Ron Rivera was brought in to fix the always-broken culture of the Washington Football Team. That could be an impossible job, like taking duct tape to a glass that has shattered into a million pieces.
So Rivera dumped quarterback Dwayne Haskins this week, the same week the team plays Philadelphia for the NFC East title. It was inevitable that this would be a major distraction, inevitable that Twitter and some TV talker would call it a racial move -- black quarterback, short leash -- inevitable that it would send some sort of strong message to Rivera’s own players.
That message is what Rivera was after. And that’s where he blew it. What message did he send?
The talk is that he showed that he’s in charge. Ha! I don’t think so. Of course, the proof of any message is in the ear of the person receiving it. We’ll see how the Washington Football Team takes this. To me, Rivera blinked.
He sold out the culture he was there to fix, gambled it away when he kept Haskins around after Strike Three. Then Haskins played poorly and lost a game that would have clinched the division title. Only THEN did Rivera pull the duct tape back out and get rid of Haskins.
Race didn’t have anything to do with this. Remember: Rivera once went to the Super Bowl with Cam Newton. It’s a little hard to believe he has a problem with black quarterbacks. Plus, Washington owner Daniel Snyder forced Haskins down the throats of the previous coaching staff in the first place, taking him in the first round of the draft when he wasn’t ready. That was about the optics of having a black quarterback in a predominantly black city.
Haskins was just some immature kid who came into a situation where he was supposed to be some sort of racial representation. A first-round quarterback is going to be the face of a franchise. His screwups get lots of attention. And Haskins wasn’t in any position to handle what he’d been thrown into.
So I get the race overtones here. But Haskins just isn’t good enough and isn’t grown up enough, and the team’s culture wasn’t in a strong enough place to absorb that.
Still, Rivera took a chance on a move that could be seen as race-based just days before the Big Game. It could have destroyed the culture.
Who knows? It may have.
Exactly why was Haskins, the first-round pick from two years ago, cut? That has never been clear. And if Rivera is sending a message to the team now, of all times, it has to be clear.
I know the narrative: Haskins was immature, not working hard enough. Earlier in the year, he disappeared mysteriously when he had been benched. He broke COVID protocols. And then with the playoff race at its hottest, pictures surfaced of him with dollar bills in a strip club, or birthday party, or wherever he was -- without a mask. He violated more protocols.
But is that really why Rivera cut him? Because after all of those things, Rivera played him again.
That was the key moment, the key decision. It’s such a hard one for a coach in any team sport to make. Maybe the hardest. Rivera is trying to fix a culture, and nothing can fix it faster than winning. Yet nothing can destroy it faster than letting a bad actor get away with his bad actions in front of the team.
And Haskins’ strike three came at the same time starting quarterback Alex Smith was hurt. Think of the spot Rivera was in: Haskins, the player, was his best chance to win that division and get into the playoffs and fix the culture in a hurry. But there was a longer play to be made here.
Rivera should have suspended Haskins for the rest of the year right after the Dollar-bill Dwayne incident.
Instead, Rivera played Haskins, and Haskins threw two interceptions and missed an open receiver.
Then, Haskins was cut.
So no, Haskins wasn’t cut for being immature. He was cut for two interceptions and a missed open receiver.
To me, that’s the message the locker room got. Haskins screwed up and got away with it. Then he lost, and he’s gone. And all the Twitter chatter and race talk is surely heard in the locker room, too.
It’s really hard to know for sure what message the WFT players will end up taking. My guess is that they’ll lose Sunday and won’t go to the playoffs. But maybe they’ll just put their heads down and not worry about any of this. Maybe they’ll just play football.
Who knows? Maybe they do think Rivera put his foot down against people who aren’t buying into the culture. I don’t see it that way, but the message wasn’t meant for me. To me, the WFT looks like a broken glass that’s been duct-taped together.