It remains to be seen whether Fitzpatrick would enter the offseason as the presumptive starter or if he would compete for the starting job with Kyle Allen, who returns on a one-year exclusive rights tender, and Taylor Heinicke, who re-upped on a two-year deal after impressing in the team’s first-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fitzpatrick’s arrival also doesn’t necessarily rule out Washington drafting a quarterback, including potentially in the first round.
In the meantime, however, Fitzpatrick provides a bridge for a team in the midst of a rebuild. Washington released Alex Smith after he returned from injury to lead the team to the playoffs, and earlier the club made a play for Matthew Stafford, the former Detroit Lions quarterback who was dealt to the Los Angeles Rams.
The plan was clear: Washington sought an upgrade at quarterback, be it a long-term solution or a short-term improvement.
“Do you want to be able to say, ‘This is our franchise quarterback?’ Well, yeah, you would love to,” Coach Ron Rivera said this month. “But you don’t know that until the quarterback starts playing, or quarterbacks. Once that starts happening, then you’ll know. We’ve just got to continue to go through this, study the players and get the one that we feel can become that player. We’ll see what happens.”
Given his age, Fitzpatrick isn’t the future. But his experience should allow Washington’s young offense to continue to develop while its defense continues to lead the way, as it did during last season’s surprise run to the NFC East championship with a 7-9 record.
The Harvard graduate was the last of 14 quarterbacks drafted in 2005, taken at No. 250 by the St. Louis Rams. He is one of only three quarterbacks from that class still playing in the league, along with Smith, who was the No. 1 pick that year, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, the 24th selection.
After stops with Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay, Fitzpatrick signed with Miami in 2019. In two seasons with the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick played 24 games and went 9-11 as a starter while mentoring young quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Tua Tagovailoa. He was named the team’s MVP in 2019 and twice won its Don Shula Leadership Award.
“That’s the most important position on the football field, really, so you’ve got to have football intelligence to play the position,” Washington General Manager Martin Mayhew said in February. “You’ve got to have the arm talent, [but] the leadership ability is really important. One of the most important things I think is the football character. That’s all the preparation that goes into it, that’s understanding the game, that’s being mentally tough, that’s having passion for it. All of those things are required in that position. You really can’t cut any corners there. You’ve got to really be a complete football player to be successful there.”
The allure of Fitzpatrick transcends his career numbers as an NFL journeyman. Nicknamed “Fitzmagic” for his memorable performances off the bench and wild plays under pressure, Fitzpatrick has been described by players and coaches over the years as the ultimate teammate. He has a reputation as a player with a knack for keeping it light in the locker room and easing the nerves of younger players.
“Fitz is so ahead of the curve,” former wide receiver Brandon Marshall told ESPN in 2018. “He knows what the defensive coordinator is going to do before he does it. He studies every tendency, every statistic. We all know he’s smart and his pedigree, where he comes from, but he truly uses all of it … and then he’s a playmaker.”
In Week 16 last season, Miami Coach Brian Flores benched Tagovailoa in favor of Fitzpatrick with 10 minutes remaining in a tight game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins on three scoring drives, culminating with a 34-yard completion that set up the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
Afterward, Flores likened Fitzpatrick to a ninth-inning reliever in baseball.
“Every which way in my career, I’ve done it,” Fitzpatrick said that day. “I still play the game because I love playing the game. I love being part of the team. I love being out there on the field. So I get excited every time — whether it’s a start or whether it’s at some point at the end of the game — he calls my number and puts me in.”
Beyond quarterback, Washington’s offseason to-do list is still lengthy — and it grew as free agency began Monday. According to people with knowledge of the transactions, starting cornerback Ronald Darby agreed to a three-year contract with the Denver Broncos, and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis reached a two-year agreement with the Houston Texans, creating more vacancies than solutions.
Washington did, however, place a tender on restricted free agent wide receiver Cam Sims. According to a person familiar with the matter, the one-year tender is worth $2.133 million and allows the team to match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere. In 16 games (and 10 starts), Sims had 32 receptions for 477 yards and a touchdown last year.
Washington also plans to re-sign kicker Dustin Hopkins on a one-year deal, which should leave it with close to $25 million in remaining cap space, according to overthecap.com.
“What we want to do is get to the point where we don’t have to start all over,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure we look at every option we have and when we do things, we move cautiously, smart. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have to start all over again in a year or two. We want to be able to say, ‘Hey, we put the right pieces in place that gives us the opportunity to go out and do what we want to do.’ But we want to be truly smart about it.”