Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera preached the same message throughout the offseason. They want to find a quarterback of the future; they also want to make sure that guy is surrounded by talent. That means not mortgaging the future to land one.
There's one that starts to slide a little in the first round that they like. In that situation, a source said, Washington would be willing to trade up to land one -- even going into the top 10. Of course, the team would also be willing to trade up for several other players at different positions, such as tackle and linebacker.
But a lot of mystery remains -- how high they would be willing to move up or even for whom -- in part because, picking at No. 19 overall in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App), a lot can happen. There's a chance North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance would be the target. If Florida tight end Kyle Pitts does the unthinkable and slides, a number of teams, including Washington, would pursue a deal.
"I can't tell you how things are going to unfold once we get into the draft. We're going to react to what's going to happen in front of us," Rivera said this month. "We have targets, we have ideas, we have guys that we like, but that always changes just because ... you just never know what's going to happen at that point."
If Washington traded into the top 10, it would run somewhat counter to its offseason message of developing the roster before aggressively seeking a quarterback. However, it did try to trade a first- and third-round pick to the Detroit Lions for QB Matthew Stafford this offseason. A young passer will need more help around him to succeed.
"If any of those three quarterbacks if drafted No. 3 [they] are all being over-drafted," ESPN SEC analyst Greg McElroy said. "There are enough question marks with each of the three to have a few concerns."
"I think they all have a chance to be good NFL starters," said former NFL general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum of the five passers expected to go in the top 10.
If Washington pulls off a trade up for a QB and the high picks surrendered are in the future, it could still build the roster with its second-round pick and two third-round choices this spring. It already added receivers Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries via free agency. The San Francisco 49ers moved from No. 12 to No. 3 in this draft by trading three future picks to the Miami Dolphins. If Washington keeps improving, the future first-round picks it would be trading would be in the 20s.
Three future picks is still a lot of capital for a team wanting to build a sustainable winning situation, as Rivera has often said. There are quarterbacks they like after the first round, including Stanford's Davis Mills and Florida's Kyle Trask. Both are options on the second day of the draft. Taking one of those quarterbacks in the second round would enable Washington to also find help at other areas of need -- left tackle, tight end and linebacker.
Rivera has made it clear he does not feel pressure to land the quarterback of the future this spring. With Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke on the roster, the belief is they can receive good enough quarterback play to make the playoffs with additional help around them. And they can keep building.
"If you put all the other pieces into place and now you start going forward, when that guy does show up, when that guy is in the right position, you can grab him," Rivera said.
Trading into the top 10 for a quarterback -- or any player -- is risky.
From 2000-20, there were seven trades involving teams that moved into the top 10 and selected a quarterback. Of those seven quarterbacks, only two remain with their original team: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City) and Josh Allen (Buffalo). One is out of the league (Mark Sanchez) while Blaine Gabbert and Josh Rosen are on their fifth and fourth franchises, respectively. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the top two picks in 2016, were both traded this offseason -- though each had a level of success with his original team.
Still, teams have been more willing to trade up in part because of the slotting system for rookies. In the past, when teams had to give up draft capital plus pay a premium amount of money, the stakes for failing were even higher.
But, as one NFL executive said, forcing the issue is "what desperate teams do if you don't have one and feel you need one. Every year you can talk yourself into every quarterback."
During that same stretch (2000-20), 11 teams traded into the top 10 for non-quarterbacks. Of those 11 players, only two made at least one Pro Bowl (Washington tackle Chris Samuels and Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones).
The rest barely made an impact with their drafted team; defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis was a starter for New Orleans on its Super Bowl team during the 2009 season and receiver Tavon Austin caught 194 passes for the Rams over five years. Pittsburgh linebacker Devin Bush, the No. 10 pick in 2019, had a strong rookie season but tore his ACL after five games in 2020. Otherwise, these trades resulted in little productivity.
"That's why it's an inexact science," Tannenbaum said.
It's equally possible Washington trades up in the first round, but perhaps not into the top 10 and for another position. In that case, it would likely grab a quarterback in the second round. That's why Mills and Trask will stay on Washington's radar. Waiting another year is another possibility, if these passers aren't available.
"I've seen a lot of teams that have had things in place then drafted their quarterback next year," Rivera said. "This could be one of those situations where we put all the other pieces in place and then a year or two from now the right guy is there and we can make that move."