ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Football Team signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to start at quarterback, but coach Ron Rivera said that description only extends to training camp. Once there, Rivera wants to make sure Fitzpatrick earns the job — and that might mean beating out a rookie.
“There will be a competition,” Rivera said Thursday.
Last summer, Rivera said it was a mistake to not hold a true quarterback competition, giving the job to Dwayne Haskins in part because there were no preseason games and the team wanted to get him as prepared as possible to open the season. After four games, Rivera benched Haskins, and the team cut him with one game remaining in the season.
Rivera said he doesn’t want to repeat the lack of a competition, though Fitzpatrick, entering his 17th season, has a much longer track record to help make any decision — and make him tougher to unseat. As of now, the only two legitimate challengers for the starting job are Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke.
“This time, I know who we have as the starter, but he’s going to compete with everybody else,” said Rivera, talking for the first time about Fitzpatrick’s signing. “I want to play the guy that’s going to give us the best opportunity to win, the best opportunity to grow and develop as a football team.”
It’s also still possible that one of Fitzpatrick’s competitors will be a rookie selected later this month. Though Rivera played down the need to draft a quarterback, sources have consistently said since the Fitzpatrick signing that Washington would like to draft a quarterback. It wants to have a young, talented passer to groom — and it’s possible the team won’t take one with the 19th pick but perhaps in the second or third round, according to a source.
“Picking where we’re picking, there are a lot of things that can happen,” Rivera said. “We have targets, we have ideas, we have guys that we like, but that always changes just because of the fact that everybody has a choice. You just never know what’s going to happen at that point.”
However, Rivera said there is no pressure to take one now. Washington could opt to bypass a quarterback, focusing more on building the roster, and try again next offseason.
In 2011, Rivera’s first draft pick in Carolina was quarterback Cam Newton, taken with the top choice. But, Rivera said, it took four years to surround him with the necessary talent. That also happened to be the year Carolina went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl. Rivera said they might have to take a different approach in Washington.
“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,” he said.
Washington attempted to trade for Matthew Stafford and explored other quarterbacks, but Fitzpatrick was always on its mind; in his 20 starts with Miami, he threw a combined 33 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. Washington likes how his experience will help younger players on offense develop.
“There are a lot of positive things about having this type of guy around,” Rivera said. “When I was in Carolina at one time and we had to compete against him, you always sat there and go, ‘Gosh, this guy — there’s something about this guy.’ It’s going to be intriguing for us to see exactly how it unfolds and how it fits with us.”