ASHBURN – An NFL team with two quarterbacks competing for the starting job really has no quarterback capable of holding the starting job.
Just what a team with three quarterbacks competing for the starting job has is unknown. But it is a mystery the Washington Redskins will try to solve for the 2019 season.
The Redskins acquired their second quarterback of the off-season Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft, giving them four on the roster and three capable of playing.
When Dwayne Haskins was available when the Redskins’ 15th pick in the first round arrived, they could not resist. They took the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Ohio State product even though they acquired Case Keenum earlier this off-season and gave Colt McCoy a contract extension last summer through the 2019.
As impressive as Haskins’ numbers are from the 2018 season, he would not have been on the Redskins’ radar had not Alex Smith, acquired during the 2018 off-season, suffered a potentially career-ending injury, a compound fracture of tibia and fibula in his right leg in the 10th game.
That’s one reason the Redskins waited anxiously as teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round passed on Haskins.
Keenum and McCoy are placeholders until the franchise quarterback arrives. And some in the Redskins’ organization seem certain Haskins is the franchise.
Some draft “experts” rated Haskins as the best quarterback in the draft. At least two teams disagreed. Haskins was the third quarterback selected Thursday, behind Kyler Murray from Oklahoma, taken first overall by Arizona, and Daniel Jones from Duke, taken with the sixth pick by the New York Giants.
“We felt like Haskins was the cream of the crop, and we were lucky to get him,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Great kid. Great player. Very smart. We feel really good about where he is as a player, where he’s going.”
When a team takes a quarterback in the first round, it is designating its quarterback for the future.
Well, there is an exception to that rule. Arizona took quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round of the 2018 draft only to trump that pick with Murray this season.
It is far from certain Haskins will start this season for the Redskins. Keenum guided Minnesota to the NFC championship game in 2017. McCoy has been a starter and reliable backup in the NFL for years.
Gruden has two years left on his contract, but after consecutive 7-9 seasons and after only one playoff appearance in five seasons, a loss to Green Bay at home, he’s under pressure to produce immediately.
He might be more comfortable with Keenum, who has proven he can dissect NFL defenses as he awaits the snap, as the starter.
That might not be a luxury Gruden enjoys.
“Well, if you’re the 15th pick in the draft, I think you have to give him an opportunity, right?” Gruden said. “Without a doubt. When you take a guy in the first round at any time, you have to give him a chance to compete. That’s just the way pro football is.
“A quarterback who has performed like he has is quite astonishing, really. He’s got all the tools to be an exceptional quarterback in pro football.”
The same is true of outside linebacker Montez Sweat. At 6-6 ½ and with 4.41 40-yard dash speed, Sweat passes the eyeball test. He probably would have been a top 10 pick Thursday had he not been diagnosed with a heart disorder at the NFL combine.
Later, though, examination when Sweat made his visit to the Houston Texans indicated Sweat’s condition had been misdiagnosed. Still, Sweat was in free fall in the first round when the Redskins made a trade to get into position to select him with the 26th pick.
The Redskins obviously came down on the Sweat’s side in the debate on which diagnosis to believe.
“We did our due diligence,” Gruden said.
Haskins’ upside seems considerable. So, too, are the questions concerning his readiness to face NFL defenses. That’s true of every rookie quarterback, but Haskins started just 14 games during his college career.
He was impressive in those starts in 2018, completing 70 percent of his passes for 5,396 yards with 54 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
But even Big Ten games against Michigan, Penn State and Purdue pale in comparison to the schemes Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants will use.
Give Haskins this. He wasn’t brimming with brash confidence. He did what a rookie quarterback is supposed to do and should do. He took it slow and easy.
“I've got to get better at everything,” Haskins said. “Once you think that you have arrived is the second you begin to fall. I'm a young guy, and I have a lot of work to do.
“They know I'm hungry. I'm going to do the best I can to prove myself to the guys around me. It's going to be a lot of fun to get ready for the season and the seasons to come.”
Pro football is a business. The Redskins have no strong ties to Keenum, and have paid McCoy well not to play. When McCoy did take over for Smith last season, he lost his first start in Dallas and broke his leg in the next game in Philadelphia.
That Haskins might not be ready to start in the NFL and that patience might be what’s best for him will not matter greatly.
Only teams with established starting quarterbacks who are leading playoff contenders can afford to give a first-round draft choice a clipboard and tell him to stand on the sideline and watch and learn.
“It’s a matter of getting him in the building, getting him caught up with the offense and going slow with him,” Gruden said.
“I don’t mean go slow. I mean patient, so to speak. We’ll throw a lot at him. We’re very happy to have Case here. He’s an experienced quarterback who’s done it. Colt’s has been in our system for a long time. He’s trying to come back from that injury.
“Now we have Dwayne here. It’s a matter of getting them all in the room, throwing the ball out there, letting them throw, and then continue to progress and let guys have an opportunity to play.”
Haskins might not be the starter when training camp ends. But if the team struggles with Keenum or McCoy at quarterback, Gruden will not be able to resist pressure from the front office or owner Dan Snyder to put the rookie on the field and turn him loose.
Turning a rookie quarterback loose, who has 14 college starts on his resume’ is a risky proposition, no matter how astonishing his accomplishments were against Oregon State (2-10), Rutgers (1-11), Nebraska (4-8) and Maryland (5-7).
There are bye weeks in the NFL, but when a team is on the field, there are no days off.