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There are high hopes in the nation’s capital these days because the Washington Football Team seems headed in the right direction. (Yeah, italics is used for a reason in that last sentence).
The Football Team started a rebuild last year in coach Ron Rivera’s first season and it went pretty well because even though the 7-9 record was evidence the project is nowhere near completion, it was good enough to deliver an NFC East title and a playoff berth.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, I think coach did an outstanding job last year, making some changes and changing the culture here,” general manager Martin Mayhew said this week. “We tried to continue that process in our draft this year.”
As this season draws closer, the folks leading the Football Team think they’re on course for something much better, something that is a foundation for lasting success.
“That’s what the goal is, as I said, is to build a sustainable winning culture here,” Rivera said. “In order to do that, I think we had to get young and I think we’re in a good place right now with it. We just started really looking to the second contracts for a lot of guys.
“We started off with (defensive tackle) Jonathan Allen being one of the cornerstones for what we’re trying to build. (Guard) Brandon Scherff on the offensive line is another cornerstone that we’d like to settle in with, especially with having gotten done (center) Chase (Roullier) last year, just before the end of the year.
“If they’re the right kind of guys, which we believe they are, we feel that we’ll have a group of guys that can be around together for several years and hopefully be able to sustain that.”
It sounds like a good plan. But Washington’s plan has one devastating flaw:
They don’t have an elite quarterback.
And it’s hard to figure out how they’re going to get one.
Washington has Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s solid, and a leader, and a guy Rivera trusts, even when bigger names such as Cam Newton, who Rivera coached in Carolina, become available.
“It did pop up on our radar,” Rivera said of Newton. “But just so you know, Ryan Fitzpatrick is our starting quarterback. OK, so that’s where we are. We have three guys we like that all came to camp, did a nice job for us and we’re going to go forward with it.”
Washington’s three quarterbacks are Fitzpatrick as the starter, Taylor Heinicke as the backup and Kyle Allen as the No. 3.
But in those three the Football Team lacks the one.
None of those guys is a past franchise quarterback who might recapture magic. None is a youngster about to burst onto the scene as the next big thing. And Fitzpatrick?
Fitzpatrick’s good enough to win some, but never good enough to win big. He’s never been to the playoffs in 16 seasons. Fitz is a bridge quarterback.
Except in Washington it looks like he’s a bridge to nowhere.
That’s how it is when a team adds a mediocre QB and team speed to a defense that last year was No. 4 in points allowed and features one of the most ferocious front sevens in the league.
The concoction might just get Washington to the postseason’s doorstep again this season. But not far beyond that and certainly not to a championship.
So Washington, coached well by Rivera and Jack Del Rio and managed much better since the addition of Mayhew and executive VP Marty Hurney, is going to be competitive enough to shoot itself in the proverbial foot.
How does this happen?
One need only suppose Fitzpatrick plays like, well, Fitzpatrick.
At his best that means the Football Team (wish they’d announce a nickname already) will have a QB throwing maybe 20-to-24 touchdown passes. And anywhere between 12 and 15 interceptions.
You know what that’s going to do for Washington?
It’ll help put them in the middle to lower-third of the 2022 draft order again. It’ll put them out of reach of drafting a franchise quarterback — just like last year.
Last year Washington’s middling record and quick playoff exit still slotted the club into the 19th overall selection of the NFL draft’s first round.
When Washington picked in that first round, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones had already been drafted. And no other quarterback went in the first round.
Now imagine if this year’s team gets slightly better because of its upgrades. Where’s that going to leave Washington for the 2022 draft?
The truth is Washington missed its window to get a potential franchise quarterback in 2020. I’m not saying the Re … Football Team messed up but they missed a grand opportunity even as they did the most logical thing that just about every NFL general manager might have done.
Rivera and company, holding the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, selected Chase Young in 2020.
Young was a home run in that he had a great rookie season and was the NFL’s defensive Rookie of the Year.
But while that may not have been a bad pick it certainly looks like the wrong pick right now because Washington passed on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who became the offensive rookie of the year.
The Football Team would argue they couldn’t draft a quarterback No. 2 overall because Dwayne Haskins was on the roster after being drafted in the first round the year before. But that’s precisely the problem.
Haskins was on the team for the entire 2019 season, sometimes a bit overweight, sometimes not attending to all the details of being a professional quarterback, according to sources, and somehow the team still believed in him.
Rivera arrived the next year and knew to get rid of him after only six starts.
The point is the Football Team did everything seemingly right. It drafted a quarterback in the first round in 2019 and then drafted a stud defensive end in the 2020 first round, and now is trying to salvage itself at quarterback this year by starting Fitzpatrick.
All of this is logical.
But none of this is leading Washington to an elite quarterback.