Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera has declared that he’ll have a legitimate quarterback competition in training camp between Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. Maybe that sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s a detriment to Washington’s pursuit of back-to-back NFC East titles.
For some reason, Rivera believes that his QB situation this year is directly analogous to the one he had in 2020, when he anointed Dwayne Haskins the starter too early and regretted it. If there were ever a more appropriate application of the phrase “apples to oranges” in a sports context, I don’t know what it is.
Here’s what Rivera had to say about his plans for a Washington quarterback competition, per ESPN.com’s John Keim:
“It’s going to be a good competition. I look forward to it. It’s going to push our football team and make our football team better. I just feel that going into this knowing we have a proven guy there that has the ability to lead us, but again, we have a guy in Taylor that shows us he can do it.
“[…] The mistake I made was that my approach was wrong. I should have made as big a competition as possible, and that’s on me…I wanted to try and find a guy. I thought [Haskins] was ready to take a step and take every opportunity.”
Like, what? Haskins was entering his second season, and by many accounts, lacked the wherewithal and maturity to prepare like a professional. He made boneheaded decisions on and off the field, and other than having a rocket right arm, showed nary any characteristics of being a capable starting QB. That’s why Haskins was cut during the season.
This is so far and away from the situation Washington has on its hands ahead of the 2021 season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has never been in better position to be QB1 than with the Washington Football Team
If you’re really honest about Fitzpatrick’s career and look back at all the starting opportunities he’s had, it becomes pretty clear that his latest, and probably last chance is easily his best one.
Let’s go down the line:
- St. Louis Rams, 2005: As a rookie seventh-round pick out of Harvard, Fitzpatrick was thrown into the fire for three starts, and would’ve never gotten that opportunity if not for a slew of injuries in front of him.
- Cincinnati Bengals, 2008: Went 4-7-1 as a starter for a team Carson Palmer lost his four starts with.
- Buffalo Bills, 2009-2012: Made eight starts in his first year with Buffalo, and then had Chan Gailey as his head coach for the last three seasons as part of a dysfunctional organization.
And then Fitzpatrick had first-round pick Jake Locker to contend with on the Tennessee Titans, and the Houston Texans gave him 12 starts and one season before showing him the door when he broke his leg. The New York Jets have been one of the worst franchises in the league for years, and Fitzpatrick still led them to a 10-win season in 2015.
The bottom line? This situation with Washington is the one time where Fitzpatrick has actually been with a strong head coach, with a clear path to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and on a surefire, playoff-caliber roster.
Dak Prescott is back under center for the Dallas Cowboys after missing most of last season with an injury. The New York Giants did a lot to upgrade QB Daniel Jones‘ supporting cast in the offseason, and star tailback Saquon Barkley will return after appearing in just two games this past year.
Winning the NFC East won’t be as easy, so Washington can’t afford to mess around by toying with its QB depth chart.
Washington Football Team’s secondary QB options are too unproven
Heinicke and Allen are both former undrafted players who have precious little NFL experience, and the only reason they’re in Washington in the first place is because both of them spent time with the Carolina Panthers during Rivera’s tenure there.
Why would the Football Team spend an inordinate amount of training camp preparing Heinicke and Allen when Fitzpatrick is clearly the best, most experienced signal-caller to lead the offense?
Granted, yes, Heinicke played well in his second-ever NFL start when Washington lost to the Buccaneers on Wild Card Weekend, but that’s hardly enough of a sample size to suggest he’ll be a legitimate contender for the No. 1 QB job when someone like Fitzpatrick is there.
This is the absolute last thing Fitzpatrick needs: Another situation where he’s not being trusted and is just a placeholder. And as for Allen, he threw 17 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and was sacked 46 times across 13 games in 2019. Not like he’s an elite option, much less a worthy starter.
By all means, Washington should explore what’s on the QB market in 2022. Fitzpatrick is on a one-year contract. But until that time comes, the Football Team would benefit from just committing to the 38-year-old veteran instead of either of their journeyman.
Washington has playoff expectations. Armed with one of the best defenses in football, if Fitzpatrick plays at the high level he’s flashed in the past, it’s not ridiculous to suggest the Football Team could make a real, deep postseason run.
It’d be a great story if Heinicke continued his momentum from the playoffs and wound up being a star. Maybe Allen turns out to be the revelation and is a high-level QB of the future. But find that out in 2022. There’s no time to mess around.
This organization in the nation’s capital has made bad decision after bad decision for years on end. They finally have Fitzpatrick to stabilize the most important position on the field for one full season.
Why disrupt that, and risk taking a step back and missing the playoffs? Hopefully Rivera realizes this new-look Washington offense, with Curtis Samuel and rookie Dyami Brown joining the fold, needs all the reps it can get with Fitzpatrick at the controls.
Maybe the 2020 team would’ve benefited from that open QB competition to expose Haskins’ shortcomings sooner. This is a vastly different situation, and Rivera must treat it as such.