RICHMOND — Early in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s NFL career — before his beard was long and bushy — the quarterback played what he calls “the numbers game.” Like a fan, he tried to project the final roster. Would his team keep three quarterbacks or two? And if they kept a fullback, what would it mean for him?
Fitzpatrick, a seventh-round pick who went on to become one of the league’s highest-profile journeymen, often undertook this exercise as a way to figure out if he’d still have a job by the end of camp.
“You just learn that that is not productive,” Fitzpatrick said this week as his latest club, the Washington Football Team went through training camp.
Fitzpatrick no longer has to worry about his roster spot. He signed a one-year deal worth $10 million in March to be Washington’s starter — but the learned lesson has helped the 38-year-old maintain his perspective.
Two days into camp, coach Ron Rivera maintains his team is having a quarterback competition between Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke, the quarterback who dazzled in last year’s playoff loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And on Thursday, Heinicke got his first taste of playing with the starters — taking two reps of 11-on-11 drills and four reps in a 9-on-9 period, working with top targets like Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas.
Fitzpatrick has taken the bulk of the first-team reps, but Rivera said he noticed the way the quarterback reacted — or lack thereof, rather — to having to temporarily take a backseat.
“Nothing seems to phase him,” Rivera said. “He just goes out and does his job. He doesn’t look over his shoulder. And I think that’s a confident player. Guys can learn from that: Don’t worry about what’s going on over here, worry about yourself.”
Fitzpatrick says he spends the time focusing on what he needs to work on. And that doesn’t just extend to throwing the football better or making sure the timing of a play is just right. Rather, the quarterback said he’ll factor in all aspects of the play: The tempo of the line, the attitude of his receivers, the chemistry of the group and more.
Over the last two years, Fitzpatrick put up some of the best numbers of his career. His 95.6 passer rating last season, for instance, was his second-highest behind only 2018 in Tampa. But that success came in a different system — a scheme unlike the one offensive coordinator Scott Turner runs.
Fitzpatrick said Turner’s system is not “the easiest offense to learn,” noting the verbiage and the attack angles differ from what he’s seen at past stops. There have been growing pains as a result. The quarterback threw another interception Thursday, this time when a McLaurin slip led to an easy pick-six by cornerback William Jackson III. The turnover might not have been directly Fitzpatrick’s fault, but the timing was off regardless.
Fitzpatrick, though, is making progress. McLaurin commented on Fitzpatrick’s trust in the weapons around him. The quarterback spreads the ball around and counts on teammates to make plays, McLaurin said, adding that while the quarterback is not a big “rah-rah guy” he’s the type of leader to put players in the right spot.
After the two Fitzpatrick interceptions, the quarterback redeemed himself. On Wednesday, Fitzpatrick rocketed in a tight ball to McLaurin on an intermediate route. Thursday, he went back to McLaurin again versus Jackson, and this time, the third-year wideout outmuscled the corner to pull in the deep ball.
“He really does a good job of empowering us,” McLaurin said.
Rivera has not indicated whether Fitzpatrick seriously has to fight for the starting job, only that there would be a competition. That competition does not appear to include Kyle Allen, who started four games in 2020 but is coming off a fractured ankle. Rivera said Allen could factor into the competition eventually, but so far, he’s looking at just Fitzpatrick and Heinicke.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t seem stressed. Statistically, the quarterback is very good against pressure on the field — his 64.5% completion percentage ranked as one of the league’s best, according to Pro Football Focus. So maybe he can handle pressure off the field, too.
“As I’ve had more kids — seven of them coming at me now — it just becomes a little bit more normal,” Fitzpatrick said with a smile. “That’s my comfort zone now.”