The final Monday night game—and last weeknight game—of 2020 is here. Let’s go …
• On Monday, Washington cut QB Dwayne Haskins—making him the first first-round quarterback over the last 20 years to be outright released before the end of his second NFL season. Cleveland waited until after Year 2 to do that to Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel, and Miami and Denver gave Josh Rosen and Paxton Lynch a chance to show what they had in training camp before cutting them before the start of Year 3.
That begs a simple question: Why the urgency to whack Haskins now? Truth be told, Washington considered cutting Haskins last week, but didn’t because they felt that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of their players, who were in position to clinch the NFC East. Then, Haskins showed he wasn’t a better option than Taylor Heinicke, and his play didn’t reflect much change in his prep, and that was that.
Washington, at that point, had all the information it needed to move on from Haskins after the season. And given all the water under the bridge the last few weeks, it probably wasn’t going to be fair to the other quarterbacks, or the team, to have the Haskins storyline lingering as the players try to win the division and head to the playoffs. Which made it time to move on.
Adding context to the urgency to move on from Haskins here is Alex Smtih’s uncertain status for Sunday. He looked O.K. when the team tested him at practice Friday, then the calf got sore again on Saturday. So that situation remains uncertain going into the work week for the team.
• I’d be stunned if Haskins was claimed on waivers. He’s got $1.81 million fully guaranteed on his deal for 2021 and $2.46 million fully guaranteed for 2022, and a team picking him up off the wire would be responsible for that. To me, that pretty much ensures he’ll clear waivers on Tuesday, and from there I believe his only avenue back into the NFL will be the route that Josh Rosen has taken.
Upon being cut by the Dolphins, Rosen signed with the Buccaneers’ practice squad, which gave him the chance to learn from Bruce Arians, Tom Brady and Byron Leftwich, and that led to him being plucked by Niners coach Kyle Shanahan. Rosen, of course, is guaranteed nothing going forward, but he’s at least shown a willingness to take a longer path to playing than his initial one—which implicitly addresses concerns about his passion for football.
Likewise, widespread concerns about Haskins’s maturity, passion for football and professionalism could be addressed through his being open to climbing back up from the bottom. That wouldn’t be an easy road, of course. But if he wants back in, it’ll likely be what he has to do. I don’t think Haskins is a bad guy at all, so here’s hoping he listens to those telling him stuff he probably doesn’t want to hear.
• This was Eagles coach Doug Pederson on WIP on Monday: “I feel fully confident to be the head coach of the Eagles in 2021. The thing I’m most proud of, this football team, we have been in the postseason three of the last five years since I’ve been here, and that’s pretty good. We have won a championship here. We have gone through a season where a lot of our veteran guys are not playing due to injury. We are playing with a lot of young players.”
All of that is true and, to be clear, I do believe both Pederson and GM Howie Roseman deserve a shot to right the ship (though if either gets outside interest, that would be kind of intriguing)—the franchise was in the playoffs three years running before this one, and did win a championship, and that should count for something.
That said, I do think owner Jeffrey Lurie will take a hard look at everything (and evaluate everyone, including Pederson), and it wouldn’t be surprising if Pederson has to make changes to his offensive staff in some form or fashion ahead of the 2021 season. Two names to watch on that radar have been Chiefs passing-game coordinator Mike Kafka and Bears coach Matt Nagy. But the latter looks like he might be safe now in Chicago, and the former, at the very least, could be promoted in K.C. if Eric Bieniemy lands a head coaching job somewhere.
• Bears QB Mitch Trubisky’s last four games: 89-of-123, 1,001 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions, 108.5 rating. And Chicago is 3–1 in those games. The numbers, in fact, hold up favorably against his draft classmate Patrick Mahomes’s (99-of-165, 1,243 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4 INTs, 89.53 rating) over the same stretch.
Now, no one is saying Trubisky is on the same planet as Mahomes. He isn’t. But there’s definitely something to dive into here.
Really, after asking around, I was able to gather a few things. First and foremost, Trubisky is playing with more confidence, which is at least partially a result of Nagy’s overhauled coaching staff learning better what Trubisky is best at, and then playing to those strengths. Second, the offensive line is playing better, and the run game has taken a big step forward as a result. Third, that’s unlocked the play-action game, and more movement concepts that go back to the whole idea of calling the offense to what Trubisky does well.
Do I think this means the Bears are going into 2021 with Trubisky as their starter? No. But it’s fair to acknowledge improvement here, and that Trubisky still has some sort of future as an NFL quarterback.
• Zeke Elliott looked more like the two-time rushing champion in Sunday’s win against the Eagles, and so postgame I wanted to ask him what the difference was. One thing he pointed out was the opponent, and how the young offensive linemen getting to see Philly a second time helped.
“It definitely meant something for me to get loose today,” Elliott said. “Philly’s a team that we play twice a year, we know them well, and it just feels great to go out there and beat those guys. But I mean honestly, the stats really don’t matter to me. As long as we get the win, that’s all I care about.”
• I asked one Packers staffer on Monday about how Aaron Rodgers is playing, and he didn’t just point out what Rodgers is doing on his own, but what he’s been doing for the team as a whole. ”He just makes us so efficient.” And it’s happening because he’s mastering Matt LaFleur’s offense. You may remember the 32-yarder to Davante Adams that Rodgers flicked down the field on a third-and-10 at the end of the game? That was off a check after he ID’d a zero blitz. And on Adams’s third touchdown, he came back to his star receiver late in his second progression.
Last year, LaFleur preached patience in letting the offense take. Now we’re seeing why, with an all-time great operating at an incredible level.
• The fact that we’ve had an XFL quarterback (Philip Walker) start a game and we could have an AAF quarterback (John Wolford) start another this week only underlines the kind of good having a true minor league would do for the NFL. I know the league won’t fund one, because they don’t do those sorts of things without a clear path to profit. But they should.
• The last time the Bills swept the Patriots, Doug Flutie quarterbacked the former, Drew Bledsoe the latter, and Wade Phillips vs. Pete Carroll was the coaching matchup. It’s been a long time (Buffalo completed that sweep in Foxboro on the weekend after Christmas in 1999, on a field goal in OT). And yes, it would mean something to those guys to do something that hasn’t been done since Josh Allen was 3 years old. (I spoke to Bills LB Jerry Hughes about it in this week’s Monday column.)
• With all the talk of the schedule expanding to 17 games, it’s worth mentioning that the most likely plan would be, if the league does go to the new format, for the league to move the Super Bowl back a week (with a small chance the bye week gets eliminated in certain years instead). So Super Bowl LVI in this case, in Inglewood, would go to Feb. 13, 2022. Also, if you’re if you’re into how the schedule would work, here’s a detail for you to chew on …
• To add to our Urban Meyer stuff from Monday morning, I’d say that the interest between Meyer and teams has been mutual, and not just teams reaching out to him. Which at the very least pegs him as having a curiosity beyond answering a phone call.