Dwayne Haskins’ body language told the story on Wednesday. His arms were folded as he stood several steps from the other quarterbacks, who were getting ready for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Haskins was doing no such preparation. He wasn’t doing much of anything. Practice squad quarterback Steven Montez was taking the third-team snaps, which technically now belong to Haskins.
Nobody was willing to say it’s over for Haskins in Washington, but it sure felt like it.
It’s an unfair league, and nobody has experienced that more than Haskins, who was taken in the first round by Washington, reportedly at the owner’s suggestion, then cycled through three coaches in his 13 games, never getting an offseason of work as the No. 1 quarterback.
Make no mistake, coach Ron Rivera wanted it to work out. It’s nearly impossible to win right now without a star quarterback, and if Rivera could have made it work with Haskins, that frees up a first-round draft pick or a big chunk of salary cap space.
But Rivera has seen more than four games. He’s seen practices and Zoom sessions, and chatted with former and current teammates about the quarterback. He’s made his determination.
“The one thing a lot of people don’t see is the frustration on the sidelines of the other players as well,” Rivera said. “I look at that and I see that. I feel that. The guys want to win. Right now, where his development is, I think our best shot to win now is with guys that have been in the system.”
Rivera’s assertion that the NFC East is up for grabs doesn’t hold much water — there’s no reason to sacrifice his long-term plan to go 7-9 this year and lose a playoff game that gets relegated to basic cable.
However, it’s reasonable to think that Rivera has seen enough to know Haskins isn’t the long-term answer.
His major shortcoming could best be described as “feel for the game.” He struggled to react to the down, distance and time and plan accordingly. He struggled to process the amount of information a quarterback needs to process at the line of scrimmage, then make the appropriate decision. His throws lacked the appropriate touch for the moment, like a carpenter with only a hammer in his toolbelt.
Haskins took several major strides this offseason, and emerged as a more confident, more athletic version of himself. But those gains have revealed themselves to be a facade.
“Watching the games that Dwayne played, Dwayne needs some more work,” Rivera said. “He just hasn’t had enough work yet. That’s the thing that I hope everybody understands.”
Here’s the tough truth: Haskins is more than a few snaps away from being ready. His raw skills can likely land him a backup gig somewhere, but what he actually needs is a lot of playing time, something he never got at Ohio State, where he jumped right into a juggernaut and managed it to a Big 10 title without having to make tough decisions.
In baseball, Haskins would be the perfect Double-A player. He could play every day, learn to harness his gifts, and re-emerge in a few years ready to go. There is no football equivalent of that, and the NFL’s sink-or-swim mentality renders a verdict before allowing time for development.
“This business is kind of like when turtles hatch,” receiver Dontrelle Inman said, taking the conversation in an unexpected direction. “They let them hatch and put them in the sand and they go back into the water, while the babies are left to fend for themselves just to try to get back in the water to survive.
“The NFL is one of those businesses where they don’t really take a long time for you to learn to grow up.”
Haskins skipped a few developmental steps. The league won’t stand by patiently while he catches up.
Last season, Haskins missed the final play of a victory while taking pictures with fans. This year it was his agent who ruffled feathers, with a Sunday night tweet blasting Rivera for singling out the quarterback when the whole offense is young.
“Limited weapons on offense and only 3 games into the NFL season,” David Mulugheta wrote. “Yet ‘he’ is the one that must play well.”
Asked about that tweet on Wednesday, Rivera didn’t hesitate to own the decision and its consequences.