Trading Alex Smith for Ryan Fitzpatrick is a bit like changing from a Volvo sedan to a convertible Trans Am; you’re trading safe and reliable for old and uncertain, but you’re almost guaranteed to have a lot more fun.
Moribund 2020 offense
Last season, the Washington offense was unproductive. The unit ranked 29th overall in the NFL, 26th in rushing yards, 25th in passing yards, and 25th in points per game.
Washington started four different quarterbacks, including Taylor Heinicke’s playoff game against Tampa Bay. Dwayne Haskins was just horrible, Kyle Allen didn’t stay healthy long enough to make a difference, and Alex Smith was both conservative and immobile, which was good enough to win games, but it was the opposite of exciting.
Trading the Volvo for a Trans Am
Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, gunslinger. The 16-year vet has not had a typical NFL career. When he takes his first regular season snap for Washington, he will be doing so for his 9th NFL team. In his first game in burgundy & gold, he will break 35,000 career passing yards — possibly with his first pass of the season. Fitzpatrick has never appeared in a playoff game, but his best football has arguably been played in the past four years in Tampa Bay and Miami, where he spent two seasons each.
At Miami, Fitzpatrick started 24 games and threw for over 5,500 yards and 33 touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt and 11.4 yards per completion. While it’s true he was benched during the 2020 season, it wasn’t because of poor performance, but because the team wanted to see it’s young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa get some playing time.
Fitzpatrick’s best games of his career probably came at Tampa Bay, where he started 14 times, throwing for just under 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns, at 8.5 yards per attempt and 13.3 yards per completion.
Many will argue that Fitzpatrick is an interception machine, yet in his 38 starts since 2017, he threw 57 touchdown passes to 36 interceptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick is fearless, and seems to live by the philosophy that “some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you”, which has earned the veteran QB the dual sobriquets of “Fitzmagic” and “Fitztragic”, depending on what happens on any given Sunday.
After last year’s conservative offense that often felt as if it were built around seam routes to the tight end Logan Thomas, and wheel routes and checkdowns to running back JD McKissic, the 2021 season promises to bring a whole new level of excitement to NFL fans.
Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew have added speed on both sides of the ball, but it should be most apparent on offense, where opponents were able to double-team Terry McLaurin in virtually every game a season ago due to the lack of any other vertical threats on the Washington offense.
With the addition of Curtis Samuel in free agency and Dyami Brown in the draft, the Football Team has added two more speedy threats to the arsenal of offensive coordinator Scott Turner. The slot receiver position was also upgraded with the addition of veteran Adam Humphries, who actually played with Ryan Fitzpatrick in Tampa Bay in 2017 & 18. The slot receiver had the two best years of his career in Tampa with Fitz, catching 61 & 76 passes for 631 & 816 yards. In 2018 he set his career high with 5 touchdown catches.
When you look at the production of NFL production of McLaurin and Samuel, and the college production of 3rd round draft pick Dyami Brown, it’s hard not to get excited.
No longer will defense be able to key solely on McLaurin (who managed to put up over 1,100 yards despite the weekly double coverage he faced). Now opposing coordinators will need to game plan for three speedy receivers, Adam Humphries, tight end Logan Thomas, 3rd down back JD McKissic, and lead back Antonio Gibson — every one of whom presents a dangerous receiving option capable of lining up in multiple positions.
But no vertical passing attack can succeed if the quarterback is under pressure. It’s essential to have a good offensive line that can give the quarterback the time he needs to see routes develop downfield.
Pro Football Focus ranked Washington’s offensive line the 6th best in the NFL in 2020, saying,
Cornelius Lucas, actually provided some stability at the [left tackle] position with a 78.3 overall grade and an 83.1 grade in pass protection that ranked 11th at the position over the regular season.
Solid play from Lucas and Wes Schweitzer on the left side, paired with top-10 grades from each of Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses at the other starting spots, resulted in a much-improved group from a season before. Roullier recently got his long-term extension to stay in Washington, and Scherff will be looking for the same this offseason.
This very good group that
returns every starter from last season will undergo some change, with Morgan Moses being given leave to seek a trade. Before that happened, the position group was returning every player from last year’s season ending roster. Now there will need to be some adjustments. My guess is that sooner rather than later, young Sam Cosmi will be called upon to start at right tackle. Until he is ready, Cornelius Lucas should be more than capable.
The coaches and front office have not rested on their laurels. This off-season, a number of steps were taken to increase competition and improve the OL unit.
The team drafted Texas LT Samuel Cosmi in the 2nd round. Cosmi is seen by the team as a starting tackle of the future (on one side or the other), and he should have all the time he needs in 2021 to develop his NFL skills, as the team not only returns last year’s starter, Cornelius Lucas, but they also added Charles Leno former Bears starting left tackle late in free agency.
At LG, the team not only returns last season’s starter, Wes Schweitzer; the front office traded for Ereck Flowers, who played for Washington in 2019 before going to Miami for a year via free agency. Also expected to compete for a guard position is Saahdiq Charles, who was drafted in the 4th round a year ago but lost virtually all of his rookie season to injury.
At Center, of course, Chase Roullier returns, backed up by second-year player Keith Ismael, but the team also added former Carolina Panther Tyler Larsen to add significant depth at this important position.
The right side of the offensive line, had been anchored by two long term veterans, both drafted originally by the Redskins. Brandon Scherff earned 1st team All Pro honors a year ago at right guard, while Morgan Moses had started 97 games at right tackle since being drafted by Washington in the third round of the 2014 draft. That looks like it will change now, with a younger, more athletic player next to Scherff.
This offensive line was among the league’s best a year ago, according to PFF; now they are even better, with more talent among the starting group and more depth behind them.
Washington’s 2021 offensive line, coached by John Matsko, will undoubtedly be able to give Ryan Fitzpatrick the time he needs to execute a multi-faceted offense that will have a deep-strike element that was largely missing a season ago.
Every fan feels good about his or her favorite team in May, but it definitely feels as if 2021 offers Ryan Fitzpatrick a genuine chance to break his playoff drought. Week 1 will provide an exciting matchup as the Chargers travel cross-country to open the season against Washington. The headline for that game will be the reigning offensive rookie of the year and defensive rookie of the year facing off on the same field, but it should also be a lot of fun to watch the re-tooled WFT offense go up against a talented Charger team that can go downfield in a hurry. The Chargers game should provide an early test of the new look Washington offense and Fitzpatrick’s ability to get the ball vertical.
Regardless of the season result, this Washington team should field a dynamic offense that will offer plenty of entertaining football for 17 weeks.