Washington Football Team: The case for starting Taylor Heinicke Week 1

Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

As the seasons change and spring fades to summer, Washington Football Team fans are looking at a surprisingly drama-free offseason.

Fresh off an impressive 2020 season that ended with a competitive playoff loss, Washington appears to be in a good place to repeat as NFC East champions. In a division that experienced a down year in 2020, Washington appears to have made enough moves to at least remain in the mix come fall.

But Washington Football Team fans still have one thing to pick apart until training camp opens later this summer: Who will be under center when the Los Angeles Chargers come to town on Sept. 12?

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In head coach Ron Rivera’s first training camp as the head man in Washington, he famously gave then-starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins the entirety of the starting reps.

The move later backfired, with Haskins being benched and later released for poor performance and issues off the field. In a June 10 ESPN story, Rivera admitted that his “approach was wrong” in 2020.

“I should have made as big a competition as possible, and that’s on me,” Rivera told ESPN.

To remedy this, Rivera has committed to having an open competition this year. While the team has brought in veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, in theory, he is not guaranteed the QB1 spot when camp breaks at the end of the summer.

Now to be clear: Fitzpatrick was brought in for a reason. Despite entering his age-38 season, he has proven to be a capable quarterback that is not afraid to take risks on the field.

While those risks have earned him dueling “FitzMagic” and “FitzTragic” monikers, on paper he is the best option in Washington’s quarterback room. It is most likely that Fitzpatrick will leave camp as the top quarterback and at least open the season as the starter.

Why Taylor Heinicke could start Week 1 for the Washington Football Team

The prospect of an open camp leaves the door open for an intriguing option aside from Fitzpatrick. Former Old Dominion University star Taylor Heinicke has reportedly dazzled in team activities this summer, presenting the greatest possible challenge to Fitzpatrick entering camp.

Heinicke is coming into camp with momentum on his side. He engineered a thrilling playoff performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the Wild Card round in January, throwing for 306 yards and a touchdown in a 31-23 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

The eight-point margin the Washington Football Team lost by was the closest any team came to beating Tampa Bay during the 2020 postseason.

The persistent highlight from that game is Heinicke’s mad touchdown scramble late in the third quarter that saw Heinicke dive for the pylon, putting himself on the line to bring the score within two. The play earned Heinicke a heap of praise and even led to merchandise depicting Heinicke diving for the pylon.

There are reasons Heinicke has taken this long to enter a starting quarterback conversation. He has had limited opportunity to showcase his skills, and when he has it has often ended in injury. Both of his career NFL starts saw Heinicke exit the game due to injury.

Aware of that reality, Heinicke has put in work to correct that. The Virginian-Pilot reported that Heinicke has gained 15 pounds of what the quarterback calls “good weight” this offseason to boost his durability.

Additionally, Heinicke finally has stability in his NFL career, one thing he has lacked throughout his professional career. After going undrafted in 2015, the Monarch signed with the Minnesota Vikings. His tenure with the team ended after he was cut in September 2017, registering zero regular-season snaps.

His career then became a roller coaster. The New England Patriots signed Heinicke to the practice squad in 2017, cutting him less than three weeks later. His NFL career then took him to Houston, where he played his first NFL game.

Heinicke would play with Rivera and the Carolina Panthers in 2018, appearing in six games and recording his first NFL start in a late-season loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

After being cut shortly before the 2019 season, Heinicke spent over a year out of football. He returned to ODU to take online classes and finish his degree before an injury-depleted Washington team signed him in December.

With a two-year contract in his back pocket, Heinicke has the chance to prove his dazzling late-season play was more than a blip. While already entering his age-28 season, Heinicke represents a potential quarterback of the future for Washington.

With Fitzpatrick closer to 40 than 30, the Washington Football Team front office would not be able to build around the Harvard alum long term. Heinicke presents a chance for a long-term solution at a position that has proven tumultuous in Washington.

Worst case? Heinicke comes down to earth. Defenses figure Heinicke out and he becomes a solid backup option this season under Fitzpatrick. Best case? Washington has a long-term starter with a Kurt Warner-esque story that fans can rally around.

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Essentially, it comes down to what direction the franchise wants to go in. If the goal is to win immediately, then Fitzpatrick is the guy. If the goal is to evaluate long-term success, what is the harm in putting Heinicke out there? It is up to the front office and Rivera to determine what direction is best come Sept. 12.