Washington QB search: From Deshaun Watson to Alex Smith, 'nothing is off the table'

The Washington Football Team's quest for a quarterback did not end with a failed attempt to land Matthew Stafford. That pursuit could last for a few months -- and then some.

Washington offered its first- and a third-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft to the Detroit Lions for Stafford, but lost out to the Los Angeles Rams. One source said Washington offered no players. The deal shows Washington will be aggressive if there's a quarterback it likes; but it won't go overboard.

"We've got to make sure we find the right one," Washington coach Ron Rivera said. "Is it imperative to find the right guy now? No, not necessarily."

Washington might prefer a mobile quarterback, but it's not a prerequisite.

"One of the beauties of what we do offensively is we're not stuck on one particular style of play for our quarterback," Rivera said. "We're stuck on the right kind of person."

As Washington searches for that person -- one who would represent an upgrade over its current group of Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke -- here's a look at scenarios that could play out this offseason:

Run it back with Alex

Rivera said he has talked with Smith, and bringing the veteran back as the starter remains a possibility because there's a solid chance Smith wants to keep playing. If Washington can't find an upgrade over Smith and is confident he can hold up over a 16-game season, it will stick with him. The team would build up other areas of the offense -- the line and wide receiver -- and possibly draft a quarterback to develop, then aggressively pursue another quarterback in 2022.

Washington believes the trio of Smith, Allen and Heinicke can deliver nine or 10 wins with upgrades elsewhere on offense and if the defense continues to progress. Washington, which also has quarterback Steven Montez under contract, believes if Smith had started all season in 2020, it could have possibly won 10 games.

"We have four guys and right now those are the four guys we're looking at, but also exploring options," Rivera said. "We're in a tough situation because it's so early in the offseason."


Houston's Deshaun Watson is the ultimate prize for any team and would be for Washington. Of course, Houston has maintained it won't trade Watson. If the Texans want to test Watson's resolve, they could wait until next offseason -- and still get a haul.

Washington has the No. 19 pick this year, but even if it packaged multiple first-round selections it would have to sweeten the pot to entice the Texans. Washington's executive vice president of player personnel, Marty Hurney, said they don't want to mortgage the future. Rivera agrees.

"I like trades, but I don't like coming away from a trade feeling it was one-sided," Rivera said. "If we had dove into what happened with the Detroit trade [the Rams sent Detroit their third-round pick in 2021, first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 and QB Jared Goff], I don't know how I would have felt about it. I'm ambivalent to it. But I don't think that's something I would want to do. If you get what you want, but you don't have what you need, then you create problems. If you can't protect the quarterback, or if you don't have playmakers around him, then what's the good of having that guy?

"We're still building our roster. We have to be very careful with the decisions we make."

Atlanta does not appear likely to trade Matt Ryan. The New York Jets' Sam Darnold would be an option if the Jets want to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, though that is far from a certainty. Multiple NFL coaches believe Darnold can be a successful NFL quarterback, with one saying "I'd get him right now."

Said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. of Darnold: "He hasn't been a train wreck; he's played pretty well at times and had no help. He's a good kid; he's motivated."

The Las Vegas Raiders have two quarterbacks -- Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota -- who will draw interest. It's hard to imagine them trading Carr, though one source said the expectation is if Watson is indeed available, he could see the Raiders aggressively pursuing. Other reports have echoed that thinking. Keep this in mind: Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had a strong relationship with Carr during his three seasons as the Raiders' coach.

Also, the Raiders are at least $10 million over the salary cap. Mariota carries an $11.35 million cap hit, quite expensive for a backup (and about half of Carr's number, which is low for a starter of his caliber). But Mariota's injury history could scare teams and, one source said, he would be someone you bring in to compete for a job rather than be the unquestioned starter.

It's also hard to see San Francisco moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo unless it gets Watson.

Free agency

The only surefire starter who might be available would be Dak Prescott, and it's difficult to imagine Dallas letting him escape. After that, there would be a number of temporary solutions who could provide competition. If it went this route, Washington could move on from Smith, saving $13.6 million in cap space.

Among the pending free agents are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton.

One NFL coach said he would add Jacoby Brissett's name, too, because his arm strength could help open up offensive coordinator Scott Turner's offense in Washington -- if he won the job. Another league source said Dalton can be efficient and has proven that, with a good defense, he can win double-digit games. Cam Newton will be free, but Rivera had a chance to sign his former Panthers player last offseason and declined.

Though none of them represents the sort of quarterback Washington wants long-term, Winston offers the best hope because of his age (27) and past production (5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns -- and 30 interceptions -- in 2019). However, New Orleans coach Sean Payton told the NFL Network the Saints want him back.


Kiper said he thinks five quarterbacks will be drafted by the time Washington picks at No. 19. And if any top QBs remain, it's not a certainty Washington would pick one. It's just as likely -- or perhaps more likely -- it would select an offensive tackle, a wide receiver or trade the pick for more draft assets. That could bring Washington future draft capital that could help it acquire a quarterback in 2022.

The problem with drafting a QB in the middle rounds: few develop into future starters. Kiper said no quarterback in the middle rounds even projects as the same level of prospect as Kirk Cousins was when Washington drafted him in the fourth round in 2012.

Washington could always trade up if a QB starts to fall; they love mobility and Ohio State's Justin Fields has it, plus he has the makeup they like. But at what cost? North Dakota State's Trey Lance is also mobile, but he's considered far more raw than the others.

All of it underscores why finding a quarterback could be a long process.

"Nothing," Rivera said, "is off the table."