The Washington Football Team devised a plan for the 2021 season that revolved around an aggressive young defense and veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
At 2-6 and four games out of first place in the division, it's obvious that plan didn't work.
Washington's aggressive young defense came out of the gate flat, allowing 30 or more points in four of eight games and ranking near the bottom of the league in almost every major defensive statistic. The stars of the defense - pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat - combined for 5.5 sacks in the first half of the season, and now Sweat will miss significant time with a broken jaw.
Fitzpatrick barely played this season, injuring his hip in the first half of the season opener.
The plan had some level of merit, especially after the defense looked quite strong in a second-half surge to win a terrible NFC East division title in 2020.
Regardless, now, the plan is obviously a bust, and that means Washington is back to the drawing board. The only real hope?
A franchise quarterback.
"The thing is we don't know if the franchise guy is on this roster, if we're going to find the franchise guy through free agency, or if we're going to find the franchise guy through the draft? That’s really where we are right now and that's what we’ve got to decide as we start going forward," Washington head coach Ron Rivera said recently.
Rivera's comments came via the Washington Football Talk podcast, and it's obvious the coach and de facto football czar recognize the plan for 2020 failed.
"You have to stick to your process, you have to stick to your guns," Rivera explained.
There are pieces on Washington's defense that still have significant talent, perhaps highlighted this season by the play of defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. But the 2021 struggles highlight the need for Washington to land a quarterback. A true franchise quarterback, something that has been largely missing here for more than 25 years.
Rivera knew that last year too even before signing Fitzpatrick to a one-year contract, but for Washington, the price tag on some QB options grew too costly.
"Looking at some of the things we considered doing I still believe that the price was too steep. Way too steep," the coach said. "To want draft picks and core players, we weren’t going to do it. I don't think that's what you do. You don't get a franchise QB and not have players around him. If you don't have people there to protect him or people there to make plays for him, what good is it in having him?"
Some might argue that a real star passer can mask deficiencies in other areas, like the impact Joe Burrow has made in Cincinnati or how different the Rams offense looks with Matt Stafford at the helm. Rivera, however, doesn't think it's that simple.
"Last year we looked at it, 'Wow there’s a couple of guys that are free agents.' Okay, I’m not going to give up these two position guys and these two draft picks. That’s four players. Those are core guys, those are guys you’re trying to build your team around, and now you want to give them four for one? That was very difficult."
It's unclear what player Rivera is discussing specifically but it's been widely reported Washington was in the hunt for Stafford before Detroit traded the veteran to Los Angeles. Could those terms also apply to a player like Houston's Deshaun Watson before his legal troubles emerged? It's possible.
At this point, that's all rainwater out of the pipe.
Washington did not get a franchise quarterback last season, and will be desperate to find one in 2022.
There will be options - big trades or small moves. Draft picks. Draft trades.
It's unclear that anything will pan out. It's been unclear for some time.
Washington's QB strategy now becomes what it has long been - hoping to find a winning lottery ticket. Somebody has to win Powerball, right?
Rivera understands the position, but wants to have the best team ready when QB X finally arrives.
"That’s hard to want to part with those guys and say, ‘well, we’ve got our guy but we got nobody to protect him or make plays for him,’" Rivera said. "Let’s take this going to next year and whoever that franchise guy that we identify we build around him."