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'I'm Super Excited': Players React To Washington's Free Agent Signings

(Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
(Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Taylor Heinicke was watching film on the Miami Dolphins with Alex Smith during the regular season when 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick flashed on the screen.

Heinicke, 28, has only played in nine games, so hasn't had much of a chance to play against the journeyman signal-caller. Seeing as Smith was drafted in the same year as Fitzpatrick, he had to ask, "Hey, do you know Fitzy?"

"Oh yeah, he's awesome," Heinicke remembers Smith saying. "A great guy."

Flash forward about three months, and Heinicke will soon get the chance to know Fitzpatrick himself. Fitzpatrick headlines the Washington Football Team’s 2021 free agency class that features wideout Curtis Samuel and cornerback William Jackson III, both of whom were some of the top players available at their respective positions. The signings have drawn heaps of praise from analysts, and their new teammates are just as excited to see how they can help build on Washington's success last season.

"We've put together some great pieces, and we have a great defense," Heinicke told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "So again, I think we're all excited for this year."

Fitzpatrick, who joins his ninth NFL team, will compete to be Washington's starting quarterback next season. He feels as if he is playing the best football of his career in his late 30s, and the numbers back that up. He has the 10th-most passing yards (34,977) and touchdowns (223) among active quarterbacks, and he is also the fourth-highest graded quarterback on throws outside of his first read since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.

Fitzpatrick is known for his aggressive style and ability to pull off some truly spectacular plays, one of the most popular being a completed pass with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders despite a player pulling on his facemask. Moments like that are what make running back Antonio Gibson thrilled to have Fitzpatrick on Washington's roster.

"He couldn't even see and he completed it," Gibson said. "I was like, 'Man, that man can ball.' So when they said we were picking him up, I was like, 'I'm ready for this.'"

Heinicke is also slated to be involved in the quarterback competition after his efforts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs The opportunity to go up against an experienced player like Fitzpatrick is "going to be fun," Heinicke said.

"It's going to be a fun battle, hopefully we're going to help each other. I'm looking forward to picking his brain, getting better as a quarterback in that way, and whatever unfolds, unfolds."

Heinicke and Fitzpatrick will have a new receiver to target this year in Samuel, who Heinicke knows from their time together with the Carolina Panthers. Samuel was primarily used as a gadget piece in the Panthers' offense as a receiver and running back, and he was used to great effect with nearly 2,600 total yards and 19 touchdowns in four seasons.

"The dude's fast and he's a playmaker. In the year I was there, the dude runs by everyone he's going against," Heinicke said. "You like the matchup versus anybody with him."

Tight end Logan Thomas, who joined the team via free agency himself last year and finished second on the team with 670 receiving yards and six touchdowns, said the addition of Samuel was "one of those pieces we really needed going into this year to help open things up."

"I think there's going to be a lot of touches for everybody on this offense," Thomas said. "With those pieces that we have, it's going to be real easy for us to get moving and score more points."

Samuel's experience with offensive coordinator Scott Turner, who served as the Panthers' play-caller for the final four games of the 2019 season, and Washington's scheme made the team an ideal landing spot. He is already familiar with head coach Ron Rivera’s coaching style and with how Turner intends to use him. To him, signing with Washington was "the perfect situation."

"Wherever my coaches put me on the field, whether it's blocking, receiving, whatever it is on the field, my job is to make things happen," Samuel told Donaldson. "So just being able to be a team player and get the offense going."

On the defensive side of the ball, Washington replaced the loss of Ronald Darby with Jackson, who spent the past five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson only has three career interceptions but makes up for that with 41 passes defensed since 2017. Because of that, PFF ranked Jackson as the top corner available this offseason.

With one of Jackson's strengths being in man coverage, he should be able to help Washington's defense avoid allowing big plays, which was an issue at times last season. Jackson is set to be the starting corner opposite of Kendall Fuller, and his new teammates are anxious to see what he'll add to the defense.

"I think we've got two really good guys there," Thomas said. "I saw an interview with him earlier saying he's going to come in and compete and he's going to bring a little swagger and that's what the defense is. I'm excited to see how he plays."

Based on the moves Washington made in the past week, it is clear to Jackson that the team wants to win. He said there were several teams that expressed interest in him, but Washington was at the top because it made the most sense to him and was the best fit, especially since he gets to play alongside Fuller.

"He actually reached out to me when I first signed. He sounded very excited," Jackson said. "I was excited just to get that warm welcome in. He's been on the other side of me, so I have a lot of respect for him for reaching out. He didn't have to, but that just shows you the culture they're creating around here."

Thomas said Washington has one goal in mind -- the Super Bowl -- and the first step to making that a reality is to make the playoffs. Last year, Rivera brought in several free agents who played critical roles in improving the roster, which in turn helped the team increase its win total from three to seven.

It seems Washington is taking the right steps to repeat that effort in 2021.

"I'm super excited about the guys we added," Thomas said. "They're all high class individuals, high class players. If you bring people who are good people into this environment that we already have...we're just going to succeed even more."

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