ASHBURN, Va. — If there was any doubt about the power coach Ron Rivera has in Washington’s organization, it was put to rest Monday. He asked team owner Daniel Snyder whether he could release quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., a player whom it was well known Snyder liked and had pushed to draft at No. 15 in 2019 (against the wishes of his football people).
But for this franchise to take a step forward, Snyder has to listen to the same voice he did Monday morning. Not to mention the scouts who work all year assessing quarterback play, whether in college or the NFL.
A major reason Washington hasn’t been a consistent winner since the early 1990s remains the quarterback position. If Taylor Heinicke starts Sunday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), he would become the 31st quarterback to start a game for Washington since 1993.
Here’s how the postseason bracket looks at the moment and what scenarios lie ahead.
• Playoff picture (ESPN+) »
• Playoff Machine: See scenarios »
• Standings » | Football Power Index »
This offseason, Washington must find a quarterback it can build around. The team still has Alex Smith, one of the best comeback stories in a long time and who has been key to their playoff push. But what sort of future does he have as an effective NFL starter? Washington can save $13.6 million against the cap by cutting Smith.
When it comes to the next decision on a quarterback, Snyder must trust his football side. He pushed to trade for Donovan McNabb; he pushed to move up to select Robert Griffin III. Sometimes there was pushback; other times there wasn’t enough. Snyder signed Jeff George in 2000 after Brad Johnson had delivered one of the best seasons by a Washington quarterback in a decade. None of those moves worked out, though Griffin did deliver one memorable season.
Snyder has a chance to build something positive for a few years. Washington’s defensive line could anchor the unit for a while and be among the NFL’s best. The team doesn’t need to make a splashy move to sell tickets; rookie defensive end Chase Young can be the star to build around. Washington needs a quarterback about whom the football side says, “Yes, we can definitely win with him.” Snyder then needs to do what he did Monday: listen.
MORE: NFL world reacts to Washington releasing Dwayne Haskins
Washington’s scouts have spearheaded multiple consecutive good drafts. They know what they’re doing; the coaches know what sort of quarterback they want. If the two are allowed to marry their desires, they have a better chance to find their guy.
With Snyder having to deal with court filings and squabbles with his minority owners, this is the best time for Rivera to wield his power.
Jeff Saturday reacts to Washington’s decision to release QB Dwayne Haskins.
Rivera could have made this move last week, after Haskins committed his second COVID-19 protocol breach. He was photographed while maskless at his girlfriend’s birthday party. With Smith’s strained right calf an issue, the last thing Washington needed was risking anyone to COVID-19 and jeopardizing a chance for the team to win the NFC East. It was viewed as a selfish and immature move by Haskins.
But Rivera, swayed by Haskins’ solid fourth quarter against Seattle the previous day, opted to keep him around. Although it went against his preaching of culture, it meshed with his desire to give the other 52 players the best chance to win. He still felt that Haskins, after Smith, provided that chance. Others in the organization agreed.
It’s also true Haskins, 23, was drafted in the first round by the wrong organization last year. He joined a team in Washington where the coach (Jay Gruden) needed to win to save his job, but Haskins was a prospect who needed time to develop. It’s hard to stash a first-round quarterback that long, especially in Washington. It was a bad marriage that failed from the start.
Are you ready for some football? Play for FREE and answer questions on the Monday night game every week. Make Your Picks
Then, in his second season, Haskins was paired with Rivera’s staff, which inherited him and had to get him up to speed in an offseason that did not allow him to be on the field with them. The coaches were intrigued by him, but they weren’t wedded to him.
Haskins compounded the situation by not doing what coaches wanted him to do away from the field. He must heed that advice in order to succeed in the NFL. Some Washington personnel felt they could talk to Haskins; they just wondered how much he listened or heard them.
Haskins has said a lot of the right things since coming to Washington about the sort of player he wants to become, mentioning his desire to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he needed to live the life that such players live, devoting more time and energy to making that more than just talk. Maybe, away from the distractions of playing in his hometown and after some soul-searching, he can make it work elsewhere.
He’s young enough, and talented enough, to get more chances. Tough as it is for Haskins, a fresh start should be welcomed.
But, for Snyder, that fresh start would be doing what he did Monday: trusting his top football guy in Rivera.