For Haskins, a first-round draft pick 21 months ago, being benched after four games for journeyman Kyle Allen didn’t portend great things for his job status with Washington.
By now, you probably know what occurred over the next three months. A succession of injuries to Allen (then Alex Smith) led Washington to hand the starting job back to Haskins, who turned in a disastrous two-game run. He lost both starts, failed to light up the scoreboard and was immediately released after he was photographed maskless at a party after the final loss, resulting in him being fined a reported $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy.
Afterward, Haskins admitted he screwed up in Washington. This was a good and necessary step toward helping him accomplish one of the hardest tasks in sports: removing a “first-round bust” tag from your name in the NFL.
Life has a funny way of working out sometimes, especially for someone who is 23 with a rocket for a right arm.
Now, Haskins — who signed a reserve-futures deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday afternoon — suddenly finds himself in about as good of a situation as he could hope for as he seeks to rebuild his career.
Pittsburgh looked like an ideal landing spot, even in October. Here’s what I wrote then:
But if Haskins takes this setback and, as Michael Jordan would say, adds this log to his competitive fire, my hunch is he’ll get his chance at redemption very soon. Maybe with some other team like Pittsburgh, with a pocket passer-friendly system and a veteran, established coach. Or maybe even in Washington later this season.
Both those things happened, which counts as a win for a football dork like me. I don’t bring this up to pat myself on the back, I bring it up to make the point that if Haskins wants the first half of the prediction (a tenure with Pittsburgh) to end better than the second half of that prediction (a second shot with Washington) he’ll have to do all the things he stated he didn’t do the first time around.
“My time with the WFT has unfortunately come to an end,” Haskins tweeted after his release in late December. “I thank the team & fans for the opportunity to play for the team I grew up rooting for. I take full responsibility for not meeting the standards of a NFL QB & will become a better man & player because of this experience.”
Now he has a chance to prove it, and there’s no shortage of people who hope he does, including some who remain in Washington. That includes his former teammate, Alex Smith, who spoke to Yahoo Sports this week while promoting his new apparel line.
“I think the first thing that I hope with Dwayne — and I’ve told him this — is, you don’t have a chance until you’ve eliminated a lot of the distractions that are going on in your life,” Smith told 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’ve got endorsement deals, advertising agents, your own agent and you’ve got a lot of voices telling you different things.
“In the end though, this all comes down to playing well on the football field. And I think you have to be able to eliminate all that other stuff, because none of it matters if you can’t go out there and play at a high level. And you’ll never be able to develop into your potential if you don’t eliminate all that stuff as well. And so my hope for Dwayne is to do that.”
If Haskins is going to succeed, he also needs more support than he had in Washington. That’s the biggest reason I’m excited for his new opportunity. He’ll join a winning organization with great ownership, the inverse of much that surrounded him when he first arrived in Washington.
With Ben Roethlisberger (for now) and Mason Rudolph ahead of him on the depth chart, he won’t feel any pressure to be QB1. That means Haskins, only a one-year starter at Ohio State, can learn and develop in peace.
What’s more, Haskins’ new agent, Brian Levy, also represents Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. That connection will be good for Haskins, who needs a coach to believe in him after his tenure in Washington began with a coach on the hot seat (Jay Gruden) who never wanted him in the first place.
In the end, Haskins ultimately holds his fate in his hands. Here’s hoping he finds a way to bounce back from one of the roughest starts to a career we’ve seen a first-round quarterback go through in a decade, as he was released faster than legendary Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell.
“I feel like 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 a guy that’s crazy gifted,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy talented — and he’s a good kid. And so my hope is, we all have different roads and different paths, and it takes different things for us to learn from and to grow. And so hopefully, this can be one of those experiences for him that helps him get going to where he wants to go.”
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