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March 8, 2021
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What the addition of Dwayne Haskins means for Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

There’s a new quarterback in Pittsburgh, but he’s not the quarterback — at least not right now.

The Steelers announced the signing of former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to a reserve/future contract Thursday after the quarterback met with a group of Steelers coaches on a visit.

What does Haskins’ signing mean for his future and the Steelers?

The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph under contract for another season, so why sign Haskins?

Adding Haskins is a low-risk move for the Steelers. Whether it’s this year or next, the Steelers will need a new starting quarterback with Roethlisberger turning 39 in March. They don’t have the cap space or trade capital to bring in a high-priced quarterback, either off the open market or in a trade, and with the No. 24 pick in the draft, they’re well out of the Trevor Lawrence/Justin Fields sweepstakes.

The Steelers could still opt to take a quarterback like Alabama’s Mac Jones or Florida’s Kyle Trask with their first-round pick, but they have other pressing needs, like offensive tackle. The Steelers should do their homework on any available low-cost quarterbacks between now and Week 1, and Haskins is a great starting point. However, evaluating potential fits in team culture and offensive scheme becomes more difficult if the 2021 offseason mirrors the virtual nature of the 2020 schedule.

Why a reserve/futures contract?

These contracts are given to players like Haskins who didn’t finish the season on a roster. The new league year doesn’t start until March, which is why it’s called a “futures” deal. The financials of Haskins’ one-year deal weren’t disclosed, but it’s safe to say he was inexpensive. The Steelers don’t have much wiggle room with their 2021 cap and can’t afford to spend money for what is essentially an extended tryout.

Does this mean Roethlisberger is retiring?

Not necessarily. After the wild-card loss to the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger said he would pray and consult his family on the next step. He has a cap hit of $41.2 million in 2021, the final year of his contract, and he said he hopes the Steelers want him back if he chooses to go that route.

The Haskins signing doesn’t signal that Roethlisberger has made up his mind to end his career. He was a first-round pick, but Haskins is still a developmental project and showed he isn’t ready for a starting job in his two seasons with Washington.

If anything, Haskins’ addition puts the future of third-string QB Josh Dobbs in question. Dobbs is a free agent in March, and the Steelers won’t need to bring him back with Haskins on the roster. Haskins could even push Rudolph for the No. 2 spot behind Roethlisberger, but he’s not the heir apparent to the starting job.

Why Pittsburgh?

It’s clear Haskins needs a fresh start after being released by Washington on Dec. 28. Mike Tomlin’s school of tough love could be a good place for Haskins to rehabilitate his on- and off-field image. It’s also worth noting that Haskins hired agent Brian Levy on Jan. 1 to represent him. Levy, whose agency, Goal Line Football, touts “Faith, Family and Football” on its home page, also represents Tomlin. You can connect the dots.

Is Haskins any good?

Haskins hasn’t come close to fulfilling his potential. Ron Rivera said he has franchise-quarterback talent, but Haskins’ numbers don’t reflect that. In 16 games, Haskins has thrown 12 touchdowns to 14 interceptions with a completion percentage of just 60.1%. By comparison, Roethlisberger’s completion percentage this season was 65.6%.



Louis Riddick analyzes the impact Ben Roethlisberger has on the Steelers.

Haskins passed for 4,831 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his sophomore season at Ohio State, but he was still regarded as a raw talent. Wowed by those numbers, Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder urged his team to select Haskins with the No. 15 overall pick in 2019 against the wishes of the organization’s football side.

Washington’s plan when drafting Haskins was to sit him for a season to allow him time to develop and mature, as urged by Ohio State’s coaches. Instead, quarterback injuries combined with a dismal record led the staff to play Haskins. Though he struggled early, his final two games of the 2019 season showed signs of improvement, with four total touchdowns and no interceptions. His Total QBR for that season was 28, but in the last two games, it was 74.8. This season, though, more closely mimicked his first seven starts. He posted a Total QBR of 31 and threw five touchdowns to seven interceptions.

Could this actually work?

It’s tough to say at this point. A primary knock on Haskins in Washington was his lack of preparation and immaturity. Haskins was fined twice during the season, including a $40,000 penalty when he attended a girlfriend’s birthday party with strippers while maskless following the Dec. 20 loss to Seattle.

Haskins improved enough from his rookie season to earn all first-team reps in training camp and be named the starter and a team captain for the 2020 season. That ended, though, when he was benched after four games, throwing four touchdown passes and three interceptions.

When Haskins returned to game action thanks to injuries to Kyle Allen and Alex Smith, he didn’t show any signs of improvement. In his final start, a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Haskins posted a Total QBR of 4.1. He was stripped of his captainship following the birthday party incident and cut after the Panthers loss.

Given a chance to learn from Smith, one of the NFL’s all-around good guys who also mentored wunderkind Patrick Mahomes, Haskins regressed. In Pittsburgh, Haskins will have the opportunity to be shepherded by Tomlin, but he’ll also be watching Roethlisberger, who isn’t attacking practice the same way he did in his earlier years.

Though he grew to work with and help the development of his young wide receivers this season, Roethlisberger isn’t known for his positional mentorship, putting the onus on the coaching staff to guide Haskins. Perhaps that’s what it will take to maximize Haskins’ potential. Washington’s attempts to help Haskins didn’t work, but maybe Tomlin and his no-nonsense approach will have more success.

ESPN’s John Keim contributed to this story.

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