When the Washington Football Team inked veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as its first signing in free agency, the assumption was that Ron Rivera and his staff found its temporary solution at the sport's most important position.
On Thursday, Washington's head coach addressed the local media for the first time since free agency and confirmed that Fitzpatrick will begin training camp as the team's starting quarterback. But, Rivera also said that the 38-year-old will have to earn the job, too.
“He’s going to come in as the No. 1, but there will be a competition," Rivera said. "We want to play the best football player, obviously, that gives us the best opportunity to win. We feel very comfortable and very confident in the guys that we have."
Besides Fitzpatrick, Washington's quarterback room consists of Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. Heinicke impressed as the team's starter in the playoffs, an outing that earned him a two-year extension earlier this offseason. Allen started four games for Washington last season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Rivera has said multiple times that Allen is in the team's future plans, too.
Last fall, in Rivera's first season as head coach, he wasn't able to have a true competition at quarterback in training camp due to the condensed COVID-19-impacted offseason. As a result, Dwayne Haskins was named the team's Week 1 starter, a decision that would last just one month before he was benched.
Earlier this year, Rivera said he regretted not having an open competition between Haskins and Allen last year. So, in 2021, while Fitzpatrick might be the favorite to win the job, the head coach is going to give his other two passers the chance to compete for the starting gig, too.
"For the most part competition does create the opportunity to have guys go out there and really try to put it all out on the line. As I said last year, one of the mistakes I made, obviously, was I didn’t have the true competition. I felt going in the idea was to give Dwayne as many reps as possible to get him ready to play," Rivera said.
"This time, I know who we have as the starter, but [Fitzpatrick] going to go in and he’s going to compete with everybody else," the head coach continued. "Like I said, I want to play the guy that’s going to give us the best opportunity to win, the best opportunity to grow and develop as a football team.”
Rivera is preaching competition. His quarterbacks seem to be buying in, too.
In March, Fitzpatrick said all he was looking for in free agency was to sign with a team that will give him the chance to compete. Heinicke echoed similar comments in February about what he expects moving forward after re-signing with the team.
Washington's head coach is looking forward to seeing how the competition unfolds. But, when it comes to Fitzpatrick, Rivera admitted he was "pretty excited" to have the veteran QB playing for him this season.
"[He's] a savvy veteran who has had a lot of success and who has worked with a lot of other quarterbacks, a lot of young quarterbacks, who’s been in a lot of different systems," Rivera said.
"Also, just the fact that when you look at his numbers analytically, he’s actually improved in his play in the last couple years, too. There are a lot of positive things about having this type of guy around. I’m pretty excited, I really am."
Washington has found a temporary solution at quarterback in Fitzpatrick, but it's no secret the team still must find a long-term answer at the position.
The Burgundy and Gold could look to the NFL Draft to find its future QB. But, by picking 19th overall, there's a solid chance the top five passers in the 2021 class are off the board. Florida's Kyle Trask and Texas A&M's Kellen Mond could be Day 2 targets for Washington, but it's almost impossible to predict where any of the quarterbacks expected to be taken in the middle rounds will land.
Rivera said Thursday he's not in a rush to find his signal-caller of the future, but didn't rule out taking a quarterback in this month's draft, either.
"I can’t tell you how things are going to unfold once we get into the draft," Rivera said. "We’re going to react to what’s going to happen in front of us. Picking where we’re picking, there are a lot of things that can happen."