“Both those situations we had conversations [about],” Coach Ron Rivera said in a recent interview with WJLA. “We liked a couple of those young quarterbacks an awful lot. … As we kept debating, it was always: ‘Well, let’s take one more look. Let’s see if he falls again.’ At the right number, it would’ve been something we could have done.
“Then the guy we talked about waiting on ended up getting taken early. So when those two guys left, then we just felt: ‘Okay, hey, we’re going to stick with what we got. We got a group of young guys, led by … Ryan Fitzpatrick, that we think can develop and be guys that can be very good football players for us. And we’re going to see. We’re going to find out.”
Washington held pat and kept its quarterbacks room as is, choosing instead to fill holes across the roster and find players who checked multiple boxes for Rivera and the rest of the coaching staff — including speed, versatility, strong work ethics and room to grow.
But now Washington faces a new set of questions as it continues to shape its roster. How will the newest pieces fit with the returning players, and which areas does it still need to address?
About the quarterbacks …
Fitzpatrick, 38, signed a one-year contract to fill a stopgap role as Washington’s starting quarterback. What happens beyond 2021 is unclear. Also unclear: his backup.
Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke and Steven Montez are set to compete for that job, barring any changes. Allen, who has 17 career starts dating from his time with Rivera with Carolina, took over for Dwayne Haskins in Week 5 last season but was lost after four games because of an ankle injury. Though still recovering, he is expected to be healthy in time for camp.
Heinicke was out of the NFL for most of last season before Washington added him to its practice squad in December. Injuries led to his promotion, which led to opportunity, which led to a new contract. In his lone start for Washington, Heinicke threw for 306 yards and totaled two touchdowns in a first-round playoff loss to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning him the two-year deal he signed weeks later.
He and Allen have experience in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s system, but Rivera hasn’t ruled out Montez. His mobility (he ran for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns at Colorado) would be a boon, and this year he may get a preseason to earn some game reps.
Linebacker could still be a position of need
Washington drafted Jamin Davis at No. 19, believing his speed, size, versatility and potential could fill a significant void on the second level of the defense. Davis probably will be expected to start immediately, given his draft status and the team’s need at the position, and he could be an every-down linebacker.
“We do think he’s a guy that we’re probably not going to have to take off the field,” Rivera said in an interview Monday with 106.7 the Fan. “He’s going to be a guy that you’re going to want to play the whole game.”
Should Davis start alongside Jon Bostic and Cole Holcomb, Washington’s reserves include David Mayo, a free agent signing; Khaleke Hudson, a 2020 fifth-round pick who started two games as a rookie; Josh Harvey-Clemons, who played 35 games for Washington from 2017 to 2019 but opted out of the 2020 season; Justin Phillips, who signed a reserve/futures contract in January; and Jordan Kunaszyk and Jared Norris, both of whom played only special teams last year.
Additional changes could depend on Washington’s plan for Landon Collins. The 27-year-old strong safety is recovering from an Achilles’ injury and could be asked to play linebacker, perhaps only on certain downs. Collins said on social media in March that a switch to linebacker is “not happening.” When Rivera was asked if the comment reflected the team’s stance, the coach said: “That was Landon. Again, our plan for Landon is to have him here and have him compete and have him be a part of what we’re doing going forward.”
Who is Washington’s free safety?
Perhaps the greatest uncertainty on Washington’s roster remains free safety, where Troy Apke started last season before getting demoted twice. Deshazor Everett started six games before suffering an injury, but he is perhaps better suited for strong safety (along with Kamren Curl). Jeremy Reaves closed the season at free safety, and his limited experience there probably will put him in the mix to compete for the job.
Washington largely overhauled its secondary again this offseason, signing William Jackson III and Darryl Roberts in free agency and selecting Benjamin St-Juste and Darrick Forrest in the draft. Of that group, only Jackson has a defined position: cornerback.
Roberts has taken snaps at nearly every position in the defensive backfield and could be used in the slot. St-Juste, a third-round pick, has the size and length of a free safety (6-foot-3, 202 pounds, 78⅝-inch wingspan) but was a cornerback at Michigan and Minnesota. Forrest was a free safety at Cincinnati and has the requisite speed for the position (4.41-second 40-yard dash), but he lacks the desired size (he’s 5-11).
“Darrick is a dynamic player. He’s a heck of a special teams guy, first and foremost, so he’s going to have every opportunity to help us there,” Rivera said on 106.7 the Fan. “But when you watch his tape, you see that his speed and quickness he uses very well. He’s a guy that we think has the ability to go sideline to sideline from the post position because he does have that kind of quickness and speed.”
Rivera also said Washington plans to bring in four or five players for minicamp tryouts.
A new starter at left tackle?
After the second day of the draft, General Manager Martin Mayhew acknowledged Washington passed on some wide receivers to fill a need on the offensive line. The receiving group was deep, the tackle class less so. So it selected Sam Cosmi out of Texas at No. 51.
“We’re going to put him out at left tackle and see how he does,” Rivera said. “That’s what he did in college, and he played it very well in college. … He’s going to get an opportunity to compete for us, and we’ll see how he does.”
Washington has been trying to fill that role since Trent Williams’s holdout in 2019 that eventually led to his trade. Geron Christian, Cornelius Lucas and Morgan Moses (for two games to compensate for injuries) cycled through as starters. Cosmi is expected to compete for the starting job, perhaps with Lucas and Christian as well as Saahdiq Charles and Wes Schweitzer.
Evaluating defensive line depth
Washington’s starting line boasts four first-round picks and is the crux of its defense. The interior will be fairly deep behind starters Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, with Matt Ioannidis returning from injury and Tim Settle under contract for another year. It’s a much different story behind starting defensive ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
Ryan Anderson left for the New York Giants, and Ryan Kerrigan was not re-signed. To compensate, Washington drafted William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney in the seventh round to join James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Jalen Jelks. Smith-Williams, a 2020 seventh-round pick, has the most experience of the group, taking 98 snaps in 14 games last year.
Washington could add depth. Kerrigan is still available, but it’s unclear whether he would want to return.
“We drafted these guys with the idea that these guys can contribute this year,” Mayhew said Saturday when asked whether re-signing Kerrigan is a possibility. “We’ll evaluate that during the offseason and keep an eye out for that after the draft. … We definitely plan to upgrade that position through the offseason, but we feel [Bradley-King and Toney] have a great opportunity with us.”
Who is the third wide receiver?
In two months, Washington’s receiving corps went from thin to stacked — on paper, anyway. Its top wide receivers are clearly Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, who signed a three-year deal in free agency. But that third wide receiver job, which has become especially important given teams’ reliance on 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), hasn’t been solidified.
Washington signed slot receiver Adam Humphries and receiver/returner DeAndre Carter in free agency; drafted speedy deep threat Dyami Brown in the third round; and selected Zach Wilson’s top target at BYU, Dax Milne, in the seventh.
Also, Kelvin Harmon is returning from a knee injury and Antonio Gandy-Golden has yet to flash his full potential, while Cam Sims is looking to build on a breakout season. Isaiah Wright, Steven Sims Jr. and Tony Brown remain in the mix as well.
Rivera and Mayhew prioritized adding speed that will open up chances for other receivers and other positions. Brown averaged at least 20 yards per catch in each of his last two seasons at North Carolina.
“Adding Dyami Brown is really a positive thing for us,” Rivera said during his radio interview. “It’s going to help Terry — it’s going to open things up for him and Curtis — and he’s a guy that will be able to come in and threaten the verticals. That, to me, adds value already because he’s going to help the underneath, he’ll help the tight end position, he’ll help the slot receiver. We think Adam Humphries is going to step up and have a real good, solid year for us as well.”