Overtime: The Space Between


Dwayne Haskins may not succeed in Washington, and that may not be his fault. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

For the ninth time since 2000, the Washington Redskins are rearranging the deck chairs on the NFL’s equivalent of the Titanic.

Jay Gruden is out after just over five years of mediocrity and ultimate failure that yielded just one playoff appearance and 49 losses — the most of any coach in that time period. Bill Callahan, of Oakland Raiders and Nebraska Football fame, will be the team’s interim coach. At 0–5, the Redskins and owner Dan Snyder decided now was the time to make a change, as if Gruden’s firing will change the culture for one of the league’s most inept franchises.

Of course, Gruden’s dismissal will not do this. He was fired simply because someone needed to take the fall for organizational incompetence, just like Norv Turner, Steve Spurrier, Mike Shanahan and others before him. The more pressing matter for Washington now, in addition to finding a new head coach, will be to find a good match for rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who has only played in one NFL game but has already had a tumultuous stint in Washington.

The Redskins took Haskins with the 15th pick of this year’s draft, and he was considered by many to be the second-best quarterback in the draft, behind Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. The problem is that, according to a recent Washington Post report, Gruden didn’t want him and, even worse, Haskins figured that out. From this point of view, the firing of Gruden may have saved Haskins’ career, which is a wild statement to make until you consider the Redskins’ record with quarterbacks as of late.

This brings us to the real point here. We may look back at this five years from now and laugh because Haskins may have turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The point? Player development is non-linear, and we shouldn’t expect instant gratification from all because a select few are able to provide it.

The Washington Redskins know this all too well. In the 2012 draft, Washington took Baylor signal-caller Robert Griffin III with the second pick after the Colts took Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the first selection. Debates raged throughout the season as to who was better. Griffin was named Offensive Rookie of the Year after amassing just over 4,000 total yards and dragging the team to its first NFC East title since 1999. However, RGIII tore his ACL and LCL in Washington’s playoff loss to Seattle and was never the same.

Luck hung it up this past August after persistent injuries over the past half-decade. Both were outlasted as starters by a trio of third and fourth-round picks — Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins — and all three have been to at least one Pro Bowl.

But Griffin and Luck had instant success in the NFL before leaving us to ponder what could have been. There have been plenty of examples of late bloomers who have succeeded after initial setbacks thanks to improvements in their environment and abilities.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff had a horrific first-year under mediocre head coach Jeff Fisher. Goff took off when Sean McVay was hired — ironically, from the Redskins — before year two. While Goff appears to have taken a step back in year four, two straight playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance didn’t seem possible at this time in 2016.

There have been plenty of others, as well. Drew Brees went 10–17 in his first two years as an NFL starter. Troy Aikman, who went on to win three Super Bowls as the Cowboys’ starting QB in the ’90s, threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the first four years of his career. And Peyton Manning, possibly the greatest statistical quarterback in the history of the league, led the league in interceptions with 28 in his 1998 rookie season.

Much of their eventual success can be owed to the environment around them: Manning, for example, got to work with renowned offensive coordinator Tom Moore for the first 12 years of his career and the two gelled after that rough rookie campaign. Aikman’s offensive coordinator, the aforementioned Norv Turner, helped guide him to three of his best years from 1991–1993. Brees, of course, revitalized his career with the help of Saints head coach Sean Payton, and the two now comprise the league’s second-longest quarterback-coach combination behind the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

So what’s the point of all this? Dwayne Haskins may struggle off the bat. He’s expected to get his shot to start on Sunday against the lowly Dolphins in a game one of the teams might win. In his first career appearance against the Giants on Sept. 29, Haskins threw 17 passes. Nine were completed, five hit the ground and three were caught by players on the other team. One would hope, against one of the worst teams the league has ever seen and without the coach who didn’t want him, that there’s nowhere to go but up from here.

But if Dwayne Haskins doesn’t significantly improve, don’t freak out. Success as an NFL quarterback is not cut-and-dried, and there are plenty of ups and downs along the way. A failure in 2019 doesn’t mean he’ll be a failure for the rest of his career.

There have been plenty of quarterbacks, including some of the best the league has ever seen. who were doubted the same way Haskins is now. They turned out okay, and, while Haskins may not be a Hall of Famer, he can too.