All of a sudden, Dwayne Haskins is the most important person in the Washington Redskins organization. We don’t yet know how he looks in burgundy and gold, but make no mistake, everything now will be viewed through the lens of his development.
It should mean more to Washington than anything, including its win total next season. Whatever is best for Haskins must be tailored to be best for the team. That’s what the franchise signed up for when it selected him No. 15 overall in the NFL draft Thursday night, fulfilling the wish — okay, demand — of owner Daniel Snyder and perhaps finding a solution after Alex Smith’s career-threatening injury.
In a sense, it is a relief that the Redskins didn’t have to trade up and give away major assets to snag a good young quarterback and appease their owner. They stood pat, watched teams ahead of them do the overthinking and took the player many draftniks pegged as the best one in this class. Snyder didn’t go full Snyder. He didn’t have to, honestly. For all the smoke, speculation and utter fear that he would boss his team into another disaster, the worst-case scenario didn’t happen.
Feel free to breathe again. Make up with your blood pressure, too, so it can trickle down.
For the third straight season, Day 1 of the draft broke the Redskins’ way. It is incredible that such high-profile options keep falling to them when they have mid-first round picks. In 2017, they were gifted defensive tackle Jonathan Allen at No. 17 because of injury concerns. In 2018, they had some fabulous options at No. 13, including safety Derwin James, but they went with Daron Payne, another tackle to turn their D-line into a strength. And now, with a desperate need for a quality young quarterback, there was Haskins — an expected top 10 pick — landing in their lap.
Then, before the night ended, they gave up their 2019 and 2020 second-round picks to get back into the first round. They took supremely athletic pass rusher Montez Sweat — a player whom Coach Jay Gruden said the team had considered selecting at 15 — with the 26th pick.
If the pre-draft conversation hadn’t included reports that Snyder and maligned team president Bruce Allen pushed hard for Haskins, the night would have been worthy of mass celebration. Instead, the reaction should be a mix of skepticism about the polarizing manner in which the organization functioned in acquiring Haskins, and enthusiasm that, no matter the method, the franchise improved its talent in two major areas of need.
Washington compromised without really compromising. Snyder got his quarterback, even though Haskins could be a challenging fit in Gruden’s offense. Other members of the front office who weren’t as enamored with the quarterback and preferred a best-player-available approach scored a victory by figuring out how to get Sweat.
“It went really well,” Gruden said in the greatest understatement of the first round.
For a franchise that knows drama and fiasco all too well, it went fantastically. The front office didn’t stray from the task because of infighting. It got creative, got aggressive and seemingly made the team better. But this pat on the back comes with a warning: The hard part is just beginning.
While Sweat’s athleticism and effort should benefit the defensive immediately, the acquisition of Haskins is likely to have a delayed impact. He could turn into a franchise quarterback, but it will take him time. Haskins, who played at Bullis School in Potomac, enjoyed a meteoric rise at Ohio State. He was a starter for just one collegiate season. It was a marvelous year; as a redshirt sophomore he completed 70 percent of his passes, and threw for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. The numbers were insane, especially at a school not known for airing it out.
But his rapid success means he enters the NFL with an extremely small amount of college experience. Such fast-rising quarterbacks tend to take longer to develop in the NFL. There are questions about his functional mobility, about his ability to throw with anticipation and about his slow windup. On the other hand, his accuracy is unrivaled for a young quarterback, and his arm strength is stunning. There’s plenty to work with, but Gruden’s system asks for a good amount of quarterback mobility and quick throws.
On Thursday night, Gruden expressed excitement about getting to teach Haskins, and he was optimistic Haskins would improve at a rapid rate because of the quarterback’s football IQ, work ethic, attention to detail and professionalism. But there will be growing pains. And Gruden, with just one playoff appearance in five seasons, needs to win now.
Throughout the pre-draft process, he spoke with skepticism about being able to win and develop a young quarterback at the same time. Now that Haskins is here, he changed his tune a little. The coach will figure out a way to insert Haskins into a competition for starting quarterback that includes Case Keenum and Colt McCoy.
“Well, if you’re the 15th pick of the draft, you have to get a shot,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to give him a chance to compete.”
Don’t expect too much too soon, however. It would be wise for Haskins to sit for most, if not all, of his rookie season. He has quite a bit to learn, and this is not an offense with enough talent to support a first-year quarterback.
Washington has tried to sell the public on the idea that it is “close” to contention despite consecutive 7-9 seasons. I don’t think this team is going to be any good in 2019. There are still major needs at receiver, guard, and possibly tight end and cornerback. Because the franchise took the long view and chose Haskins, it wasn’t able to address the lack of a sufficient offensive supporting cast. Now the Redskins are left to search for steals in the middle and late rounds, get creative with trades or hope that the post-June 1 cut date provides intriguing options. Whatever they do, it’s unlikely they can create a favorable situation for a rookie quarterback who started just one season in college.
The upcoming season already was guaranteed to include conflict about the present and the future. With Haskins’s development now the priority, that conflict intensifies. It will challenge Gruden in new ways to do what’s best for the franchise, not himself. It will challenge Snyder to understand that Haskins isn’t a toy you necessarily want to rip out of the box as soon as possible. Haskins might exceed expectations immediately or he might not. When he’s ready, he’s ready. Snyder shouldn’t force it.
The franchise still hasn’t recovered fully from mishandling Robert Griffin III. This is a chance at redemption. Haskins isn’t as gifted as Griffin, but he’s plenty talented. I’m not in love with him as a prospect, but he has enough talent, if molded properly, to elevate this franchise. The focus must be on 2020, 2021 and 2022 as much as it is on 2019. Is that possible with a head coach who needs to prove himself? Is it possible with a president who needs to do the same?
Is it possible with an owner who wants fannies in seats ASAP?
Haskins seems like a nice young man, and to be frank, I always fear this organization’s ability to ruin people. But here comes Haskins with his boyish enthusiasm and extreme arm talent, and you can’t help thinking he has a chance to defy recent history.
“It’s exciting, man,” Haskins said. “I really can’t believe it.”
Haskins is too important to rush. He’s also too important to hold back. Washington needs to handle him with care. He is the one player on this roster who can give the franchise a future or rob it of all hope yet again.
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