The Washington Football Team may have benefitted from a historically weak division in 2020, but the fact of the matter is, they’re the defending NFC East champions, and they’re building their roster to become perennial contenders. They managed to fill a few holes in free agency, but even after the signing period, Washington still lacks long-term clarity at the most important position — quarterback. Will rumors of Washington gearing up to trade for a top QB in the 2021 NFL Draft come to fruition, or will they roll with Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2021?
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Washington moving upward, but one piece to the puzzle eludes
The Washington Football Team’s signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t flashy or risky. In fact, just the opposite. Fitzpatrick, often viewed as a stabilizer, gives Washington, at the very least, a respectable floor at quarterback. He’s not a high-level starter, but for a team with a solid roster and a budding corps of talent, Fitzpatrick is good enough to keep them from falling backward.
Wingo discussed this on the April 14 Draft Insiders show. “Obviously there has been a lot of shakeup at the quarterback there. Ryan Fitzpatrick is there now. Love the dude, one of my favorite players in the NFL, but we all know he is not the long-term solution.”
Nevertheless, with Fitzpatrick aging, and with Washington’s QB room containing only Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez beyond Fitzpatrick, the Washington Football Team needs more long-term security at the quarterback position.
With the team’s near-elite defense entering a new contention window, Washington can’t waste any of the unit’s golden years. Capitalizing on the strong upper tier of the 2021 QB class feels like the most optimal path. The problem is, Washington isn’t in a great position to do so.
The obstacles between Washington and immediate gratification at QB
Winning the NFC East at 7-9 was a blessing and a curse for the Washington Football Team. Washington now has some tangible success to build off of under Ron Rivera. However, their division championship has hindered their draft positioning greatly. Had Washington lost the NFC East, they’d be in the top twelve of the draft order. Instead, they sit at No. 19 overall, far beyond the projected range for the draft’s top quarterbacks.
Talk to Washington’s coaches, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Winning a division is a meaningful feat, no matter the circumstances. Nevertheless, Washington’s lesser draft positioning does impact their trade capability.
If the No. 4 pick — belonging to the Atlanta Falcons — is the trade-up spot for several teams, the cost of moving up 15 spots might be too great for Washington. If the trade-up destination is later — perhaps at the Lions’ or Panthers’ current picks — Washington has a better chance. But they still have to be willing to shell out some capital.
Depending on who they get, the move could very well be worth it. Any one of Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or Mac Jones might be available after the top three picks. All three can give Washington the upside they seek at QB. Quarterback success in the draft is always a mix of talent and destination. Washington has the accumulated support to be a good destination for a rookie quarterback.
Now, there’s only one question left to answer: Are they willing to move up for their match?
Will the Washington Football Team stand pat with the 19th pick or move up to get a QB?
There’s an incentive to trade upon Washington’s part. As good as the defense is, Washington might only have two or three years before they’re recharging on that side of the ball again. If they wait to get their franchise QB in 2022, it sets back their contention window another year. By adding one of this draft’s top quarterbacks, Washington can not only capitalize on a strong, top-heavy class but also experience no delays in their quest to become true Super Bowl contenders.
So, with this in mind, what is the Washington Football Team thinking?
According to PFN’s Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline, the Washington Football Team is interested in moving up to acquire one of the 2021 NFL Draft’s top quarterbacks. Pauline made clear that Washington isn’t quite comfortable moving all the way up to No. 4. But if an opportunity presents itself later on, they may ultimately pull the trigger on a move up. Here’s more from Tony:
“What I was told by someone close to head coach Ron Rivera, Washington would be open to moving up. Now, I wasn’t told that they would move up to the fourth pick with Atlanta because it would take too much draft capitol, but if a quarterback starts to fall…Washington would be willing to move up to get one of those quarterbacks and grab a signal-caller.”
Which quarterback might slide low enough to draw a trade from Washington?
As mentioned earlier, with Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson penciled in at No. 1 and No. 2, Fields, Lance, and Jones could all potentially be available later in the top 10. It depends on who the San Francisco 49ers select, but all three of those quarterbacks are firmly in the conversation in the top half of Round 1.
Additionally, all three quarterbacks have some reason to slide. Jones could be the one to slide due to his lesser physical traits. Lance could slide due to his relative dearth of experience and his need for continued mechanical improvement. And Fields — though his skill set seems like it should be slide-proof — has been a source of some skepticism in certain circles.
It seems as though Washington would be better served to pick Fields or Lance. Both quarterbacks have the physical upside worth investing in, and working with Fitzpatrick for a year could do wonders for their development. Jones, however, also offers some utility as a stable distributor who can do well in the NFL with the right support system. If the Washington Football Team likes all three QBs, it may simply come down to which one drops.
If Washington can’t trade up, what contingency plans could they be looking at?
So Washington is indeed looking to trade up for a quarterback. But what if their desired outcome never materializes. What if Fields and Lance go at No. 3 and No. 4, and another team promptly trades up for Jones? Then the Washington Football Team would be best served to either stand pat at No. 19 or trade back. In Round 1, their QB options would be exhausted. But later on, there are some contingency plans to be aware of.
One particular name holds a lot of weight here. Pauline had this to say about a potential backup plan for Washington.
“Washington fans should remember the name Davis Mills from Stanford. They have liked him all through the process. He is a big thrower, a guy that didn’t play all that well this year, didn’t live up to scout’s expectations. Coming into the season, scouts told me that if Davis Mills was able to play the way he was capable, they thought he would be a top-20 pick.
“Stanford was not a very good team this year, but Mills has the arm for the next level; he is an athletic guy, a little slow at pulling the trigger. However, I know that Washington likes him, and he will not be there in the third round, so if they do not move up to get a QB early in the draft, I could see them making a move for Mills in the second round.”
A big-bodied pocket passer with some measured mobility, Davis Mills is a bit raw and inexperienced. However, he carries a great deal of upside with him, and he’s been a steady riser this offseason. According to Pauline, Washington likes Mills a lot as an option in Round 2 if they can’t get a quarterback in Round 1.
The second round may seem high for Mills. However, given the dearth of quarterback talent after the top five in this class, some of the more inspiring developmental options like Mills and Kellen Mond could rise into Round 2, as the remaining QB-needy teams scramble to add talent to their rosters.
In that scenario, a team like Washington — a team with less major needs than other teams — might be more inclined to take that risk. If they manage to swing a trade back in Round 1 and add more Day 2 capital, that outcome becomes even more appealing.
The situation dictates what the Washington Football Team will ultimately do
The Washington Football Team appears to have its eyes firmly set on addressing quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the situation will ultimately dictate what they do at the position. And what happens in Round 1 will ultimately dictate what Washington does in Round 2. Who falls in Round 1, and how far? What is the breaking point for Washington? What if no one falls?
These are all questions that can only be answered on one night: Thursday, April 29.
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