Washington Football Team Is a QB Away from Being NFC's Next Big Contender

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 25, 2021

Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) reacts during the NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Eleven of the 12 teams that made the NFL playoffs with winning records last year did so with a quarterback who has a Pro Bowl on their resume. Same for each of the last eight Super Bowl winners.

It's not a position teams can afford to neglect or be weak at. And that might be the only reason the Washington Football Team isn't a Super Bowl contender ahead of the 2021 season.

Washington is so loaded in the trenches and on defense that it had the luxury of letting go of veterans Ryan Kerrigan, Morgan Moses and Geron Christian Sr. The defensive front seven already included four young first-round picks before the front office added linebacker Jamin Davis with the No. 19 draft selection in late April.

The club also got tremendous value in offensive tackle Sam Cosmi in the second round, and the line should benefit beyond that with the additions of veterans Ereck Flowers and Charles Leno Jr.

With reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young emerging as a force, Washington won five of its last seven games last year to sneak into the playoffs. Now, Young should be even better, and there's no reason to believe youngsters Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson and Montez Sweat won't continue to take off at wide receiver, running back and on the edge, respectively.

But then there's quarterback.

The Alex Smith era is over, and that playoff berth left the team out of position to land one of the top five quarterbacks in the draft. And Washington will enter the season with a huge question mark unless it makes an unexpected run at Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson on the trade market, and that's discounting the huge question marks over Watson's future with him facing 22 civil lawsuits from women accusing of him of sexual assault or misconduct.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

Washington invested $10 million in the 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it's a one-year deal, Fitzpatrick might not have much left, and he has an obvious ceiling as a veteran journeyman who has never hung on to a starting job. That could mean team brass believes in the 28-year-old Taylor Heinicke, who flashed in a last-minute playoff start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January.

The only other quarterbacks on the roster are the 25-year-old Kyle Allen (who performed poorly as a short-term starter for Washington head coach Ron Rivera when both were with the Carolina Panthers in 2019) and undrafted sophomore Steven Montez (who has never thrown an NFL pass).

General manager Martin Mayhew said before the draft that the team feels "very confident and comfortable with the quarterbacks on our roster now." But The Athletic's Michael Lombardi (via the Burgundy Blog) said in early April that the club was willing to trade up in the draft for North Dakota State's Trey Lance, and Fitzpatrick has said he wasn't guaranteed the starting job.

There will almost certainly be a competition, but there's a good chance the winner won't be a solid long-term option. Heinicke wasn't drafted, and he has just two touchdown passes to three interceptions in his career, so the odds are stacked against him. He doesn't have a strong arm, he lacks size (6'1", 210 lbs), and he makes a lot of mistakes (he threw 16 interceptions in his final year at Old Dominion and was a journeyman for the first five years of his pro career).

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Can Washington compete anyway? It did so despite shaky and inconsistent quarterback play down the stretch in 2020. The roster looks better now, but the division rival Dallas Cowboys will have star signal-caller Dak Prescott back from injury. The New York Giants also look a lot better on paper with standout running back Saquon Barkley returning from a torn right ACL and wideouts Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney and cornerback Adoree' Jackson joining the fray. Plus, the G-Men have a more promising quarterback option in 2019 No. 6 pick Daniel Jones.

But even if Washington wins a wide-open, potentially bad division again, it's difficult to imagine Fitzpatrick, Heinicke, Allen or Montez taking it on a deep playoff run, no matter how good the defense is.

The problem could be that the defense is indeed so good that Washington might win enough games to lack primo draft capital. That unit ranked third in the NFL last year in Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average, and Young, Sweat, Davis, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and awesome safeties Landon Collins and Kamren Curl and corner William Jackson III should keep them in the mix for the top spot.

That's why Washington should talk to the Green Bay Packers about Rodgers, monitor the Watson situation in Houston and be open to bringing in a potential trade candidate such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota or even Matt Ryan or Russell Wilson.

Otherwise, it risks wasting a prime opportunity to contend for a Super Bowl.


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.