- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2021

With Cam Newton, Ron Rivera knew he had the all-important “quarterback of the future” when coaching the Carolina Panthers. After drafting Newton first overall upon Rivera’s arrival, the Panthers went about trying to surround the quarterback with the right pieces to build a contender. 

In Washington, Rivera is flipping that script: Find the talent first, then worry about the long term.

“I’ve always thought if you can do it the other way, where you put all the other pieces around and then go out and get your quarterback, that might be a pretty good situation, too,” Rivera said.

New Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is very much a stopgap for Rivera and Co. next season — and that seems to be perfectly OK in Rivera’s eyes. Speaking to reporters for the first time since adding the 38-year-old on a one-year, $10 million deal, Rivera said Thursday he was excited about Fitzpatrick’s experience and how he could elevate the team’s roster after a promising 7-9 playoff season.

But Rivera’s praise only went so far. The coach said Fitzpatrick will enter training camp atop the depth chart, but he’ll have to earn the starting job through a competition. That competition could even include a rookie quarterback as Rivera didn’t dismiss the idea of drafting a signal-caller.

Washington holds the 19th pick, and so the top names in this year’s quarterback class likely will be gone by then. Still, there’s a possibility that Washington could look to add another quarterback in Day 2 or 3 of the draft — if the opportunity presents itself.

Washington already has four quarterbacks on the roster: Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke and Steven Montez. 

“We’ll see,” Rivera said when asked about adding a rookie quarterback. “I can’t tell you how things are going to unfold once we get into the draft. 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. 

“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. You just never know what’s going to happen at that point.”

For now, Fitzpatrick is the favorite to start. Rivera said the veteran’s name came up early on when discussing free agents and after a failed attempt to trade for Matthew Stafford, Washington’s front office pivoted to Fitzpatrick. Rivera added bringing in a veteran like Fitzpatrick appealed to them,

Over the last two years in Miami, Fitzpatrick played an integral role in helping the Dolphins rebuild on the fly. Coaches and teammates praised the quarterback’s leadership, even when Fitzpatrick was benched for rookie Tua Tagovailoa last season. And when on the field, Fitzpatrick performed at a relatively high level: He threw for 5,620 yards in 24 games and completed 64% of his passes. 

Fitzpatrick has improved statistically as he’s gotten older, and Rivera said that intrigued them.

“I’m pretty excited, I really am,” Rivera said. “He was a guy that when I was in Carolina at one time and we had to compete against him, you always sat there and go: ‘Gosh, this guy — there’s something about this guy.’ It’s going to be intriguing for us to see exactly how it unfolds and how it fits with us.”

Rivera also appeared pleased with the rest of Washington’s free-agent haul. The team spent big on wideout Curtis Samuel (three years, $34.5 million) and cornerback William Jackson III (three years, $40.5 million). In both instances, Rivera said he felt Washington took advantage of a slow-moving market that allowed the team to jump in and land the players at a more reasonable price.

Big picture-wise, Rivera said the team’s additions put Washington in a position in which the franchise can now focus on drafting the best available player rather than press to fill a need. Washington’s biggest holes remain at linebacker and tackle.

If Washington determines a rookie quarterback is worth adding, Day 2 options include Florida’s Kyle Trask, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Stanford’s Davis Mills. All those players, though, project to need time to develop at the next level. It’s a situation that could call for the prospect to sit a season and learn behind a veteran. 

Fitzpatrick gives Washington the chance to be patient. 

“It’s not just about having a guy out there playing quarterback and trying to win, but also having a guy out there that helps everybody else develop,” Rivera said. “We’re still in that process. One season does not say we’ve arrived. All one season says is we’re learning how to play things and do things the right way.”

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