ASHBURN, Va. -- It took 17 years with some magic mixed with, well, ugly results. It took nine teams. It took playing what Ryan Fitzpatrick considers the best ball of his career the previous several years. But with the Washington Football Team, the veteran quarterback said he has found himself in an unusual spot.
"This is the best situation I've ever been in or the best situation I've ever gone into as 'the guy,'" Fitzpatrick told the ESPN Daily podcast.
He will report to Washington's training camp in Richmond, Virginia on Tuesday as the starter. Coach Ron Rivera has said there will be a competition for the job with Taylor Heinicke. But Fitzpatrick was signed to start and took the first-team reps in the spring workouts. It would be surprising if Fitzpatrick, who signed a one-year deal in March, didn't open the season as the starter.
Fitzpatrick told ESPN Daily podcast host Pablo Torre that, "I just feel like the way that I'm playing the last four years, the progression of my career ... it doesn't make a whole lot of sense that 17 years in, physically I feel great [and] mentally, emotionally I'm in the right spot. I am set up for success this year and really looking forward to it."
Here's why he can say that:
There is no young quarterback of the future on the roster. While Heinicke excited Washington fans with a strong showing in a 31-23 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season -- he threw for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- at age 28, he is not viewed as the QB of the future. He could develop and possibly challenge Fitzpatrick, but this isn't like Fitzpatrick's past with the Miami Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa or Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston, both top-five picks.
Washington's defense ranked second in yards allowed and fourth in points last season. It will be more challenging this season with a schedule that includes quarterbacks Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott (twice). But Washington's defense certainly has the potential to be among the NFL's best with young pass-rushers such as Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
Fitzpatrick has never had a defense like this as a starter. Since 2008, he has played with one defense that finished in the top 10 in points and yards allowed (2015, when the New York Jets went 10-6 but missed the playoffs). Fitzpatrick told Torre this was the third time he has been signed to be the starter. The other two times: with the Houston Texans in 2014 and Miami in 2019. The Texans' defense ranked 24th in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed in 2013, while Miami's was 27th and 29th, respectively, in 2018.
Washington is the lone playoff team Fitzpatrick has joined, albeit one that went 7-9 in 2020. In 2013, one year before he joined Houston, the Texans went 2-14; they went 6-6 in his starts in 2014. Miami went 7-9 in 2018, the year before signing Fitzpatrick, and had fired the previous staff. The Jets were 4-12 in 2014 before turning it around in 2015, Fitzpatrick's first season as the starter. In fact, Fitzpatrick has joined one team that was coming off a winning season -- he signed with Tampa Bay in 2017 to back up Winston, who led the Bucs to a 9-7 finish the previous season.
Washington can pair improved offensive skill players with that defense. It already had a 1,000-yard wide receiver in Terry McLaurin, then added free agents Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and draft pick Dyami Brown at that position. Second-year running back Antonio Gibson, who transitioned from being mostly a receiver in college, averaged 5.05 yards per carry in his last six games in 2020. He finished with 795 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. The team bolstered its offensive line depth, in part by drafting tackle Sam Cosmi in the second round and signing left tackle Charles Leno Jr.
"If you look at the roster, there are pieces in place and it's a matter of going out there and getting those playmakers the ball," Fitzpatrick said. "The defense, obviously everybody talks about the talent on that side of the ball. It just seems like it has a good feel to it. The vibe, the energy has all been very positive so far.
"I'm really, really excited."
Fitzpatrick also helps the situation because of his recent performance. In the past two seasons combined, covering 24 games played and 20 starts, he ranks seventh in the NFL in total QBR at 71.5. Fitzpatrick reiterated on the ESPN Daily podcast something he has said previously: His one season in Houston changed his career. He played for the Texans in 2014 and threw 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions in 12 starts under coach Bill O'Brien.
"I've had two separate careers," Fitzpatrick said. "One pre-Bill O'Brien and the one post-Bill O'Brien. I've been able to take a lot ... that I've learned and continue to use it on the different stops I've been in and just taking little things each place I've been and knowing who I am as a player, strengths and weaknesses and playing to those strengths."
ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner contributed to this story.