After months of speculation that the Washington Football Team might draft a quarterback — that it might even trade up to draft a quarterback — it didn’t select one at all. Not in the first round. Not in the second round. Not in any round.
Washington went into the NFL draft with 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick as its presumptive starter and Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen as likely backups, and it came out of it the same way.
“This isn’t just about one piece,” Coach Ron Rivera said Friday after Washington wrapped up Day 2 of the draft. “We have a chance to put pieces into place, and we felt that was a better direction — at least, I felt that’s a better direction for us right now.”
And Washington found more pieces than it expected.
After making a trade to land two extra picks in the sixth round, Washington came away with 10 drafted rookies and filled many needs, such as linebacker with first-round pick Jamin Davis, and offensive tackle with second-round selection Samuel Cosmi. It added speed (third-round wide receiver Dyami Brown) and versatility (third-round defensive back Benjamin St-Juste); found a possible contributor on special teams (fifth-round safety Darrick Forrest); finally got a long snapper (sixth-rounder Camaron Cheeseman); added to its thin tight end corps (fourth-rounder John Bates); built depth at defensive end (seventh-rounders William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney); and found another productive pass-catcher to join its revamped receiving group (seventh-rounder Dax Milne).
But it didn’t find a quarterback. Washington didn’t trade up from No. 19 as two of the top five quarterbacks slid down the board. (Justin Fields went to the Chicago Bears after they moved up to No. 11, and Mac Jones was selected by the New England Patriots at No. 15.) And instead of taking one of the top-rated (and available at the time) quarterbacks on Day 2, Washington went with Cosmi with the hope that he can fill a void at left tackle that has been present since Trent Williams held out in 2019.
“We tried to take guys that fit positions of need but that also were guys that were graded well when we were on the clock,” General Manager Martin Mayhew said Friday. “That’s how we’re kind of approaching the whole thing, and we feel like the quarterbacks we have are good football players. There are other good football players out there who play the quarterback position, but we’re going to look at everything at a holistic level at every opportunity.”
Rivera and Mayhew reiterated their belief that Fitzpatrick will lead an improved offense, and they emphasized their confidence in the quarterbacks room as a whole. It’s possible that Heinicke or Allen develops into a future starter. The former re-signed on a two-year deal, and the latter, who made four starts before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, is back on a one-year contract. But Washington has stressed patience, saying it plans to build around the position first, then find its guy.
“I went through it the other way (during) my first stint as a head coach in Carolina,” Rivera said. “We drafted the guy of the future for us in the first round. He was, lo and behold, the immediate future. ... At that point, we had not put all the other pieces around Cam Newton. ... So I’ve always thought if you can do it the other way where you put all the other pieces around and then go out and get your quarterback, that might be a pretty good situation, too.”
Since Rivera took over the team’s football operations in 2020, he has stressed culture and fit, and he has modeled Washington’s rebuild after the Buffalo Bills’ turnaround under General Manager Brandon Beane and Coach Sean McDermott. The Bills found their potential franchise quarterback in Year 2 when they traded up to draft Josh Allen, but Washington isn’t rushing the process.
Rivera said his focus remains on “the now” with Fitzpatrick, who signed a one-year deal in March. But his eyes are also squarely on the future as he builds up everything around the quarterback spot.
“There’s a lot of positives that are going to come out of free agency and the draft and the development of this football team, I believe,” he said.
After the draft, Mayhew reminded that it’s only May and that the roster will be tweaked and tweaked some more before games begin in September. But franchise quarterbacks aren’t cut when initial 53-man rosters are formed, and they’re rarely found in the pool of undrafted free agents.
Washington’s biggest question of the offseason wasn’t answered at the draft, and it may not be answered for some time. But its front office doesn’t seem worried.
“We feel good right now,” Mayhew said. “... We’ll find out in a year or two, but we know we got the right kind of people here. We looked for guys that liked the process, like to work, want to be great football players and guys that love playing football — and all these guys fit that criteria. They all, we believe, have the opportunity to reach their potential in this league, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make that happen.”