Ron Rivera made some big personnel decisions when he first arrived in Washington, trading away both Trent Williams and Quinton Dunbar. In both cases, the new head coach refused to consider extending or renegotiating the players’ contracts, saying that he wanted to see them up close and personal before committing further to them or any player on the Washington roster. Rivera pitched it as part of his culture re-building scheme — he was in “try before you buy” mode.
Well, with the final game of the regular season upon us, a major shot was fired on Monday when the head coach unceremoniously waived Dwayne Haskins, the team’s 2019 15th overall draft pick — apparently due more to the type of person he is off the field than because of lack of performance on it.
The message couldn’t have been any clearer: draft status doesn’t matter. Work ethic, maturity, leadership, and on-field performance do. Haskins was the negative example. After flaunting COVID protocols and restrictions for the second time in the 2020 season following the Week 15 game, he was stripped of his captain’s status and fined a reported $40,000. When he followed up a terrible on-field performance in the Week 16 game, in which he was benched in the 4th quarter in favor of Taylor Heinicke, by missing the post-game media session at the stadium and being uncontactable until he reached home where he is reported to have “demanded” to speak to reporters, Ron Rivera released the second year quarterback.
The move has been widely perceived as the only option remaining for Ron Rivera. Haskins had frustrated two different coaching staffs and had developed a reputation for immaturity, repeated mistakes, poor preparation and under-developed leadership skills. Haskins described the situation as one where he was getting in his own way.
The fact that Haskins cleared waivers — he was available to all 31 other teams at the relative bargain price of just over $4m for two years + one game (and potentially 2020 playoffs) — speaks volumes about where the league perceives Haskins to be.
Haskins still has a chance to rehabilitate his image and rescue his NFL career. He’s young, and the issues that surround him seem to be mostly linked to his perceived immaturity. With a fresh start, he could still become, somewhere, the franchise quarterback that Washington hoped he would be when the franchise drafted him a season ago.
But whether Haskins goes on to have a Hall-of-Fame career or goes down as a draft bust, Ron Rivera won’t be wrong. If it’s the latter — if Haskins never really establishes an NFL career — then Rivera took decisive action and allowed the WFT to move on from a mistake quickly. On the other hand, if Haskins goes to his next team and demonstrates all the traits that were missing in Washington, then the likely perception will be that he was a player in need of a fresh start, that being waived by the team was the “wake up call” he needed, and that Rivera triggered the late-blooming maturity that Haskins needed to achieve his potential.
I think most NFL fans will be rooting for Haskins to succeed. He seems to be, after all, just a young man who is stuggling to figure out how to be what’s required in one of the world’s toughest jobs. He hasn’t broken any laws; he hasn’t cheated in a game or taken PEDs. Haskins hasn’t been found to be violent to women; he hasn’t been accused of assault, rape or murder. The charges against him are that he isn’t the first guy in and the last guy to leave; he may struggle to grasp the playbook; he may not have been as diligent in developing his footwork as he should have been; he may have been late to meetings and been a bit of a knucklehead with respect to COVID protocols.
In short, he probably lacks desire or maturity, but, assuming he can develop the missing ingredient, he likely deserves the support of whichever fan base has the next chance to root for him.
But his time in Washington is done, and the manner of his exit wasn’t so much a cannon ball across the bow as a missle-shot. In an NFL locker room, when last year’s first-round quarterback, hand-picked by the owner, is given his walking papers, it’s a clear signal that there’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s kicking ass and taking names.
But a head coach who is only interested in establishing that he’s the boss is, like he would be in any organization, simply an asshole. One thing we’ve heard from Day 1 about Ron Rivera was that he was the opposite of an asshole. We’ve heard that he’s a strict disciplinarian, but one who listens, shoots straight and cares about the players.
In the world of carrots and sticks, Ron is known for being more about the carrot, though the move on Haskins this week shows that he’s perfectly willing to use a great big stick.
On Saturday, we saw the other side — the positive reward that Ron Rivera is more than willing to hand out to players who are defined by the attributes he is looking for. It’s fitting, having traded away the franchise cornerstone left tackle, Trent Williams, in the off-season, and having waived the presumptive face of the franchise, Dwayne Haskins, earlier this week, that the first Washington player to be given a contract extension by Ron Rivera is the former sixth-round draft pick and lunch-pail toting offensive lineman, Chase Roullier.
Roullier is largely the corollary of Dwayne Haskins. There were no great expectations for Roullier as a rookie. He was a late-round pick who was selected to provide some flexibility and depth for the Redskins’ interior offensive line. But when injury struck starting Center Spencer Long midway through the 2017 season, rookie Chase Roullier had to step up and take Long’s place.
Long left via free agency at the end of the ‘17 season, and Chase Roullier has been a fixture in the center of the Washington OL ever since.
Roullier has improved every year, and Washington fans had been anxious to see him return in 2021 as a veteran anchor for the offensive line and the team as a whole. The 4th year lineman is the kind of guy that great teams are built around. He’s proven himself to be mature, a hard worker, and a guy who improves all the time. He has been the kind of player that his teammates can rely on.
Ron Rivera couldn’t have made a better choice for sending a message ahead of Sunday’s critical game. If the WFT beats the Eagles, then they win the NFC East division crown in Rivera’s first season here, just one year removed from a disastrous 3-13 campaign. Rewarding Chase Roullier with a contract extension one day ahead of this critical contest is a signal flare that illuminates the way forward for the Football Team under Rivera. While there are other players — guys like Brandon Scherff or Ronald Darby — who are also deserving of extensions, Roullier being the first off the block is special.
Firstly, Scherff was a first round pick with an even stronger draft position than Haskins, having been drafted 5th overall in 2015. The team has already shown a certain amount of commitment to the right guard by exercising his 5th year option. Roullier as the first Rivera contract extension is cool because it rewards a player who was taken in the 6th round — a guy who had to earn his position the old fashioned way. Scherff is just as tough, has worked just as hard, and is just as deserving of a contract extension as Chase Roullier, but Brandon’s draft status makes him an obvious player to extend. Roullier being the first cab off the rank says everything that a Scherff extension would have said about what Rivera values, with a bonus. Roullier’s contract extension makes it clear that this meritocracy doesn’t rely on draft status; Washington is an equal opportunity rewarder.
I look forward with anticipation to Scherff’s contract extension and will celebrate it when it comes just as much as I am celebrating Roullier’s today, but I think it’s special that Roullier, the 6th rounder who made it through hard work and character, is extended five days after Haskins was released for being an immature knucklehead despite his draft status.
Similarly, I’m pleased that Roullier got a new contract before a guy like Ronald Darby, whom I would also like to see the team re-sign. Darby plays in burgundy & gold now, but he’s also been on the field in the red, white and blue of the Buffalo Bills and the Kelly Green of the Philadelphia Eagles. Darby was a good free agent signing this year, and if we can get him back for another three years, I’d be in favor of that, but I really like the fact that Rivera’s first extension went to a player that was originally drafted by Washington. Roullier is a Washington player; he has only ever been a Washington player. If things go right, he may retire as a Washington player.
Because he was drafted by the franchise; because he was a late-round pick who outperformed for four years; because he has been a hard worker, a mature leader and a strong performer on the field, I love the fact that Roullier will forever be the first Washington player of the RivEra to be rewarded with a contract extension.
Washington stands on the precipice of an achievement — beating the Philadelphia Eagles to secure the NFC East championship and a spot in the upcoming playoffs.
This worst-to-first championship, if it comes about, will happen despite a huge amount of adversity in 2020 that no Hogs Haven reader needs me to enumerate here.
It will be achieved with Alex Smith starting, backed up by Taylor Heinicke, while Dwayne Haskins watches from his sofa, and this important early step in developing a championship franchise will have been built on the back of gutsy hard work by players like Mogan Moses, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Ryan Kerrigan, Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, Tim Settle, Kam Curl and others who have spent their entire careers in Washington, training hard, playing hard and building a team together. While it was important to jettison the knucklehead Haskins to start the week, it’s even more important to reward a player like Chase Roullier as one of the last actions ahead of this important game.
Special things are built by special people. We should celebrate today as a significant step in building something special and permanent in Washington.
Today, it feels like the future is bright for the Washington Football Team.
While we’re on the topics of hard work, maturity, leadership, team captains and anti-knuckleheadedness, check out the reports about Terry McLaurin:
Washington WR Terry McLaurin has a significant high ankle sprain but intends to try to play Sunday in Philly, per sources. Could be limited in what he's able to do out there — high ankle sprains usually take a min. 6 wks — but this is McLaurin. Knows the importance of this game.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 2, 2021
So he'll try to play, and if he does, it'll be in a good bit of discomfort. File this among the many reasons he was voted a team captain.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 2, 2021