Ron Rivera learned a lot from his first season in Washington.
He figured out Alex Smith was, in fact, going to attempt a comeback, and could actually do it. He realized Dwayne Haskins wasn’t his guy. And he also discovered Taylor Heinicke might have a knack for this whole quarterbacking thing.
In his second go-around, Rivera isn’t making the same mistake twice — even if his team signed a journeyman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who most see as the team’s starter in 2021.
“Last year one of the mistakes I made obviously was I didn’t have the true competition,” Rivera said Thursday. “I felt going in the idea was to give Dwayne as many reps as possible to get him ready to play. This time I know who we have as the starter but he’s going to go in and compete with everybody else. I want to play the guy that’s going to give us the best opportunity to win, the best opportunity to develop and grow as a football team.”
Rivera said Fitzpatrick will arrive as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, but that won’t preclude him from competition. It also won’t necessarily prevent the Football Team from adding another quarterback via the draft or free agency.
“We’re going to react to what’s going to happen in front of us,” Rivera said. “Picking where we’re picking, a lot of things can happen. We have targets, we have ideas, we have guys that we like. But that always changes just because of the fact that everybody has a choice, and so you just never know what’s going to happen at that point.”
Most of what Rivera said Thursday was standard fare, but it was interesting to hear his take on why Washington pursued the services of Fitzpatrick, saying movement at the position elsewhere in the league — the Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade, for one, and his own team’s inability to strike a deal for Stafford — prompted Washington “to get a guy in here that has the experience and can help us develop.”
“Well, veteran guy,” Rivera said when asked what about Fitzpatrick appealed to him. “A savvy veteran, he’s had a lot of success, he’s worked with a lot of other quarterbacks, a lot of young quarterbacks, he’s been in a lot of different system. Also when you look at his numbers analytically, he’s actually improved in his play the last couple years. So there’s a lot of positive things about having this type of guy around. I’m pretty excited, I really am.”
Smith might read this and ask for a mirror. Ultimately, though, it made more financial sense to move on from Smith and replace him with Fitzpatrick, who at this point in history is a more reliable option.
Having said that, Fitzpatrick isn’t a long-term solution, and he’s racking up enough jerseys to rival the collection of Josh McCown. Washington is going to have to find a better answer for the future before long.
Rivera doesn’t feel pressured to do this now, though. He’d rather work on the rest of the team instead of overextending the franchise to grab a quarterback who may or may not be cut out for the franchise-leading role.
“No, no, no, and I say that just because of the fact that if you put all the other pieces into place and now you start going forward, when that guy does show up, when that guy is in the right position, you can grab him,” Rivera explained. “I went through it the other way my first stint as a head coach in Carolina. We drafted the quarterback of the future for us in the first round. … After the first preseason game, I made him the permanent starter from that point on. That was the quarterback of the future. At that point we had not put all the other pieces around Cam Newton. We finally got them all together in 2015. I’ve always thought, wow, if you could do it the other way where you put all the other pieces around and then you get your quarterback, man, that might be a pretty good situation too.
“This could be one of those situations where we put all the other pieces in place and a year or two from now the right guy is there and then we make that move. But we’ll see.”
There’s an argument to be made in each direction, no doubt. A quarterback’s first few years are often as crucial as the pieces around him, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to toss a fresh-faced signal-caller into an ideal situation in which he’s surrounded by top-tier talent. Timing is everything.
For now, that timing brought Fitzpatrick to Rivera’s team. Training camp will decide whether Fitzpatrick ends up being Washington’s guy in Week 1.
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