Landover, Maryland, home to the Washington Football Team, has long sought after a franchise quarterback since Robert Griffin III’s knee injuries dramatically changed the course of his career. From 2015-2017, Kirk Cousins’ play inspired confidence, but not enough for Washington to pony up the big bucks to keep him around under center. Moving into 2018, Washington elected to trade for veteran Alex Smith, and though he had his moments of quality football in DC, the injury he suffered to his leg is, unfortunately, the most memorable part of his tenure as quarterback of the Burgundy and Gold.
Fast forward to the 2021 off-season and Washington has yet to find a young quarterback to build its franchise around. Over the past 4 drafts, Washington invested heavily into their defensive line and these selections have taken Washington out of the basement of NFL teams. While 2018 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins Jr. did not pan out in Washington, the Football team has yet to make a significant investment in the position during Ron Rivera’s two offseasons at the helm.
Going into training camp, Washington now has three quarterbacks on their roster: newly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, former backup Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke. Heinicke played one game for the Football Team, the 2020 Wild Card round, and impressed enough that fans think he deserves a shot to become Washington’s starter. While Allen and Heinicke spent time with Rivera in Carolina, Fitzpatrick offers a veteran presence that cannot be overstated. Throughout this article, I will break down each player and conclude with who I think should and will win the starting job in training camp.
Washington Football Team Competition Analysis: Quarterback
The 2021 NFL season will be Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 17th season and Washington, who signed the journeyman to a one-year $10 million contract, will be his 9th NFL team. Fitzpatrick has experience as a starter and a backup and has mostly served as a bridge/backup quarterback since he entered the league. Fitzpatrick commonly referred to as “Fitzmagic” has had moments of brilliant play as a starter (2015 with the Jets and 2019 with the Dolphins) but is frequently the odd man out while teams look to develop and solidify their signal-caller for after Fitzpatrick’s tenure. In 2020, Fitz began the season as Miami’s starter but was benched so Miami could get snaps for 2020 first-round pick Tua Tugaviloa.
While there are few elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and Fitz is certainly not one of them, there is an interesting dynamic he can bring to Washington that was lacking over the past few seasons – down the field passing ability. After losing Desean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed, Washington hit the reset button on their pass catchers. 2018 3rd round pick Terry McLaurin has been outstanding, and Logan Thomas’ emergence has been incredible, the Football team added Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries to bring a veteran presence to a young unit. McLaurin and Samuel, paired with Fitz’s arm, now give’s Washington more of a chance to push the ball down the field more often.
Though there are minimal concerns about Fitz’s ability to air it out, the concerns with Fitzpatrick reside in his tendencies to be turnover-prone. Fitzpatrick has thrown 223 touchdowns to 169 interceptions throughout his NFL career. However, what makes the addition of Fitzpatrick enticing is that he will not be responsible for winning Washington football games – he will be tasked with making sure they do not lose games. Washington, devoid of quality QB play the entire season, won the NFC East on the heels of their defense which should take another step forward this season.
While it seems counterintuitive to say a QB is not in charge of winning games, that is exactly the situation Fitzpatrick finds himself in. As long as Fitz is not turning the ball over late or taking egregious sacks, Washington’s defense alone should be enough to keep them competitive in most games it plays. Though this is a big “if”, I anticipate the veteran QB to relish in a role where he needs to focus on hitting open receivers, not forcing throws, and not having the responsibility of grooming a young QB. If Fitz can be Fitzmagic when they need him to be and limit negative plays, he can have Washington on the verge of back-to-back divisional titles.
As a fan of the Football Team, or the NFL in general, how can you not respect the valiant effort given by Heinicke in the 2020 Wild Card round vs Tampa Bay? Fresh out of class at Old Dominion, Heinicke secured a spot on Washington’s roster after Haskins was benched and Smith and Allen had injury problems. Heinicke almost led a comeback against the eventual Superbowl champs, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the process. Expected to be ready for training camp, Heinicke is looking to build off the moment he created during this game and lead Washington under center in 2021.
Heinicke’s playoff performance was electric, especially under the circumstances, but moving forward, I have my concerns. For starters, Heinicke’s injury history is cause for concern considering he has only quarterbacked 8 games during his 3 year NFL career. Furthermore, Heinicke’s strengths are not with down the field passing – he only averages 6.1 YPA during his career. We watched Washington dink and dump their way to a pitiful 2020 offensive performance, and moving forward, Washington needs to push the ball down the field more frequently to compete with high-powered offenses in 2021.
It is no secret that Washington’s defense has the makings of an elite unit, and while his role as a starter would also be to not throw away games, I have my doubts about his long-term outlook as a QB in the NFL. Though he showed the ability to move around the pocket and make plays, his injury history suggests that he is one sack or big hit away from spending time on the sideline with an injury. It will be interesting to see if he plays well enough to be QB2, but I have my doubts he will start the season as QB1.
Kyle Allen seems to be an insurance policy for Washington – Allen was drafted by Rivera in 2018 for Carolina and saw time as a starter replacing the injured Cam Newton, winning five games in 2019. Carolina’s OC at the time was Scott Turner, and he is now entering his 2nd season at the same position for Washington. Allen brings familiarity, but aside from that, I am not sure what else he will offer the Football team, especially in terms of starting at quarterback.
As the replacement starter for Haskins and Washington, Allen did not impress, and his season ended early due to a broken ankle suffered against the Giants in week nine. Allen is set to be ready to participate in training camp, but he does little to inspire confidence as a winning quarterback. Though Allen saw success winning four straight games for Carolina in 2019, he then lost seven in a row to end the season. Allen is still on the roster because he does not need to be acclimated to the system, but he would need to dramatically improve his play to earn any starting snaps barring injury.
Washington Football Team Quarterback Competition Analysis: Conclusion
Each quarterback in DC has their pros and cons as passers and playmakers, and there will certainly be competition in camp, but I see one clear answer as Washington’s starter. The man for the job is Fitzpatrick – I expect him to beat out Heinicke and Allen in camp and start Week One against the Chargers. Fitzpatrick offers the most upside moving the ball down the field and was brought in on a one-year deal for a reason. Furthermore, Washington’s decision to not add a young passer validates this claim – I believe the 2021 Washington Football Team’s fate resides in Fitz’s arm barring any injuries to the veteran passer.
main image credit