By Pete Baxter
Last night it was reported that legendary journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had agreed to a one-year deal with the Washington Football Team, worth up to $12 million dollars including incentives.
While far from the highest profile quarterback on the free agent market, Fitzpatrick brings 16 years of experience to the table (now with his ninth team) and is expected to jump to the top of the quarterback depth chart over Kyle Allen and Tyler Heinicke.
Will the fan-favorite, but wildly inconsistent Fitzpatrick be a difference maker for this Washington Football Team? Does this move help them stay at the top of the standings in a weak NFC East?
Long story short, yes.
The Washington Football Team won the NFC East at 7-9 last year with a quarterback rotation led by Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith. Smith was mildly effective as a game manager, and led the team on a run, finishing 5-1 as a starter. Over that span, Smith threw just six touchdowns to eight interceptions at 6.6 yards per attempt, at a 66.7% completion rate, with an 85.7 rating.
It clearly was not Alex Smith’s pedestrian passing numbers that put the Football Team at the top of the division last year. It was their defense.
They gave up the second least yards of any defensive unit, were seventh in turnovers forced, and gave up the fourth least points of any squad. Chase Young and company created a championship level defense that kept a moribund offense afloat.
Enter Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick’s play was notably superior to Smith’s in all areas last season. He finished with 13 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. He completed a career-best 68.5% of his passes at 7.8 yards per attempt for a rating of 95.6. Fitzpatrick is also deceptively athletic, rushing for two scores last year.
While he finished with just a 9-11 record as a Dolphins starter over two seasons, it cannot be ignored that that was a surprising level of success for a team that was expected to be one of the worst units ever just two years ago. He expressed his disappointment and desire to start after losing his job to Tua Tagovailoa, and he should get his wish in Washington.
Alex Smith pulled off a 5-1 record with this Football team while playing a pedestrian game with more interceptions than touchdowns. What can a more efficient, more dynamic quarterback do with this same squad?
It also cannot be ignored that, over the course of Fitzpatrick’s long, meandering career, changes in scenery have often brought out the best in the quarterback. His strong play in one year in Houston earned him a contract with the Jets. His career year in his first season with the Jets (in which he set the franchise record for touchdown passes) earned him an extension. Solid play in relief in Tampa Bay earned him a shot to start again in Miami.
Conversely, of course, he has straddled these moments of brilliance with inconsistent, sometimes disastrous play, that has kept him from ever sticking around one team as a franchise quarterback.
This will be the best, most talented squad that Fitzpatrick has fallen into. He is a notable upgrade at quarterback for a team that already made the playoffs this past season. If Fitzpatrick can work his year-one magic in Washington, they are the favorites to win the NFC East.
The New York Giants are still in a state of flux, committed to Daniel Jones despite his chaotic, turnover-prone approach.
The Philadelphia Eagles are just starting a rebuild with a brand-new head coach around unproven Jalen Hurts. Expectations in Philadelphia are extremely low.
The Dallas Cowboys continuously have failed to live up to expectations. Even before Dak Prescott was lost to injury last season, they were just 2-3, and had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Adding new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn should help, but they have a long way to go before they will produce a playoff-level defense.
With a proven head coach in Ron Rivera, a top-ranked defense, and now a solid starting quarterback, the expectation for the Washington Football Team should be a division crown.
Things are looking up in Washington.