Coach Ron Rivera named Haskins the starter at the outset of this past season but benched him after a 1-3 start and demoted him to third string. Rivera, at the time, cited the wide open race for the NFC East title as his impetus for the switch, but he later insinuated Haskins’s work ethic was, in part, to blame.
When Haskins received a second chance to prove himself late in the year, following injuries to Kyle Allen and Alex Smith, his tenure with the team quickly fizzled. He went 0-2 as a starter, which jeopardized Washington’s first-place standing in the NFC East, and in between he was fined $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy for partying without a mask following a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. During the team’s loss to the Carolina Panthers the following week, he was benched again.
“Sometimes you have to go through hard knocks. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can dig your way back out of it,” Rivera said the morning after the loss. “Sometimes a change helps. . . . I hope he learns from these experiences. Hopefully, they’ll make him stronger and they’ll help him, and hopefully, when he gets his next opportunity, he’ll make the best of it.”
Hours later, Haskins was cut.
“I just felt it was time to make the move,” Rivera said later in the week. “I just thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity for us both to go in a different direction.”
Washington drafted Haskins months after Smith suffered what was thought to be a career-ending leg injury, but the coaching staff did not agree with the selection. Owner Daniel Snyder, whose son attended the same private high school as Haskins, made the decision, going against the advice of his coaches and personnel staff — even team president Bruce Allen.
Haskins started seven games as a rookie and showed improvement late in the year. When Rivera took over last January, he refused to name Haskins the starter outright, instead wanting him to earn the job with a show of commitment in the offseason and a competition with Allen in training camp.
That competition never transpired, however, and Haskins took all the first-team reps as Rivera lauded his focus and work ethic — which seemed to fade after he won the job.
“The first thing that I hope for Dwayne, and I’ve told him this, is you don’t have a chance until you’ve eliminated a lot of the distractions going on in your life,” Smith said in a recent podcast interview with Yahoo Sports. “And it’s hard as a young player, as a young draft pick, certainly as a quarterback thrust with a lot of weight and expectations. All of a sudden you got endorsement deals and you got advertising agents and your own agent and you got a lot of voices telling you different things. In the end, though, it all comes down to playing well on the football field. And I think you have to be willing to eliminate all that other stuff because none of it matters if you can’t go out there and play at a high level.”
Smith added: “Certainly there was a lot working against him here the last two years that didn’t allow him to reach his potential because he’s crazy gifted, crazy talented. And he’s a good kid. … So hopefully this can be one of those experiences for him that helps him get going toward wherever he wants to go.”
According to a person familiar with the situation, the Panthers offered Haskins a reserve/future contract, but he opted for Pittsburgh, where he joins a quarterbacks room led by Ben Roethlisberger — at least for now.
Following the Steelers’ first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, the 38-year-old Roethlisberger said he would take time to consider whether he wanted to play another season, and he acknowledged the possibility that the franchise could move on from him. If he were to return to the Steelers under his current contract, it would take up a significant portion of the team’s salary cap.
Haskins’s rookie contract with Washington was fully guaranteed but included offset language. His remaining guaranteed salary still counts against Washington’s cap, but that amount is reduced by his new salary in Pittsburgh.