Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Some fans are still mourning the missed opportunity to acquire Matthew Stafford after losing him to the Rams, who provided their version of a Godfather package to Detroit. It didn't take long for Ron Rivera to change course with journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signing a contract on Monday to, in all likelihood, be the 2021 starter. Signing Fitzpatrick doesn't mean he will necessarily end the season as the starter, but as he showed in all his pro stops, he can be the closer and stop gap needed for a team in a rebuild mode. Washington fans have complained about the "Checkdown-Charlie" type quarterbacks in Washington, but with Fitzpatrick you'll get the opposite.
Although Washington had an impressive second half run in 2020 to take the NFC East title, the overall quarterback play was average at best. After releasing Alex Smith and bringing back presumed backups Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, bringing aboard a veteran bridge quarterback made the most sense. Washington will head into the 2021 NFL Draft, as one of the presumed teams to move up and grab one on of the blue chip quarterbacks (Wilson, Lance or Fields), but that's a story for another time (Stay Tuned to theburgundyandgoldreport.com).
Fitzpatrick is walking into into a situation with OC Scott Turner in which he'll have a top 10 receiver in Terry McLaurin who'll be able to open up the field. With Cam Sims returning and Antonio Gandy-Golden likely to get more snaps, Rivera will look to free agency and the draft in order to add more speed and big play ability. The same could be said for tight end, in which 2020 free agent pickup Logan Thomas had a breakout year. Expect Washington to add additional weapons at receiver and tight end in the draft for Fitzpatrick.
What Fitz Brings to the Offense
The Dolphin's Week #16 matchup vs Las Vegas epitomized what Fitzpatrick has done throughout his career, especially in clutch moments.
WIth Miami trailing 12-16 with under ten minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, the Dolphins made a change at quarterback. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa who was ineffective against the Raiders defense, was benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick after going 17/22 94 yards passing with 1 touchdown. Fitzpatrick would finish the game with 9/13 182 and a touchdown, but would end the game with arguably one of the be most memorable plays of the 2020 season.
On the last offensive play of the game, Fitzpatrick would further justify his nickname "Fitz Magic". With 00:19 seconds on the clock, Miami had one hail mary shot in order to get into FG range, which would be a daunting task from their own 25 yard line. Fitzpatrick dropped back, facing a Cover 2 formation on 1st and 10. He found Mack Hollins along the Raiders sideline for a big gain all the way to the Las Vegas 41 yard line with seconds remaining.
Then the flags came out with Fitzpatrick screaming at the officials. The most obvious and arguably the most dangerous face mask penalty was committed by the Raiders putting Miami in FG range. Miami kicker Jason Sanders would nail the game winner from 44 yards out with 00:01 remaining. The Dolphins would win 26-25 enroute to a 10 win season. Some might call the Fitzpatrick deep pass and completion luck, but the veteran has routinely made game changing plays throughout his career.
Fitzpatrick's former teammates have all boasted about the journeyman's ability to lead and take over games. This is a rare attribute for a prospect that has spent the majority of his career playing the role of the bridge quarterback and top backup. The turnovers will always be the center of the discussion when talking about Fitz, but his second half stretch to end the season for Miami showed he still has another season where he can be productive.
The Potential Plan
So far Ron Rivera has set his sites on what he wanted and went all in. Although he failed to land Stafford, he showed how aggressive he'll be to solve the issue at quarterback in Washington. Fitzpatrick showed last season that he's willing to look for the underneath pass, rather than go for broke and take deep shots as he has done throughout his career. He'll have a great option in McLaurin with Turner finding innovative ways to open the downfield passing game. Fitzpatrick has shown that he loves to utilize his safety blanket tight end on underneath routes and will have that with Logan Thomas, with another receiving tight end likely to be added. Although his game has expanded over the last couple of seasons, his ability as a deep ball passer should be welcomed in Washington. During the final 7 weeks of the 2020 season, Fitzpatrick led all QB's on completion percentage on deep passes and was ranked the 3rd lowest signal caller in the league with off target deep balls.
Expect to see Rivera and Turner surround Fitz with more talent on offense through free agency, but more likely the draft. FItzpatrick has come off the bench on many occasions only to put the team on his back. Washington's offense can only go up from the 2020 season that resulted in 4 different starting quarterbacks seeing the field. Although Smith, now released, and Taylor Heinicke displayed flashes, neither is the immediate answer at quarterback for the Burgundy and Gold. Fitzpatrick can only elevate Turner's passing game. Albeit only on a one-year-deal, he could have a lasting impact in the locker room going forward. Rivera and company will continue to build a competitive team and Fitzpatrick's experience and knowledge of the game will only help the team's rebuilding process.
Written By Adam Aniba