Football Team

No 'hindsight' for Ron Rivera with WFT stuck in QB purgatory

Football Team

Following the Washington Football Team's fourth straight loss, head coach Ron Rivera addressed several questions about the outlook of his football team as it enters its bye week.

Rivera, as he's done often in Washington, stressed the importance of growing as a football team and finding its identity. But, when he was asked if any changes were going to be made during the club's week off, the head coach said that every position will be evaluated, including the sport's most important one: quarterback.

 

“Yeah, we’ll evaluate all twenty-whatever positions you have," Rivera said when asked if he specifically was considering making a switch at signal-caller. 

Quarterback changes have become the norm in Ashburn. This isn't something new under Rivera, either, as almost every coach before him in the Dan Snyder era has had to play multiple different quarterbacks. That's what's happened when the franchise has cycled through two dozen different starting signal-callers since the turn of the century.

Rivera said Monday he plans to stick with Heinicke for now, but the larger issue at hand is the team, objectively, does not have any better options.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team's Week 1 starter, is out indefinitely with a hip injury. Heinicke's backup, Kyle Allen, is apparently not considered an upgrade, either, or else he would have been inserted into the lineup a long time ago. Washington has lost four straight games. If Rivera and his staff felt they had a better option on the bench, they would have already made the switch.

This past spring, Washington was coming off an improbable NFC East title and seemed to have a solid foundation in place to build a consistent winner. The defense, littered with young talent, finished top-five in almost every major statistical category in 2020, while the offense had a handful of talented skill players that could only get better with a proven quarterback.

But when Washington had the chance to make a move for a longer-term quarterback, whether a proven veteran or in the draft, it balked and went for an extreme version of the veteran in the 39-year-old Fitzpatrick. 

The club tried to land former Lions standout Matt Stafford, the best quarterback available via trade, but ultimately could not compete with the Los Angeles Rams' offer that included Jared Goff and premium draft picks.

Then in the draft, one that featured five top-15 picks at quarterback, Rivera and his staff ultimately decided the price tag was too much for them to move up from the 19th overall selection to grab one.

On Sunday, following Washington's fourth straight defeat and third straight game scoring 13 points or less, Rivera was asked if he regretted not making a move for a quarterback this past spring.

“No, that's hindsight. That's easy to second guess. I made a decision and I'm going to go with it," Rivera said. "We made a decision going forward on the quarterback - we liked a couple of guys. We're not going to mortgage the future because if we put the pieces in place, and then find the guy, we’ll feel better with that rather than having to give up some of the capital that people wanted from us."

Instead, Washington stood pat at No. 19 and drafted Jamin Davis, a raw but physically talented linebacker who has yet to provide much to the defense as a rookie.

"I wasn't going to give up some of the players people wanted to give up and I wasn’t going to give up some of the draft picks people wanted," Rivera said.

That decision is fair to second guess right now, especially with Washington on the losing end in six of its last eight games. Fitzpatrick was expected to be an upgrade over Washington's quartet of quarterbacks last year. And, based on his production the past two seasons in Miami, that was a valid assumption.

But to think a quarterback who has played for nine franchises in 17 years has never made the playoffs and has never taken control of a QB1 job long-term was, all of a sudden, going to stay healthy and be the answer at the sport's most important position seems a reach looking back. 

With Heinicke, it's almost unfair to say that he's been a disappointment. After all, he was on the streets at this time last year. While his limitations and inconsistencies have proven that he's likely not a long-term starter in the NFL, the 28-year-old has shown he can be a serviceable backup. 

There are no moral victories in football, though, and while Heinicke has moved the ball well the past few weeks, the team has struggled to score points. In just the past two weeks alone they've had six red-zone trips and none have resulted in six points. That's not going to cut it.

In the NFL, you almost always need a franchise quarterback to win. And, if you don't have a franchise quarterback on the roster, the next best thing is a young signal-caller with the hope that he can become that long-term guy.

Right now, Washington has neither. And quarterback purgatory is the worst place to be.

There's no guarantee that any of the first-round picks this past year will automatically turn into franchise quarterbacks. But, all of them were top picks for a reason in what was considered by draft experts an exceptionally deep class. There's a good chance at least a few of them pan out, especially Mac Jones, the rookie passer who has looked the best so far and was taken just four picks before Washington was on the clock by the New England Patriots. 

Washington will have plenty of cap space come free agency next spring. There could be some really good veterans available, from Aaron Rodgers to Russell Wilson to Matt Ryan. But, with how Washington's roster is currently constructed, along with everything else going on with the franchise right now, it begs the question: would any of them want to sign in D.C.?

The 2022 draft class is considered by experts to be a weak group. But, assuming Washington doesn't land a high-profile veteran, the franchise will almost certainly have to take a chance on one of those 2022 prospects. Then, they must hope that QB pans out.

In the coming weeks, Rivera could make a change at quarterback. But in all likelihood, it won't make a difference in either the short or long term. The team is back to square one trying to find an answer at the sport's most important position and there's no way to address it in the middle of what's becoming a lost season.