While a massive overhaul in organizational culture has taken place over just the last 18 months, changes and alterations in personnel have also come in abundance at nearly every position on both sides of the ball since Ron Rivera’s arrival. While a shuffle up top often coincides with a few years of mediocrity, Washington has paid its dues—and then some—in the basement of the conference for nearly 20 seasons.
Fact is, Washington is an entirely different animal entering 2021, and it’s time we begin to pay attention.
Although the carousel under center has continued spinning on its well-oiled axis for the burgundy and gold, they enter training camp set to give the starting nod to journeyman signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’ll be tasked with leading an exciting arsenal of young offensive talent in Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, and offseason addition Curtis Samuel, an attribute to the development and acquisition of talent Washington has added in just the last couple of campaigns.
Although his story is often classified as a folly overshadowed by his extravagant play and unique image, Fitzpatrick has never led an offensive unit tasked with just keeping things close. Washington’s success hinges upon its ability to dominate on defense, rather than placing the burden on the 38-year-old’s shoulders to catch lightning in a bottle on a weekly basis. Many believe Washington, again, won’t have a true answer under center, but this isn’t Rex Grossman vs. John Beck or Kirk Cousins vs Colt McCoy. Fitzpatrick looks to be QB1, but what about late-season hero Taylor Heinicke? Kyle Allen? While a potential competition in camp makes for great journalism, I say otherwise, in that Washington, for the first time in a long while, has a slew of options to line up under center that can indeed get the job done and lead Washington to their second consecutive division title.
The fact remains that if Washington is able to enjoy a tick above-average play from the quarterback position, something they’ve been famished of in recent seasons, the ceiling for a group highlighting one of the truly elite defenses in all of football will continue to rise. A tough schedule doesn’t offer them much favors, as they’ll line up toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert in just the first half of the season. However, if Washington is able to take care of the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and New York Giants, all games included in their early-season gauntlet, while staying competitive against the league’s elite, they’ll navigate their way through tough waters still in contention—we’ve seen the heroics Fitzpatrick has been able to summon over his career, it’s no secret.
Washington is currently listed below the mangled Falcons, identity-searching Chicago Bears, and quarterback-less Saints as +2800 to win the conference—it’s a bet I wouldn’t mind throwing some cash on considering the fact if Tampa Bay were to succumb to unforeseen circumstances and Rodgers were to depart Green Bay, Washington could be competing for their first NFC title since 1991 if all goes right.
It’s time to turn our attention to the group in the nation’s capital. The days of the burgundy and gold coinciding with the NFC East’s cellar have surely become a thing of the past as we raise our eyes toward the future under Rivera. Built upon a foundation of character and youthful, hungry talent, the ceiling and projected success of a unit littered with many of the league’s top budding stars is uncapped, a trend not of usual circumstance as we approach the meat of the offseason. Rivera has high hopes for his group, and if all things mesh, a spot in the conference’s final four will surely announce the revival of a once-storied, illustrious franchise.