All are intriguing. Each would impact the rest of the first round in different ways. But the first two have something important in common: Either would represent a commitment by Coach Ron Rivera to rebuilding the team around second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. And having that reality baked into the decision makes it not just more interesting but more important.
The reporting on what Washington intends to do with the pick has been so all over the map that it has felt, at times, that any of the options were possible. Rivera has said publicly that he traded for quarterback Kyle Allen, whom he coached with Carolina, to push Haskins, not necessarily to take his job. Earlier in the offseason, ESPN draft czar Mel Kiper Jr. performed some saber-rattling in favor of Tagovailoa. CBS Sports reported this week that Washington was “increasingly open” to the idea of trading down.
Who knows? Washington has both time and possibilities.
To take the left-handed Tagovailoa, Washington would have to be convinced that the hip injury that curtailed his junior season with the Crimson Tide won’t be an issue going forward. And it would have to consider him a clear-cut winner in a competition with Haskins — not just in 2020, should there be a season, but well beyond. Both conclusions are reasonable.
So that leaves you with this: Not taking a healthy Tagovailoa is a clear-cut endorsement of Haskins this fall and into the future.
There’s an argument that Washington could allow Rivera and his staff to evaluate Haskins for a season — and then move on if they don’t like his progress. But how would that work? The top quarterbacks likely to be available in next year’s draft are Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Both are high-end prospects. So to land either of them, Washington would have to produce another season so lousy it ends up with another, say, top-four pick.
That’s possible, I suppose. But Rivera’s mere presence, coupled with the ouster of former team president Bruce Allen, makes for real optimism around both how the team will be built and how it will perform. That doesn’t mean the playoffs are upon us. But even if Haskins doesn’t excel, it feels reasonable to expect some improvement from 3-13 — the kind of season that would result in a pick high enough to land Lawrence or Fields. The point: If Rivera and his staff are wishy-washy about Haskins, kicking the can down the road has risks. They’re in position to draft an exceptional quarterback now — and maybe not in the foreseeable future.
Even with all the dysfunction and upheaval in Ashburn over the years, the only time Washington has been in line for a top-four pick without a trade this century was 2010, when it selected tackle Trent Williams at No. 4. You have to go back to 1994 and 1995 — hello, Heath Shuler and Michael Westbrook! — to find a situation when Washington had top-four picks in consecutive years.
So, then, get it right — or else. The other options — taking Young or trading back — have merit. But both are tied to the assessment of Haskins. In its latest mock draft, analytics website Pro Football Focus — which previously advocated for Washington to take Tagovailoa — predicted not only that the Miami Dolphins, loaded with three first-round picks, would trade up to No. 2 and send Washington two first-rounders and an early second-rounder but that Washington would still end up with Young at No. 5. That’s quite a haul, a dream scenario for Rivera.
And yet how much would all those picks matter if they bet on Haskins and got it wrong?
The right choice at quarterback can define a franchise. You could argue that the most impactful defensive player selected in the past decade is J.J. Watt; no one has more tackles for loss in that time. But the Houston Texans didn’t feel like a true threat until Deshaun Watson showed up to play quarterback.
Washington’s situation, as has been pointed out several times, is akin to Arizona’s last year. A previous regime spent the 10th pick in 2018 on UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. New coach Kliff Kingsbury faced a decision last offseason: Keep Rosen and select elite pass rusher Nick Bosa (also from Ohio State) or take Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and trade Rosen. Kingsbury chose Door No. 2, and even though Bosa is a beast for a formidable San Francisco defense, Murray could be on a path that mirrors Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the MVP award in his second year in the league. If you’re a Cardinals fan, you like the decision.
There’s a flip side. Think about how this process played out in Chicago: The Bears traded up to take Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in the 2017 draft, leaving Watson and Patrick Mahomes on the board. (Man, it’s still amazing to write that sentence.) Of the 40 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 500 passes over the past three seasons, Trubisky ranks 30th in passer rating. A couple of weeks ago, the Bears traded for Nick Foles, both an acknowledgment of their failures and an uninspiring solution. The futures of General Manager Ryan Pace and Coach Matt Nagy may hinge on whether they can cover up the franchise’s egregious error.
So that’s all that’s at stake for Rivera: the choice that could define his tenure in Washington. And his tenure in Washington, before it even begins, is completely tied to what he thinks of Dwayne Haskins and what he does with the second pick in the draft because of his assessment.
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