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Washington Needs to Trade Up for a QB in 2021 NFL Draft

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 2, 2021

Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) looks to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Landover, Md. Tampa Bay won 31-23. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The Washington Football Team has a chance to take control of the NFC East. One glaring problem exists, though: The team isn't settled at quarterback. 

In order for the franchise to establish a path toward long-term success, its only option is being aggressive in this year's draft to obtain one of the top five quarterback prospects. 

Currently, the starting options are a 38-year-old journeyman on his ninth team or a one-game wonder who was still under contract with the XFL's St. Louis BattleHawks a year ago. 

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are expected to vie for the job as the regular season nears. 

"There will be a competition," head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Thursday.

To be fair, Fitzpatrick has a tendency to get hot and help his teams in spurts. In fact, he completed a career-high 68.5 percent of his passes last season until the Miami Dolphins decided to play 2020's fifth overall draft pick, Tua Tagovailoa. Today, Rivera seems comfortable with the idea of the veteran starting after he signed a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract. 

"This time, I know who we have as the starter, but he's going to compete with everybody else," Rivera said. "I want to play the guy that's going to give us the best opportunity to win, the best opportunity to grow and develop as a football team."

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Fitzpatrick is the proven commodity even though he's not an actual solution behind center, whereas Heinicke is almost a complete unknown with some upside. The 28-year-old can't be completely ruled out of the equation since he performed extremely well in the playoffs against the eventual Super Bowl champions.

Pro Football Focus graded Heinicke's playoff performance higher than those against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by Drew BreesAaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. He could very well take the reins and not let go this summer. 

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

But Washington shouldn't settle when an alternative exists. The organization can't stand pat with this year's 19th overall pick and hope something good happens. In today's market, franchises make strong moves to position themselves for quarterbacks. 

The San Francisco 49ers trading for this year's third overall selection so they have the opportunity to select a new signal-caller is merely the latest example. The Buffalo Bills traded up twice to land Josh Allen. The Baltimore Ravens traded back into the first round to snag a falling Lamar Jackson. The Kansas City Chiefs leaped over the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns to ensure Patrick Mahomes' selection. The Houston Texans cut a deal with Cleveland to get Deshaun Watson. 

Does every trade-up for a quarterback work? Of course not. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles are shining examples after moving on from Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

The idea of standing pat and thinking a top quarterback prospect will land in its proverbial lap is exactly how Washington ended up with Dwayne Haskins Jr., who fizzled out in less than two seasons. Now, it's time for new general manager Martin Mayhew to marry a top quarterback to the current staff. 

In Mayhew's first offseason as the Detroit Lions general manager, he chose Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. Granted, Washington doesn't have a favorable slotting at the moment, but the executive clearly understands the value of building around a true franchise option. 

Still, the 19th pick isn't ideal. 

"Picking where we're picking, there are a lot of things that can happen," Rivera said. "We have targets, we have ideas, we have guys that we like, but that always changes just because of the fact that everybody has a choice. You just never know what's going to happen at that point."

Susan Walsh/Associated Press

However, the incoming class includes five legitimate first-round talents. 

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive No. 1 pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the odds of him actually sliding are slim to none. The New York Jets seem to be zeroing in on BYU's Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. San Francisco traded three first-round picks and a future third-round selection to move up nine spots and choose between Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones. 

How important was San Francisco's move for everyone involved in the draft? 

"I'm hearing that both Fields and Trey Lance are considering staging second pro days over the next few weeks so San Francisco's brass can see those guys throw live," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reported. 

A quarterback will come off the board at No. 3, though no one knows exactly who it will be. From there, the draft waters get even murkier. 

The Atlanta Falcons could and should be in the quarterback market. Maybe Florida's Kyle Pitts will be tempting. After all, Matt Ryan is pretty much locked up for one more season, and the new battery of general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith could decide to wait a year before taking the plunge. 

Once the event clears the Falcons' fourth pick, other squads should have opportunities to maneuver and make plays for their preferred prospects. 

The Cincinnati Bengals already have Joe Burrow on the roster. Adding Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell or LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase would make life much easier on the second-year signal-caller. 
Miami already traded up from the 12th overall pick it acquired from San Francisco, and it's likely eyeing one of the class' elite offensive weapons. 

For three reasons, Mayhew should be focusing on the seventh overall pick where the Lions currently reside.

First, the Lions aren't necessarily looking at quarterbacks. Second, the pick sits one slot ahead of the Carolina Panthers, who are desperately trying to upgrade behind center. Finally, it could still be possible to select one of the top four quarterbacks, though this type of deal likely wouldn't be struck until the Lions are on the clock.

Even if Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Lance are off the board, Washington's preemptive strike could land Jones, whose draft stock has soared this offseason. 

Potential compensation shouldn't be too complicated. The 49ers moved up nine slots, presumably to get their guy. Washington would be moving up 12 with an attached quarterback premium added to the valuation. Three first-round picks, plus a little more added into the mix, aren't too much in this scenario. 

Although it's far less likely, Carolina may not pull the trigger and the New England Patriots at No. 15 would be much easier to leapfrog if one of the top prospects starts to slide. But Washington is much better off being aggressive and getting ahead now because it is positioned to put a quarterback in a winning situation. 

Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

"I've always thought if you can do it the other way, where you put all the other pieces around and then go out and get your quarterback, that might be a pretty good situation too," Rivera said. 

Washington already has a talented back in Antonio Gibson. It added more around wide receiver Terry McLaurin with the free-agent additions of Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries. Tight end Logan Thomas set career highs last season with 72 receptions for 670 yards.

Four-fifths of the offensive line is already set with left tackle still a priority, but the 2021 draft features a deep positional class there. Starting-caliber talents will be available in the second and third rounds. 

On the other side of the ball, the defense ranked second in total yardage and fourth in scoring last season

Washington's surrounding cast is good enough to plop a quarterback into the lineup and have him be in a position to succeed. 

A combination of Fitzpatrick, Heinicke and Fields, Lance or Jones is superior to the alternative.

Yes, the investment shouldn't be taken lightly. It will be significant. At the same time, Washington can take control of the NFC East for years to come by making the right decision. There's no guarantee the franchise will be able to do so a year from now simply by treading water. It might even find itself in the same exact position in what appears to be a much weaker quarterback class. 

The time to act is now. Washington can turn into a beast in the previously dubbed NFL Least. 

      

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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