But give me New York and Washington, Jets and Redskins, at forlorn FedEx Field. Not because the football will be gorgeous, because it probably will be gross. Rather, because it gives us our first home look at Haskins, the rookie from Ohio State, and it might make us wonder about Burrow, the Heisman Trophy front-runner from LSU whose career, once again, is intertwined with that of Haskins.
Some disclaimers: Washington does not “lead” the race to land the top pick in next spring’s draft. That would be winless Cincinnati with the inside track over 1-8 Washington. The Jets are hanging in there, joining the Giants, Falcons and Dolphins with two victories apiece. Given there are seven weeks to go, mock drafts in November amount to clickbait.
And yet, a loss to the Jets — with some help from the Bengals, who still have dates with the Jets and Dolphins ahead — provides Washington a path to that No. 1 pick. Wouldn’t that be delicious? Grab your popcorn and settle back into the couch, because what would follow could be more entertaining than any of Washington’s actual games this year. (Low bar, I know. Still.)
The only aspect of Washington’s future that rivals, in importance, who the quarterback will be going forward is who the coach will be going forward. Those two decisions are inarguably tied together.
At one level, this equation is rather simple. For Haskins to be the quarterback here next year, whomever Washington hires as the coach must believe in Haskins as a quarterback and a leader. He is the starter the rest of the way. Barring injury, there will be ample opportunity to evaluate his skill-set, his leadership ability, his presence, his potential. By January, anyone who’s half-in or half-out on him need not apply.
A pro-Haskins coach would allow Washington — whether it picks first or fourth or eighth in the upcoming draft — to focus its attention on its other deficiencies, which is to say the rest of the roster. Washington needs a left tackle, and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas comes to mind. It needs game-changing playmakers on defense, so Ohio State defensive end Chase Young would be in play. It needs real threats to whom Haskins could get the ball, so Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy could make sense.
(Just an aside: There’s something depressing about considering draft scenarios before Thanksgiving. Yet here we are, in a world where that’s not only appropriate, it’s the lone reason to stay tuned.)
Now, there’s also a path in which Haskins has no future here. And that depends on the coach.
Washington’s search for the 10th coach in the two decades of Daniel Snyder’s ownership must be conducted with an honest understanding about the realities of the rebuild that’s ahead. The place is toxic; that’s well-established. It’s a fact further highlighted not so much by Jay Gruden’s midseason dismissal as head coach, but by the ongoing dispute between the club and Trent Williams, its former bedrock of a left tackle. Anyone who would take the job here should study that relationship and inquire about what went wrong in the care of the player and the subsequent communication. File away the findings, and dig deeper about how the place runs, who holds power and why there is a chronic inability to find stability — and win.
A coach who feels like he’s the guy who can overcome all that — and someone will — must have the quarterback of his choosing in place. Which is how we get to how meaningful a loss to the Jets would be. Which is how we, potentially, get to Burrow.
Remember that Haskins and Burrow have a history. In the summer of 2018, Haskins held the lead over Burrow to become the starting quarterback at Ohio State. Burrow announced he would transfer.
Seemed to work out for both parties. Haskins went 13-1 and threw 50 touchdown passes in his lone season as the Buckeyes’ starter, and Washington took him with the 15th pick of the draft. Burrow landed at LSU, became the Tigers’ starter last year and, before Saturday night’s game at Ole Miss, steered them to a win over Alabama and the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings with 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is the Heisman front-runner and an absolute contender to be the top pick in next year’s draft.
Here’s how this all could impact Washington, particularly with a loss to the Jets and some help from the Bengals: Say Snyder and his chief accomplice, team president Bruce Allen, hire a coach who’s not on board with Haskins. They decide to trade Haskins and draft Burrow. Step backward? Maybe, but not as bad as asking a coach who didn’t believe in Haskins to try to move forward with Haskins.
This is exactly what Arizona did when it named Kliff Kingsbury as its coach. Whatever you think of the hire, Kingsbury couldn’t be asked to develop incumbent Josh Rosen — taken in the draft just the year before — if he didn’t think Rosen could be the franchise quarterback in years to come. So the Cardinals traded Rosen to Miami and drafted Kyler Murray with the first pick.
Whomever Washington selects as its coach, that person might want to jump on the horn with Urban Meyer, the former Ohio State coach who recruited both Haskins and Burrow to Columbus, then named Haskins the starter.
Meyer, in an interview earlier this month with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks on the “Move the Sticks” podcast, called Haskins “the best-prepared quarterback I’ve ever seen” before his lone season as a starter and said Burrow was “a little bit further behind” because in high school he also had concentrated on playing basketball. But here’s the part any would-be coach would want to get Meyer to unpack in a little more detail:
“Dwayne’s leadership skills were okay, not very good,” Meyer said. “He became a great leader by the time — he only played one year, but the last four or five games of his career at Ohio State he was exceptional and became more of a tough guy and competitor. He was always a competitor, but he became more of a tough guy. . . . That’s why I think he’s going to be a fine NFL quarterback.
“Joe Burrow, this is a no-brainer. Absolute no-brainer. Now, can he throw as accurate as Dwayne? He’s improved. He wasn’t that way. But his leadership skills, his toughness. You talk about a competitive maniac — I mean, that’s who Joe Burrow is.”
Does that make it sound like the guy who once chose Haskins over Burrow would now take Burrow over Haskins? Wouldn’t it be something if that became the choice in Washington?
There’s your reason to tune into Jets-Redskins on Sunday. Not because you’ll love the football. But because the coach and the quarterback for 2020 are unknown — to the point where we can’t be sure if either is in-house yet.