Several NFL teams could use an upgrade or more competition at the quarterback position. More could join that group in the weeks to come as injuries inevitably strike during training camps and the preseason.
For those teams, the usual names have been tossed out there. Deshaun Watson to the Denver Broncos? Aaron Rodgers to the Miami Dolphins? Jimmy Garoppolo to the Washington Football Team?
But that Washington squad might actually have a pair of viable starting quarterbacks on the roster, as both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke looked the part during Thursday night's preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
Regardless of whether Fitzpatrick can lead Washington on a playoff run, he got the first reps Thursday, he's making $10 million and a strong showing against the Patriots makes it even more likely he'll be the No. 1 guy for the WFT this season.
So it's possible that instead of making a push for the starting job in Washington with a great effort against New England, Heinicke put on an audition for the rest of the league.
In need of a quarterback but unwilling to take a big risk (financial or otherwise) on Watson? Bummed out that Rodgers' revised deal with the Green Bay Packers likely removes him from this year's trade market? Unable to land Derek Carr from the Las Vegas Raiders? Unsure about Garoppolo even if the San Francisco 49ers make him available?
There now might be another worthy option, and he's an undrafted 28-year-old with one career regular-season start under his belt.
Heinicke did, however, start a playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January. His numbers that evening were decent (26 for 44, 306 yards, a touchdown, a pick and a 78.4 passer rating) but considering the opponent and the circumstances, it was pretty damn impressive. And anyone who watched him control the Washington offense that night will agree he was better than his stats indicate (he also rushed for 46 yards and a sweet touchdown).
Thursday's performance in Foxborough had a similar feel. He was only 9 for 15 for 86 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and a four-yard rush, but Heinicke was so much cooler than that against a bunch of talented defenders.
He should have had a touchdown pass when he placed a ball perfectly for tight end Ricky Seals-Jones late in the second quarter. And he again proved to be an excellent improviser and an all-around gamer with a magical third-down completion to Jaret Patterson in the dying seconds of the first half—a play that had a Tony Romo feel to it, which is fitting considering that Romo was also an undrafted NFC East quarterback who became something special out of nowhere.
Heinicke might not be special yet. May never be. But there's something there, and it's worth taking into consideration because no promising stone should be left unturned in this unpredictable league. It's possible he's about to take off, especially after putting on 15-20 pounds of muscle in the 2021 offseason.
Does he take risks? Absolutely. He's got that gunslinger mentality, and he should have been intercepted on a back-footed deep ball Thursday. But that approach is often necessary in this era, and it can certainly work. Fitzpatrick has similar tendencies, of course, but Heinicke is a decade behind his grizzled teammate. There's plenty of room for growth in the right setting and the right system.
He might represent a potential replacement for Watson if the Houston Texans move on from their star quarterback and want an alternative to veteran Tyrod Taylor. Watson requested a trade early in the offseason and is currently facing 22 lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women accusing him of sexual assault or sexual misconduct committed while receiving massages (allegations he denies). If Houston finally pulls the trigger on a deal involving Watson, why not give a shot to a player like Heinicke?
Or he could work as insurance for Tua Tagovailoa in Miami after the 2020 first-round pick and former Alabama star struggled to make a solid impression in his rookie campaign. It would be silly to completely give up on Tagovailoa this quickly, but the leash might already be short and Heinicke would represent a low-cost Plan B.
He could also represent an unexpected alternative to the underwhelming Teddy Bridgewater and/or the unreliable Drew Lock in Denver. The Broncos have obviously become impatient with the quarterback position and they have a talented roster outside of that spot. They were widely considered a frontrunner in the Rodgers sweepstakes, but with that off the table for now they could go in an entirely new direction with little risk.
And that's the key here: there's little downside. Heinicke couldn't possibly command a lot in a trade, and he'd cost less than $4 million over the course of the next two years, according to Spotrac.
Of course, that's assuming the WFT would be willing to part ways. Another performance or two like that and they might at least start believing he could relieve Fitzpatrick in a year or two, if not steal the job this season. Washington head coach Ron Rivera brought him over from his former gig with the Carolina Panthers, so obviously he's a Heinicke believer.
Still, it's another name to throw into the mix for any of the aforementioned teams that might not be settled at quarterback, or any others that might emerge in the coming weeks or months.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.