Washington Football Team quarterback: 5 best replacement options for 2021

The Washington Football Team has a great defense, but could use an upgrade at quarterback. Who are the strongest replacement candidates for 2021?

By Matt Fitzgerald
Aug 20, 2020; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. (7) and Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) participate in drills on day twenty-three of training camp at Inova Sports Performance Center in Ashburn, Virginia. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Football Team leads the NFC East division as of now, but whether it’s been Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith or Kyle Allen, quality quarterback play has been hard to come by this season.

Although Smith will deservedly win Comeback Player of the Year, he’s injured again and doesn’t move around like he used to. Haskins’ immaturity on and off the field got him released after Week 16’s latest awful start. Then, there’s Allen, who earned his shot due to his prior affiliation with head coach Ron Rivera in Carolina.

In the unlikely event someone from that trio emerges as a viable starter in 2021, let’s look at five of the next-best replacement options for Washington to better complement its exceptional defense.

Related: New Orleans Saints quarterback: Top options to replace Drew Brees in 2021

Washington Football Team quarterback: Who will be under center in 2021?

Matthew Stafford dumps Detroit Lions for Washington Football Team

Washington Football Team quarterback 2021 options: Matthew Stafford
Nov 15, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) passes the ball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Football Team at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The longtime Lions field general deserves far better. Although the Football Team isn’t exactly the pride of the NFL, nor the paragon of stability, the culture is definitely changing, with Smith and Rivera playing no small part in that.

Stafford would at least be coming to a new team that has an identity. Rivera has made his imprint on Washington in his maiden campaign, instilling a strong defensive identity with a dynamic front seven. That’s what fired Lions coach Matt Patricia failed to do in Detroit in well over two seasons of work, and it cost Stafford three full years of his prime.

Let’s say Dak Prescott doesn’t remain in Dallas, and isn’t suiting up for Washington next season. In that scenario, if the Football Team gets Stafford, they’ll easily have the best QB in the division. It won’t even be close.

Still only turning 33 in February, Stafford has several very productive seasons left. He’ll never have had such a strong defense to help him out as Washington does right now. No matter who’s flanked Stafford in Detroit, he’s always found a way to be productive, compiling over 45,000 yards passing in his illustrious career.

If Washington wants potentially put together back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time since the early 90s, the front office could do much worse than grabbing Stafford to be the new quarterback.

Related: Dear Detroit Lions, please let Matthew Stafford go in 2021

Dak Prescott spices up NFC East by ditching Dallas Cowboys

Washington Football Team quarterback 2021 options: Dak Prescott
Sep 20, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) screams as he is announced and takes the field against the Atlanta Falcons at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

How fun would it be for Prescott to stick it to the Dallas Cowboys by spurning them for a long-term contract in favor of an NFC East rival?

It’d make for an amazing wrinkle in the NFC East and bolster the recently dormant rivalry between these two historic franchises. The Cowboys failed to secure Prescott to a long-term deal last offseason, and without him, they’ve looked mostly like a mess in 2020 under first-year coach Mike McCarthy.

Prescott is a franchise quarterback when healthy, and assuming his ankle is fully healed heading into 2021, his arrival in the nation’s capital would make Washington the prohibitive division favorite.

Prior to getting hurt this year, Prescott was playing the best ball of his career, averaging 371.2 passing yards per game in five starts. He also ranked in the top 10 in Pro Football Focus passing grade rankings last season. That caliber of play is more than enough to be a huge boost up from what Washington has on its current quarterback depth chart.

Related: Best 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback options to replace Ben Roethlisberger

Sam Darnold: From Broadway bust to Washington football team quarterback?

Washington Football Team quarterback 2021 options: Sam Darnold
Dec 20, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whether or not the New York Jets really did cost themselves Trevor Lawrence and the top selection in the 2021 NFL Draft with their Week 15 win, they’re still in position to make a change under center.

If New York general manager Joe Douglas believes either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields is an upgrade over Darnold, he may take one of them and ship the Jets’ current signal-caller away.

Darnold needs some type of support system to thrive. He hasn’t gotten it in the Big Apple. He’s with a head coach in Adam Gase who’s actually hindered his development rather than helped it. Turnover problems that plagued Darnold at USC have followed him to the pros, and part of it is a product of pressing too much on a bad team.

Provided the Football Team supplements the receiving corps with additional weaponry to join Terry McLaurin, there’s enough for Darnold to work with. He’d have the support of a stout defense and a rushing attack spearheaded by Antonio Gibson to make his job easier.

Related: New York Jets: Rebuilding the team starts in crucial 2021 NFL offseason

Marcus Mariota rolls the dice, leaves Las Vegas Raiders

Washington Football Team quarterback 2021 options: Marcus Mariota
Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during overtime at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Lack of continuity marred Mariota’s tenure with the Tennessee Titans. Eventually, the former No. 2 overall pick found himself ahead of a transcendent player in Ryan Tannehill, whose change of scenery from Miami resulted in elite-level production at the quarterback position when he replaced Mariota. Tannehill has guided Tennessee to consecutive playoff berths and a spot in last postseason’s AFC title game.

Something similar could be in store for Mariota’s second act. This wouldn’t really be considered a possibility a couple weeks ago. However, Mariota filled in for an injured Derek Carr on Thursday Night Football and played extremely well for the most part.

What was more impressive than Mariota’s chemistry with the Raiders receivers despite limited practice reps was his rushing ability, which Las Vegas head coach and play-caller Jon Gruden took full advantage of in Week 15 to the tune of 88 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.

After going through five offensive coordinators in his first five NFL seasons, Mariota has shown he can run Gruden’s complex system. Put him in Washington, let him use his legs to open up the running game and play-action passes, and watch Mariota work his magic in a career resurgence for the Football Team.

Gardner Minshew Mania goes from Duval to D.C.

Washington Football Team quarterback 2021 options: Gardner Minshew
Dec 13, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) throws the ball during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This is the option Washington should go with if the idea is to let Smith and/or Allen compete for the starting job in 2021. However, Minshew should still prove to be an upgrade over those incumbents.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the driver’s seat to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, meaning Minshew becomes expendable. Teams can acquire him for cents on the dollar, as he’s still on his cheap rookie contract for two more seasons. This makes Minshew the most underrated trade chip in the NFL.

Beyond the obvious bang for the buck, once upon a time there was something called Minshew Mania in Jacksonville. Taking over unexpectedly as a rookie for injured Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, Minshew played extremely well in a tough spot with the deck stacked against him. Ever since, the Jags have sabotaged any efforts he’s made to establish himself as a viable answer at the position.

Minshew has the legs to extend plays, can make quick decisions and get through progressions quickly and has thrown 37 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions with a 93.1 passer rating in 23 career games to date. That’s better than whatever Smith or Allen are probably going to offer, unless the former proves to be healthy and gets his physical skills back to par.