where we've got two really young quarterbacks," he said. "One that's been with us, been in the system, understands how we want things done and the other one is a guy who was taken last year in the first round and shows some promise."

And then there's veteran Alex Smith, who for the last 18 months has been recovering from a dreadful knee injury but remains on the active roster as the team's highest-paid player. The three-time Pro Bowler will count $21.4 million against the salary cap in 2020, according to Spotrac.

"I also don't want to forget Alex Smith," Rivera told The Team 980 in February. "Here's a guy that's doing everything he can to come back, and if Alex can come back and be the player that he was, we have a good situation, we have competition at that position."

Alex Smith (left) could still take Dwayne Haskins' (right) job.
Alex Smith (left) could still take Dwayne Haskins' (right) job.Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

It's encouraging for Haskins that the Redskins didn't mirror the Arizona Cardinals and use a first-round pick on a quarterback in back-to-back drafts, and that Rivera stated they didn't really consider taking Alabama product Tua Tagovailoa second overall. 

"We just feel about the things we saw from Dwayne," he told 106.7 The Fan's The Sports Junkies when explaining why Tua wasn't strongly considered (h/t NBC Sports Washington). "I feel good enough about him that I'm willing to take that chance, that opportunity."

But they can promote Allen whenever they want, they can sign Newton any day and Smith could still return. In Rivera's own words, they're taking a "chance" on Haskins, which indicates they'll be ready to turn things over to somebody else, possibly at the first sign of trouble. 

And who could blame them? There's little room for patience with young quarterbacks in this league nowadays. They're groomed to succeed quickly, and if they don't, they aren't deemed worthy. Just look at what general manager Steve Keim and the Cardinals did to Josh Rosen based on 13 starts in a bad offense.

That's an anomaly, but Johnny Manziel played in just 15 games before the Cleveland Browns gave up on him, EJ Manuel lost his starting job after just 14 starts with the Buffalo Bills, and Jake Locker earned just 23 starts with the Tennessee Titans. The Browns gave Brandon Weeden the hook multiple times in his sophomore season, and the same organization hardly let Brady Quinn get off the ground.

Rivera, 58, is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year Award winner who probably doesn't want to waste time. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is also unlikely to display much patience. His team hasn't won a playoff game since 2005 and is hemorrhaging fans. That 2019 No. 15 overall pick is a sunk cost, so don't expect a desperate, revamped team to think twice before making a dramatic change under center. 

When asked by The Team 980's Kevin Sheehan (h/t Hogs Haven) if early discussions with Snyder gave him the indication the owner wanted Haskins to have a chance to become the franchise quarterback, Rivera said, "No, what he told me was evaluate the roster and go from there. He has put nothing on me to keep anybody, bring people up." 

So it certainly doesn't appear there's a mandate. 

Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Haskins was always a boom-or-bust proposition. As Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller noted, he was a one-year starter in an offense that limited his exposure to NFL-style throws. He entered the league raw and with legitimate questions regarding his downfield accuracy, his decision-making and his mechanics, and he lacks the mobility that is highly valued in young quarterbacks in this era. 

Among 42 quarterbacks who attempted at least 25 deep passes in 2019, his passer rating of 17.0 on those throws ranked dead-last by a tremendous margin. He completed just 27 percent of his passes that traveled 15-plus yards for zero touchdowns and four interceptions. 

There's undoubtedly room for growth, but the Redskins are loaded with defensive talent and will expect to take a step toward being a competitor in 2020. The team is rightly giving Haskins a shot to prove his strong finish to 2019 wasn't a fluke and to show he can help them take that step.  

But he'll have to put up immediately, or the new regime will almost certainly shut him out. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.