The Steelers will soon need a new starting quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is entering his age-39 season and has shown signs of regression over the last couple of seasons.
That said, Pittsburgh didn’t address the quarterback position during the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, they scoured the free-agent market and picked up another promising, young player to develop behind Roethlisberger. That’s Dwayne Haskins.
Yes, Haskins, a 2019 first-round pick out of Ohio State, is on the Steelers. He was originally drafted by the Washington Football Team with the 15th overall pick, but just two years into his career, he already finds himself in Pittsburgh.
And so far during his time there, Haskins has made an impression on Mike Tomlin.
“He’s grown by leaps and bounds,” Tomlin said of Haskins after an early-August practice, per The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. “He does a good job of communicating with coaches, with players, gaining an understanding of what we’re trying to do schematically and his role in it, gaining a rapport with the receivers specifically, trying to do the things that we want him to do in the drill work that we do. We’ve made an emphasis that drill work is football-like, but not necessarily football, and so we have certain things that we emphasize under those circumstances. I think he’s done a nice job of that. I think a lot of guys have.”
Certainly, that’s encouraging news for the 24-year-old quarterback as he looks to set himself up as the Steelers’ quarterback of the future.
But how did he get to Pittsburgh so quickly? And why was Washington so willing to move on from him? Here’s how the Steelers ended up with Haskins on their roster less than two years after Washington drafted him in the first round.
Why did Washington release Dwayne Haskins?
Haskins was released by Washington after a disastrous Week 16 performance that was preceded by a difficult week for the quarterback.
After a Week 15 loss to the Seahawks, Haskins was photographed at his girlfriend’s birthday party with strippers. He wasn’t wearing a mask despite the NFL’s COVID protocols, and it was his second breach of COVID protocols of the season. As a result, the team’s quarterback was fined $40,000 and was stripped of his captaincy.
However, Washington elected to keep him around for its Week 16 game against the Panthers. Alex Smith and Kyle Allen were both unavailable for the game, so only Haskins, Taylor Heinicke and Steven Montez were available. Haskins had been with the team the longest, so Ron Rivera, in the thick of the playoff hunt, opted to keep Haskins around.
Haskins’ performance against the Panthers was not good. He completed half his passes for 154 yards, two interceptions and a lost fumble before he was benched for Heinicke. The backup outperformed Haskins despite having only recently joined the team. Before that, he had been finishing up his degree at Old Dominion.
After that performance, Rivera decided it was time to let Haskins go, and he issued a statement confirming that, per ESPN’s John Keim.
I told him that I believe it benefits both parties that we go our separate ways. We want to thank Dwayne for his contributions these last two seasons and wish him well moving forward.
Beyond that, Rivera acknowledged that a change could help Haskins. If not, hitting “rock bottom” might serve as a wake-up call for the young quarterback.
“Sometimes you have to go through hard knocks. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can dig your way back out of it. Sometimes a change helps,” Rivera said. “With Dwayne, it’s: What have you learned? What are you going to take from these experiences that are going to help you grow and get better? That’s the big thing with him and the thing I hope he learns from these experiences. Hopefully, they’ll make him stronger and they’ll help him and, hopefully, when he gets his next opportunity, he’ll make the best of it.”
Haskins has that opportunity with the Steelers and will look to atone for the mistakes he made during his 20-month stint in Washington.
Why did the Steelers sign Dwayne Haskins?
Haskins signed with the Steelers in January 2021, roughly one month after he was cut by Washington. Pittsburgh was a sensible landing spot for Haskins, as the Steelers don’t have a set succession plan for 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger.
Sure, Pittsburgh still has Mason Rudolph on the roster in addition to Haskins. But getting the 2019 first-round selection without having to give up any draft capital was an astute move for a team needing a quarterback of the future. If he pans out, great. If not, they’ve risked nothing for an affordable asset.
So, long story short, the Steelers signed Haskins because of his upside and their need for a quarterback.
As for why Haskins signed with the Steelers, ESPN’s Adam Schefter outlined on “NFL Live” that it boiled down to Haskins believing he has a good chance to get his career back on track in Pittsburgh.
“From the time that the Washington Football Team released Dwayne Haskins, I think he sat back and reflected on some of the things that he wishes he could’ve done differently in Washington,” Schefter said. “I think he took some time to work on himself, think about what he wanted to do going forward. He had visited the Carolina Panthers. He visited today with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which I don’t think is accidental.
“Dwayne Haskins changed agents, hired a man by the name of Brian Levy. Brian Levy also happens to represent Mike Tomlin, and so there’s a comfort factor there that I think Brian Levy and Cedric Saunders, the agents, were comfortable in trying to make that relationship happen because they thought it would be good for Dwayne in the long run. Right now, he needs to get his career back on track. What better way to do that than in Pittsburgh under Mike Tomlin’s tutelage?”
Steelers QB depth chart
Currently, Haskins sits in the No. 3 spot on the Steelers’ quarterback depth chart. Roethlisberger is currently the starter while Rudolph is currently entrenched as the backup to Big Ben. Rudolph will be Haskins’ main competition as he looks to battle for the backup job.
Haskins is, however, ahead of Joshua Dobbs, a former fourth-round pick by the Steelers in the 2017 NFL Draft. This is hardly a surprise considering that the Steelers once traded Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick back in 2019.
Haskins may not rise above the third-string spot this year. But with Roethlisberger nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, Haskins should make the team. If he does, he’ll have an eye on the 2022 offseason as his chance to stake his claim for the Steelers’ starting job.