- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2020

ASHBURN —  There’s a point in the career of practically every NFL quarterback when fans, coaches and teammates realize that the guy under center either has “it” or he doesn’t.

Sometimes it takes one game — rookie Cam Newton throwing for more than 400 yards and two touchdowns in his 2011 debut. Sometimes it takes seasons of futility — the Chicago Bears last week benching former 2017 No. 2 overall Mitch Trubisky after four seasons of disappointment.

Washington’s Dwayne Haskins, with his flashes of brilliance undercut by long stretches of mediocrity, is somewhere between. Is he a franchise cornerstone? Or is he just the latest name to add to a list of “saviors” who came up short in Washington?

The questions are particularly relevant this week as coach Ron Rivera hinted at a “cutoff point” for the second-year passer if things don’t improve.

Haskins is the fifth quarterback taken by Washington in the first round of the draft over the last 30 years. The other four — Robert Griffin III, Jason Campbell, Patrick Ramsey and Heath Shuler — didn’t pan out as the franchise had hoped.

Each one, it turns out, had a cutoff point.

Robert Griffin III (No. 2 overall, 2012): As the backup for the Baltimore Ravens, Griffin makes his return to FedEx Field on Sunday. The same stadium where Griffin’s career path forever changed on a torn ACL in his first-ever playoff game.

It would be easy to pin Griffin’s downfall with the Redskins on the injury he suffered in the 2012 NFC Wild Card game. But remember, the franchise didn’t lose faith until much later, clinging instead to the hope he could still be the same electric player who lit up the New Orleans Saints in his sensational rookie debut.

Even after a messy 3-13 season in 2013, Jay Gruden was brought in to salvage the 2012 Rookie of the Year. “I see every trait a quarterback has to have to be successful,” Gruden said at his introductory press conference.

But in 2014. Griffin dislocated his ankle in Week 2 and when he returned seven weeks later, he struggled with accuracy and decision making. There were moments of conflict between Gruden and Griffin, most notably when the coach barked Griffin needed to “worry about himself” after a Week 10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“His footwork was below average,” Gruden said. “He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three, on a couple occasions, and that can’t happen. He stepped up when he didn’t have to step up and stepped into pressure. He read the wrong side of the field a couple times.”

Gruden benched Griffin for Colt McCoy for three games — then  McCoy suffered a season-ending injury. The next season, Gruden named Kirk Cousins as starter over Griffin.

“I just wasn’t his guy,” Griffin tweeted in 2017.

Jason Campbell (25th overall, 2005): Campbell, who works these days as an NFL analyst for NBC Sports Washington, recognizes the approach Rivera is taking with Haskins. He says Rivera’s comments this week are part of a motivational tactic that coaches use. Campbell said that he’s been there before, like when Jim Zorn benched him in 2009 during an October loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Back then, Campbell was into his fourth season — his third as starter. Even more so than Haskins, who didn’t start until Week 9 of his rookie year, Campbell had to wait his turn to play. His debut, and first start, came late into his second season, a Week 10 matchup against Tampa Bay.

But by 2009, Washington had already shown reservations about Campbell. The prior offseason, the team mulled trading for Jay Cutler and rumors swirled whether Washington would trade up for USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Owner Dan Snyder reportedly blamed Washington’s prior season, in which they missed the Redskins missed the playoffs despite a 6-2 start, partially on Campbell’s play.

Campbell said he didn’t let the rumors bother him.

“Once you start to focus on that type of stuff, that’s when you start to unravel,” Campbell told The Washington Times. “You can’t focus on those types of things. … There’s just always those types of rumors. Everyone always thinks that the grass is always greener on the other side any time a new quarterback comes in.”

The chatter, however, paved the way for 2009 to be Campbell’s last season with Washington. Despite throwing for a career-high 3,618 yards, Campbell was shipped off to Oakland by new coach Mike Shanahan after a 4-12 season. 

“I tell these young guys all the time: Take advantage of your opportunity,” Campbell said, “because you only get so many.”

Patrick Ramsey (32nd overall, 2002): In hindsight, there was a pretty good indicator that Ramsey wasn’t going to be the answer for Washington.

The team, according to ESPN, almost traded him to Chicago weeks before Ramsey’s first season as contract negotiations dragged on. The issue was finally settled, but Ramsey did little to sell coach Steve Spurrier that he was the man for the job once the season began. In his first start, a Week 6 drubbing against the Saints, Ramsey threw four interceptions. Spurrier gave Ramsey another start, but sent him to the bench after another loss. With the season out of reach, Spurrier turned back to Ramsey with three games left.

Ramsey started half of Spurrier’s two-year tenure with Washington. But according to Spurrier, Ramsey wasn’t his choice. He told Golf Channel in 2015 that he didn’t get to “pick the quarterback” and later indicated Ramsey was Snyder’s choice.

“I did a lousy job,” Spurrier told The Washington Post in 2019. “The GM did a lousy job. He happened to be the owner. So who needed to go?”

When Joe Gibbs returned for a second stint in 2004, he traded for former Jaguars starter Mark Brunell.

Heath Shuler (third overall, 1994): Shuler, by his own admission, wasn’t ready for the NFL. That turned out to be a major problem for the team that drafted him. The Redskins, three seasons removed from their last Super Bowl, saw Shuler, a star at Tennessee, as the man to start another run, this time with Norv Turner.

Instead, he had one of the worst rookie campaigns in league history, going 1-7 as a starter. Of rookie quarterbacks with at least eight starts, Shuler’s 45.28% completion percentage is the 18th worst ever, according to Pro Football Reference.

Former running back Brian Mitchell told The Washington Times in 2012 that Shuler, who reported to camp weeks late after holding out, failed to impress his teammates from the beginning.

“We didn’t see him as that guy that deserves all that hype,” Mitchell said.

It went downhill from there. Shuler began the 1995 season under center, but a shoulder injury created an opportunity for Gus Frerotte, a seventh-round pick from 1994, to seize the job. Shuler made four more starts that season, but lost the team’s quarterback competition the next season.

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