Justin Herbert threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown in the Chargers' 20-16 Week 1 victory over Washington, providing Burgundy and Gold fans a glimpse of what could have been.
Herbert was on the board when Washington selected pass rusher Chase Young second overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. After his sensational rookie season and performance against Washington on Sunday, it's easy to say Ron Rivera's club should have taken Hebert when they had the chance.
But hindsight is 20/20. And the truth of the matter is Young was the right pick then, and still is today. The pass rusher was tabbed a generational prospect by many draft experts with little to no weaknesses. Young starred for Washington in 2020, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and has played an instrumental role in turning his hometown franchise around. Washington entered 2021 with high expectations, with Young's presence one of the main reasons why.
What Herbert's outing on Sunday does show, though, is not that Washington messed up by passing on him in 2020, rather than Rivera and his revamped front office should have been more aggressive in the 2021 NFLDraft to select one of the five first-round passers, particularly the last two chosen in Justin Fields and Mac Jones.
There are several elements to this, but let's begin with the most obvious one: you need a franchise quarterback to win in the NFL. And if you don't have a franchise quarterback, the next best option is having a young signal-caller with the upside of being a franchise QB.
Washington entered the season with neither.
Before the 2021 Draft, Rivera said that Washington would consider moving up for a quarterback at the right price, but did not want to mortgage the team's future. That's totally fair, considering the price to move up into the top three from No. 19 in order to select Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance. It was unrealistic for a move like that to be made.
But two quarterbacks, Fields and Jones, fell out of the top 10. The Panthers and Broncos, two teams with murky QB situations themselves, passed on both. The Bears, who were originally slotted one pick behind Washington, parted with a 2022 first-rounder and two mid-round picks to move up nine spots to get their future franchise passer in Fields.
That's not a hefty price, all things considered, and one that certainly looks to be worth it for Chicago. Fields excelled in the preseason, albeit that doesn't mean much, and arguably should already be the Bears' starter. In limited snaps on Sunday, the former Ohio State star already showed flashes of his exceptional talent. It'll only be a matter of time before he's their QB1.
Then there's Jones, who fell all the way to No. 15 and right into Bill Belichick's lap. Like Fields, the former Alabama star impressed in camp and the preseason, too. In fact, Jones grasped the Patriots' system so well that Belichick cut incumbent starter and former MVP, Cam Newton, in order to allow the rookie to take the reigns in Week 1.
Trading up for Jones would not have cost Washington nearly as much as it did the Bears to move up for Fields. The Cowboys, Chargers and Vikings, pick Nos. 12-14, were never taking quarterbacks there. Minnesota even traded their pick to the Jets, who used it on an interior offensive lineman.
Washington stood pat at No. 19 and selected Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, a tackling machine with exceptional athletic ability. But, Davis only started one year in college, and Washington is bringing him along slowly so far. Davis played just 56% of defensive snaps in Week 1, as linebackers Cole Holcomb (100% snaps) and Jon Bostic (81%) were on the field far more often.
Davis could still be a really good NFL player. He has the traits to be one. But unlike Young, he wasn't a top-five or top 10 selection for a reason. Washington has a young core of defensive talent, and the addition of Young last year turned a solid unit into an elite one that is ready to win now.
Davis could be a top-tier linebacker in a few years, but that doesn't match up with the timing of the rest of the defensive core. Jonathan Allen is locked up long-term, but Daron Payne and Montez Sweat might only have a couple more years in Washington before big paydays take them elsewhere. Young will be due a lucrative contract in a couple of years. It's hard to imagine all of them will be able to be paid top-dollar in Washington.
Washington won the NFC East in 2020 on the back of its dominant defense. Young played an instrumental part in that, too, proving each week why he was worthy of that No. 2 pick. But on offense, the club started four quarterbacks last season, with none of them performing better than average. While it was a great story, it wasn't a recipe for success long-term.
Washington knew that, which is why they made an aggressive play for ex-Lions star Matt Stafford in January. But that same thirst for a franchise quarterback went away after they signed Fitzpatrick in free agency, an upgrade over -- on paper, at least -- than 2020's QB room but a player with a significantly capped ceiling.
Now, after one week, he's hurt. Sure, Washington couldn't have expected that, but football is a violent game. There was never a guarantee Fitzpatrick would play all 17 games, even though he's had a relatively healthy career to date.
The point here stands regardless if Fitzpatrick got hurt or not, though. The 38-year-old is playing for his ninth franchise for a reason. He's never made the playoffs as a starter, either. He's a solid veteran quarterback but has never been, and never will be, the franchise guy. He's the ideal veteran for a young quarterback to sit behind and learn from, exactly what Miami did with him and Tua Tagovailoa last season.
So, even after Washington signed Fitzpatrick in free agency, getting one of those first-round quarterbacks should have been priority 1A for Washington in the draft. Now, barring a string of heroic performances from Taylor Heinicke, Washington will be in quarterback no man's land once again.
Where the franchise was in 2020, selecting Chase Young over Justin Herbert was the right move. But with how everything shook out last fall, the 2021 Draft was the perfect time for Washington to select a first-round quarterback. There was no position with a pressing need more than QB at the time. That still stands five months later, only with the team in a deeper hole at the most important position in sports.
In the NFL, fans want to win Super Bowls. Even for a franchise that has lacked winning as much as Washington has in the past three decades, early playoff exits don't cut it. Entering the season with Fitzpatrick and Heinicke as the quarterbacks were unlikely to result in Washington truly contending.
“Business as usual man. We’ve been in this situation before," tight end Logan Thomas said Sunday. "Obviously, Taylor is a little more mobile than Fitz is but same old story just like last year.”
Rivera has preached building up this franchise the right way, and his early success in Washington has earned the fan's patience. But until Washington does end up getting that franchise quarterback, it will be that "same old story" every year.