The Washington Football Team is facing a couple of mounting questions under center. In a season as unique as the team’s urgent makeover, the face of the franchise is still up for debate.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins earned the starting role in his second season, and while Washington is staying afloat in a lackluster NFC East, he has yet to make the jump to cement himself as the team’s QB1. Haskins’ recent performance in Cleveland didn’t add much if anything to that argument. Instead, the 34-20 loss to the Browns brought mixed messages from Washington’s head coach Ron Rivera within the last 24 hours.
On one hand, there was explicit support for the young passer Rivera inherited when he joined the team this offseason. He even linked Haskins’ future projection to that of New England quarterback Cam Newton; it’s a big comparison, but Rivera isn’t so much saying Haskins will become the player Newton was in Carolina or is in New England. Rivera is more so revealing the blueprint to what could happen if the team continues with Haskins as QB1.
“The truth of the matter is how is [Haskins] going to learn?” Rivera said immediately following Sunday’s game, via ESPN. “Is he going to learn while taking the [scout] team snaps? No. The only way we are going to find out where Dwayne is and what he can do is by putting him back out on the football field and let him get exposed. That is how he grows. That is what we did with Cam Newton and look where he is today. Cam Newton was a league MVP because we trusted him and we took our lumps with him. I am going to take my lumps with Dwayne right now.”
Rivera continued: “As long as [Haskins] continues to do things that show he can make things happen, I am going to support the young man. I am not going to pull the plug just because something like this happens. In my opinion, he is barely through a rookie year right now in terms of being out there, learning, and growing.”
But then, not even a full day removed from the loss was a thick layer of uncertainty. Haskins may be Washington’s starter now, but what if he has another three-interception, four-turnover game? What’s going to happen when we continue seeing Haskins making the same mistakes that take Washington out of contention?
Rivera acknowledged Monday that the rest of the team “deserved better,” specifically naming defensive stalwarts Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat. Rivera also made it clear there was a “cut-off point” to replace Haskins. He doubled down on this statement but didn’t say what necessarily would get him to that point.
The “when” looming around the decision to bench Haskins is even more multifaceted than it was during the offseason. Haskins couldn’t afford to regress. Mistakes aren’t always directly caused by the passer, but in Sunday’s case, all three interceptions were Haskins’ fault. Chalk it up to lingering inexperience at the position—Haskins has 10 NFL starts from 2019 to present—or mechanics he just hasn’t honed in on—consistently staring down targets will give opposing defenses lanes to exploit, which is what happened against the Browns.
Haskins either missed his target entirely.
Or he was caught looking directly at his intended receiver and led Cleveland linebacker Malcolm Smith right into the passing lane.
Or his decision-making under pressure hasn’t yet fully developed leaving him to throw poorly timed balls off balance.
In what was pegged as a rebuild, this team, with a lot of growing pains entering the season, is now one, despite a 1-2 record, that is sitting atop its division. If Washington can remain a frontrunner with the Dallas Cowboys, Rivera and company could lose their patience even sooner with another forgettable performance from Haskins. If Washington gets into a win-now mode and decides to bench Haskins, its options aren’t much better.
Rivera brought Kyle Allen from Carolina to play QB2 and Alex Smith has progressed well enough in his recovery to be thought of as an option—how viable of an option is still in question. Rivera never debated Haskins’ role as the potential face of the franchise like former head coach Jay Gruden. Rivera has been high on Haskins, but he still wanted to bring in his own reinforcements.
Could Washington have a quarterback switcheroo before deciding to give Haskins the time he needs with this offense? Sure. The Chicago Bears, who are now 3-0, benched starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles during Sunday’s game. It’s hard to imagine Rivera pulling off something like that even if Haskins has another bad game.
In the end, Washington is facing a tough decision but it’s clear, as this roster currently stands, there’s no better option. It’s still too early to see the playoff picture and considering Washington missed the postseason the last four seasons, expectations for a deep playoff run would be futile. The team could tank as Trevor Lawrence is an almost unanimous No. 1 draft pick, and passers like Justin Fields and Trey Lance are likely top-10 picks, but Washington already has a young quarterback—two even—that can develop further.
Infuse Haskins with confidence, continue to support the young passer, and he can take a step forward. Haskins’ mistakes and play this past Sunday were concerning, but there’s enough upside to not send this team into chaos by benching Haskins so soon.