If only Washington could’ve seen its quarterback calamity coming. In early March when the Commanders struck a deal with the Colts to acquire Carson Wentz to be its next starting QB, it was correctly seen as kicking the can down the road. It was even more obvious when the season opener rolled around in September. In the franchise’s everlasting battle to find stability behind center, the three rostered signal callers were headlined Wentz, who was coming to the nation’s capital (well, Landover, Maryland) for likely his final opportunity to make it in the NFL. And the odds of him staying healthy and improving with an average wide receiving corps and young offensive line were slim to horrendous.
Backing up the inevitable letdown was Taylor Heinicke, who has looked like both Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf on back-to-back plays, but more so looked like the one who never played for the Colts. Then there’s Sam Howell, who was a rookie out of North Carolina. He’s the only quarterback on the roster that has a chance to be the team’s starter moving forward, entering his sophomore NFL season. Beyond conventional wisdom, it’s been reported that Commanders’ offensive coordinator candidates are being told that Howell will likely be the team’s starting quarterback next season.
Wentz wasn’t available to reporters earlier this week at the team’s goodbye media session sometime in the vicinity of when players hand in their gear. His message on Instagram to end the season reads as a farewell. And it’s really similar to his tone when he posted an end-of-season message on the way out from Indianapolis. Wentz is far from dumb. He knows how he blew the Commanders’ chances of making the playoffs with how he played against Cleveland in Week 17. If he leads Washington to a win, it makes the playoffs. Instead, it’s the only NFC East team left out. It’s hard to do worse than last place in your division.
To take that a step further, I’d be shocked if Heinicke, or Wentz, are on the roster come the beginning of the 2023 season. Free agency, trades, and the NFL Draft, alongside whoever replaces Scott Turner running the offense, contains too many lucrative variables for Washington to ignore, even if that’s late-round draft picks. It’d be better for Washington for a clean break. Even as a backup, neither provides enough value to the franchise to occupy one of the valued spots under center.
The Commanders have enough defensive pieces that if they wanted to trade up to get one of the two quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft with the best shot of being a long-term starter, they could do so. The price tag to move into a position to draft Bryce Young or CJ Stroud will be high and it could be easily argued that money and resources should be spent elsewhere. Yet, how do you win in the NFL without an elite quarterback? Look into free agency. Who’ll be available that looks more promising long-term than either one of them? Unless you gut the franchise to have enough money to go after Lamar Jackson, I don’t see it. Plus, you’d think if Jackson leaves Baltimore, he’d no longer want to play home games in Maryland.
So a low-risk signing of Andy Dalton, Baker Mayfield, or Jared Goff? Especially if the smoke of Howell having the inside track to starting for the Commanders turns into fire, having someone with a different veteran experience than what he’s used to will help him grow the most. Playing in front of Heinicke and Wentz would spurn his sophomore growth. And taking a risk on a quarterback available in the third or fourth round would be ideal to round out the group.
With a solid quarterback, the Commanders were easily a playoff team this year. Flipping both results against the Giants and the close loss to the Vikings is the least that would’ve been accomplished with a great decision-maker under center. And there’s only one of those in Washington right now. And that’s Howell. Reading too much into one Week 18 start against a lot of the Cowboys’ backups isn’t what this is. There’s too much evidence that Heinicke and Wentz aren’t the answer to deny. Any more efforts given to them would be further kicking the can down the road.