“It was just [a matter of] trying to figure out what time and what pick,” Haskins said Saturday afternoon.
He was standing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, which he had visited many times as a child growing up in New Jersey and later as a high school student at the Bullis School in Potomac. Saturday’s trip was a publicity stunt set up by the Redskins to introduce their new franchise quarterback and his fellow first-round pick, edge rusher Montez Sweat, to Washington. But gazing around on this brilliant spring afternoon, with the Washington Monument towering behind him and a brisk wind whipping whitecaps on the tidal basin, he didn’t feel any need to be introduced.
He was home, he said, in the only place he expected to be through four months of draft speculation.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when the Redskins decided that Haskins would be the quarterback to lead the franchise into the 2020s. Maybe it came during meetings with team leaders at the NFL scouting combine in early March; Haskins remembers having good talks then. Perhaps it was at Ohio State’s pro day later in March, when Redskins Coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell showed up to watch him throw. It could have been that dinner at D.C. Prime this month during his visit to the Redskins’ team facility in Ashburn; he and Gruden devoured their steaks, and the coach kept cracking jokes.
“I clicked well with all the teams I visited. I felt like the team that liked me the most was the Redskins,” he said. “I could just tell by the vibe I got from all the teams. They loved me a little bit more.”
“It all made sense,” he said.
There has been rampant speculation about whether Haskins was really the choice of Washington’s coaches or whether he had become the infatuation of team owner Daniel Snyder, whose son was a few years behind Haskins at Bullis. That Snyder called Haskins on Thursday night to say the Redskins were selecting him with the 15th pick speaks to how invested the owner was in the selection. But suggesting Snyder alone determined the Redskins’ path would ignore many other connections Haskins has with the team, and it would overlook the impression the team’s coaches gave him as the draft drew closer.
Haskins said he loved his chats with quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay. His meetings with Gruden were filled with complicated dialogue about X’s and O’s.
When asked Thursday night whether Haskins was the team’s top-rated quarterback in this draft — which began with Arizona selecting Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray — Gruden quickly nodded.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “For sure.”
Ohio State’s pro day might have been what sold Washington on Haskins. Gruden, who did not attend many of the other top quarterback prospects’ pre-draft workouts, carefully watched Haskins’s feet. One of the biggest criticisms of Haskins, other than that he was a one-year starter in college, is that he is slow and has a long, deliberate windup. Both are considered negatives in today’s NFL; pass rushers are so fast and powerful that quarterbacks must do everything with haste.
But watching him at his workout, Gruden was struck by how quickly Haskins moved, and he noticed that passes left his hand much more rapidly than they did on video.
“Exciting,” Gruden thought.
Not only was Haskins faster than he might have appeared on screen, he was accurate, too.
“[Pro day] helped,” Gruden said. “But it was just all part of the process. When you’re thinking about taking a quarterback, it is important to go check out some pro days. Our coaching staff, whoever it is, we handle all the pro days of all quarterbacks this year. Somebody was at all of them, obviously, and I think that played a big part of it.”
Haskins said nobody from the Redskins told him he was going to be their choice, but the decision soon became obvious to him. He brushed away the suggestion that he had a connection with Snyder, saying he barely knew Snyder’s son in high school and didn’t meet the owner until the draft process. If anything, that his mentor is former Redskins star cornerback Shawn Springs might have had a greater impact. For years, Springs — who met Haskins at a quarterback camp in New Jersey years ago and brought the family to live with him at one point — had been trying to tell Redskins executives about the quarterback who spent some time in the D.C. area and was going to star at his old school, Ohio State. No one seemed to pay much attention.
Even when Springs cornered Snyder before a game at FedEx Field last fall and pleaded for the owner to consider Haskins, he wasn’t sure Snyder knew whom he was talking about. Springs pushed on anyway. Then last month at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Springs found team president Bruce Allen and begged him to pick Haskins.
By then, though, everyone around the Redskins knew about Haskins. Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner, was all but certain to go first to the Cardinals, and despite having interest in trading for quarterback Josh Rosen, Arizona’s first-round pick last year, any enthusiasm for him appeared to have died by Thursday.
Gruden said the Redskins had a few quarterbacks in mind because they weren’t sure Haskins would fall to the 15th pick.
“You never really make up your mind on one guy," he said, “because you have a tendency to get your heart broken if that guy gets picked.”
Still, the Redskins had a good idea Haskins would be theirs if they were patient. The New York Giants, whom Haskins had been linked to all winter, had fallen in love with Duke’s Daniel Jones and were certain to use the sixth pick on him. When they did, Haskins was not surprised. Two picks earlier, his agent had told him it would happen. Haskins noted that with a dryness that suggested he would not forget the slight.
“I’m just looking forward to being able to compete against those guys for the rest of my career,” he said Thursday.
“He’s going to be a beast when he plays the Giants,” Springs said with a laugh.
Once New York made its move, the other teams that might need a quarterback and were set to pick before the Redskins, such as Denver and Miami, appeared focused elsewhere.
“When whoever picked in front of us didn’t pick him, it was pretty much solidified,” Gruden said with a laugh. “It’s really hard because you’re sitting there and you want a guy, but you have to wait. It happens every year. You can’t trade up and get everybody; you won’t have any picks left. [You want] to keep the picks that we have because we were able to get some more players.”
When it was the Redskins’ turn, the choice that had become obvious was quickly made. Snyder got on the phone. At a Gaithersburg bowling alley, Haskins took the call — and wasn’t at all surprised to hear Snyder’s voice.
It was the phone call he had been expecting all along.