Taylor Heinicke

Falcons QB Desmond Ridder To Start In Week 12

When the Falcons return from their Week 11 bye to take on the Saints next Sunday, Desmond Ridder will be under center. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported this morning that Atlanta is turning back to Ridder with the expectation that he will remain the starter for the rest of the season.

Ridder, who started the Falcons’ first eight games of the year, exited the team’s Week 8 loss to the Titans to be evaluated for a concussion. While he quickly cleared the concussion protocol, head coach Arthur Smith said afterwards that he “didn’t think Des was right” and therefore allowed QB2 Taylor Heinicke to finish the game. Smith hoped to convey that Ridder was not kept on the sidelines for performance reasons, though Heinicke was named the Week 9 starter shortly thereafter.

At the time, we heard that the Falcons had not lost faith in Ridder, whom they selected in the third round of the 2022 draft, and were merely looking for a spark. It seems that the plan was always to reassess the situation during the bye week, and that reassessment has led Atlanta back to its second-year passer.

Heinicke suffered a hamstring injury during the club’s loss to the Cardinals last week, which forced Ridder back into the lineup. Rapoport makes it clear, however, that Heinicke’s injury was a low-grade one, so the decision to tap Ridder as the starter moving forward was not made for health reasons.

Although the Falcons are 4-6, they are just one game out of first place in the weak NFC South. And since Smith is in his third year at the helm and has missed the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, his job could be in jeopardy if his club fails to qualify for the postseason in 2023. Even if his seat is not as hot as some recent reports have indicated, he obviously will need to start winning soon to remain in Atlanta for the long haul. The fact that he is handing the keys to Ridder for a Week 12 battle with the division-leading Saints and for the home stretch of the season is something of a testament to his belief in the Cincinnati product.

“Sometimes you need a fresh perspective,” Smith said of Ridder this past week. “That’s what I think helped him. The reset, the refocus and working on things that I thought could help him, he’s done that.”

Ridder has flashed at times in 2023, but he followed up one of his strongest perfomances of the season in a Week 5 win over the Texans with a three-interception showing against the Commanders in Week 6, and he lost three redzone fumbles in the Falcons’ Week 7 win over the Buccaneers. He did play well when pressed into relief duty last week, completing four of six passes for 39 yards and piloting the offense to a touchdown that gave the Falcons a late lead.

For the season, Ridder has completed 65.4% of his passes for six touchdowns against six interceptions (which amounts to a subpar 84.1 quarterback rating, slightly below the mark he posted as a rookie). He has added 32 carries for 150 yards and four rushing scores.

NFL Injury Roundup: Saints, Watson, Heinicke, Thibodeaux

The Saints played much of the second half of their loss to the Vikings today without quarterback Derek Carr after the veteran passer took a nasty-looking hit from Danielle Hunter. It was announced that he was out for the remainder of the game with an injury to his throwing shoulder and that he was being evaluated for a concussion, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Further reports, provided by Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, claimed that while the initial belief is that Carr avoided a major shoulder injury, he will undergo more tests in order to determine the severity. Head coach Dennis Allen told the media that Carr was only held out of the game because of a concussion, per ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, and refused to comment any further on the situation.

In Carr’s absence, former starter Jameis Winston performed admirably. He only completed just over half of his pass attempts for 122 yards and threw two interceptions, but he also threw the team’s two touchdowns in order to bring the Saints within spitting distance of the Vikings. Despite Winston’s seemingly superior effectiveness, Allen assured the media that, when Carr is healthy, there is no quarterback competition.

Lastly, veteran cornerback Marshon Lattimore left the game, as well, with what is believed to be an ankle sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. He will undergo an MRI tomorrow in order to determine the severity of his ankle injury.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the NFL:

  • Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was forced to leave the field at times today during the Browns come-from-behind victory over the division-rival Ravens. He suffered an ankle injury late in the first half of the contest and, though he remained in the game for stretches at a time, he was noticeably limping at times. After the game, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported that Watson was in a walking boot. Watson claimed that while “he doesn’t feel great now…(he’ll) be fine” and should be ready to go next weekend.
  • Yet another quarterback was forced to leave their game today due to injury when the Falcons‘ new starting passer, Taylor Heinicke, was forced to leave early in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. This required Atlanta to return to former starter Desmond Ridder for the remainder of the contest. Ridder was fairly effective, leading the Falcons on a touchdown drive before failing to convert the two-point attempt that would’ve given the team a three-point lead. The team would go on to lose by those two points after Arizona kicked a game-winning field goal. This likely doesn’t change the team’s quarterback situation, if Heinicke is healthy enough to play, but hamstring injuries can be lingering and might open up more opportunities for Ridder.
  • In a blowout loss to Dallas this afternoon, Giants outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux was knocked out of the game with a concussion, per NFL Network’s Jane Slater. Thibodeaux’s absence opened up some playing opportunities for Boogie Basham, who saw an increased role due to injuries last week, as well.

Taylor Heinicke To Remain Falcons’ Starter In Week 10; Team Will Evaluate QB Depth Chart During Bye

The Falcons made a switch at the quarterback spot ahead of their Week 9 game, inserting Taylor Heinicke into the starting lineup. The veteran will remain atop the depth chart for at least one more game, and a more permanent course will be charted during the team’s bye week.

Head coach Arthur Smith confirmed, via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, that Heinicke’s performance against the Vikings was enough to earn him another start. The latter took over for Desmond Ridder during the second half of the previous game, a move which Smith initially indicated was not performance-related. However, Heinicke was tapped as the Week 9 starter in an illustration of Ridder’s Year 2 struggles.

Ridder drew praise during his four-game run at the end of last season, and he entered the 2023 campaign as the undisputed No. 1 option. The former third-rounder has not progressed as expected, though, posting a passer rating of 84 and a 6:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Heinicke had an encouraging showing in the second half against the Titans in Week 9, though his follow-up against the Vikings (21-of-38 passing, one touchdown, one interception) left plenty to be desired as well.

Smith made it clear that during Atlanta’s bye week evaluations, one passer will be chosen as the starter moving forward (as opposed to a rotation at the QB spot or an ongoing weekly decision on whom to place atop the depth chart). Electing to go back to Ridder would mark another sign of confidence in the 24-year-old, who has two more years remaining on his rookie contract. Carrying on with Heinicke, signed to a two-year, $14MM deal in March, would on the other hand deal a blow to Ridder’s chances of earning another chance for the starter’s gig in Atlanta.

“That’s kind of where we’re at and everything that’s going on,” Smith said. “That bye will be a good time to assess, and you certainly don’t plan on it being so week-to-week after that. But we need to do everything we can to go get this win out in Arizona. That’s going to be our ultimate focus this week.”

The 4-5 Falcons sit in second in the NFC South despite ranking 25th in the league in points per game (18.4). Their passing attack has plenty of room for improvement with an average of 241 yards per contest through the air, and an uptick in production would help Atlanta’s postseason chances while also, potentially, quieting the criticism Smith has increasingly received this season. It will be interesting to see how Heinicke performs against a Cardinals team which will have Kyler Murray in uniform and how the Falcons choose to proceed after their bye week.

Falcons To Start Taylor Heinicke In Week 9

QB shuffling will not be confined to the AFC West on Wednesday. The Falcons are also shaking up their depth chart, with Arthur Smith indicating Taylor Heinicke will start over Desmond Ridder in Week 9.

The Falcons moved Heinicke into the lineup to start the second half. While Smith said that decision was not performance-related, the free agency addition will still receive the call against the Vikings on Sunday. Rather than Ridder-Kirk Cousins, that matchup will feature Heinicke and fifth-round Minnesota rookie Jaren Hall. Once again, Smith attempted to protect Ridder by emphasizing this switch was “just for this week,” via SI.com’s Albert Breer, pointing to the team revisiting this issue soon after. Dianna Russini of The Athletic (subscription required) added that the Falcons still have a “strong belief” in Ridder and that they are simply hoping for a spark with the switch to Heinicke.

Throughout the offseason, the Falcons placed their bet on Ridder. They did not pursue Lamar Jackson during his franchise-tagged period, despite the team being on the cusp of trading for Deshaun Watson in 2022. Arthur Blank cited an interest in saving money via a rookie-QB contract, and Ridder’s four-game starter sample last season became enough for the Falcons, who proclaimed the 2022 third-rounder the starter back in March. Ridder replaced Marcus Mariota in Week 15 of last season but will return to the bench.

Ridder has submitted uneven work as Atlanta’s starter, as he did during his smaller rookie-year sample. The Cincinnati product was in place during a 4-3 start but has a 6-to-6 TD-INT ratio and is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. QBR slots Ridder 25th. Unlike the Raiders’ Jimmy Garoppolo benching, this might not be the end of the line for Ridder, who is contracted through 2025. But Heinicke will be asked to take over — as he was in both 2021 and ’22 in Washington. After Howell threw for 71 yards and lost a fumble in the first half, Heinicke posted 175 yards and a touchdown pass.

Being called upon to match up with Tom Brady in the 2020 wild-card round, Heinicke surprisingly held his own in that matchup. Washington had signed the former UDFA late in the season. The team then needed Heinicke again in 2021, when Ryan Fitzpatrick went down 16 plays into his Washington stint. Heinicke started 15 games that season and became needed once again after a Carson Wentz hand injury sidelined the Commanders’ handpicked 2022 starter. Ron Rivera stuck with Heinicke for an extended stretch, despite Wentz returning to full strength, and the team rallied back into the wild-card race after a 1-4 start. But Rivera demoted Heinicke once again near the end of last season — first for Wentz and then for Sam Howell. After Howell impressed the team during a Week 18 one-off, Washington cut Wentz and let Heinicke walk in free agency.

An Old Dominion alum, Heinicke ranked 23rd in QBR two years ago, when he threw 20 TD passes and 15 INTs while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. While Heinicke’s completion percentage dropped (to 62.2%), he finished with a 12-6 TD-INT ratio last season and led the Commanders to a 5-3-1 record as a starter. The Falcons gave Heinicke a two-year, $14MM deal in March. Although Jacoby Brissett received more per year, this marked the most money in total a backup QB signed for this offseason. The 30-year-old passer represented insurance, and the Falcons will go to that well early.

Falcons Replace Desmond Ridder With Taylor Heinicke At QB

In the midst of another disappointing offensive output, and after being evaluated for a concussion, Desmond Ridder has seen an interruption to his time as the Falcons’ starting quarterback. Taylor Heinicke has stepped in under center for the second half of Atlanta’s Week 8 contest.

Ridder got the start once again, continuing the QB1 status he has had throughout his second year in Atlanta. The Falcons managed just three points in the first half of their ongoing game against the Titans, however, and Ridder suffered an injury which prompted a concussion evaluation. The 24-year-old has been cleared, but in spite of that the team has turned to Heinicke in search of a spark.

The latter signed a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason after a his three-year spell in Washington, one during which he had an extended run as a starter in 2021. At a minimum, the veteran of 33 games and 25 starts was acquired to provide an experienced insurance option behind Ridder in the event of missed time. Instead, performance issues have prompted a switch for at least the remainder of this week’s contest.

Ridder went 8-for-12 passing for 71 scoreless yards before receiving the hook. On the season, the 2022 third-rounder has put up a similar completion percentage (65.4%) to his rookie campaign, but his six interceptions have marked a regression from the ball security he demonstrated last year. His passer rating has taken a slight step back from his limited action in 2022, despite eclipsing 300 passing yards twice this year.

Expectations were tempered for Ridder and the Falcons’ offense given the uncertainty surrounding Ridder. The Cincinnati product took over for Marcus Mariota for the final four games last year, but questions surrounded his ability to lead an improvement in the passing game. Entering Week 8, Atlanta ranked mid-pack with an average of 236 yards through the air, while remaining strong in the ground game as expected. For now, at least, Heinicke will receive the opportunity to take charge of the offense as the Falcons look to remain atop the NFC South.

Heinicke has a 12-12-1 carer record, having established himself as a high-floor, low-ceiling option at the QB spot. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half today, and how the team approaches Ridder’s status as the starter moving forward.

Falcons Plan To Keep Desmond Ridder As Starting QB

Desmond Ridder supplanted Marcus Mariota as the Falcons’ starting quarterback late last season, and although pronouncements about Week 1 roles in March should not be considered full-fledged endorsements, it is clear the 2022 third-round pick will enter offseason workouts ahead of Taylor Heinicke for the gig.

Arthur Smith said Tuesday, “The plan is to start Desmond.” GM Terry Fontenot had previously communicated this plan to Ridder, who made four starts as a rookie after being last year’s No. 74 overall pick. Arthur Blank stopped short of endorsing the Cincinnati product as the Falcons’ 2023 starter in February, but the team has taken a step forward here in the weeks since.

The Falcons subsequently signed Heinicke to a deal that topped the other backup QBs’ money — for average annual value — but the ex-Washington starter’s two-year, $14MM deal will not lead to an open competition with Ridder this offseason.

We’re very excited to have Taylor in the room, a guy with experience who has won games in this league,” Smith said, via AtlantaFalcons.com’s Scott Bair. “The chemistry in the quarterback room is important, as we expect Desmond to take the next step. But we also have a guy who can go in and win you football games and be ready to play.”

Heinicke has 25 regular-season starts under his belt, along with a playoff outing two years ago. He completed 64% of his passes with Washington, at 7.0 per toss, and went 12-12-1 as the team’s starter. The Commanders gave Carson Wentz his job back in December but installed Sam Howell as their starter for Week 18. The team expressed interest in re-signing Heinicke, but he said he chose a better Falcons offer, Josh Kendall of The Athletic tweets. Atlanta gave Heinicke $6.32MM fully guaranteed. Ridder completed 64% of his throws as well — at just 6.2 yards per attempt — but obviously does not have an extensive NFL sample size to judge.

Smith’s declaration affects Heinicke at present, and the former starter has said he is OK being Atlanta’s backup (Twitter link via Kendall). the Falcons have been connected to both Lamar Jackson and a potential first-round investment at the position. The team will meet with Florida’s Anthony Richardson soon and likely will host other top-flight QB prospects during the pre-draft process. The Falcons have not drafted a quarterback in the first or second rounds since their Matt Ryan pick (No. 3 overall) in 2008. They have only drafted two (Ridder and 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree) since the Ryan pick.

As Fontenot and Smith go into Year 3 in charge, signing off on a Ridder-Heinicke QB depth chart when Jackson is available will likely not go over well with some Falcons fans. But the Falcons have not been connected to the disgruntled Ravens superstar, who is aiming for either a fully guaranteed contract or a deal that enters the Deshaun Watson guarantee neighborhood ($230MM). The Falcons were believed to have finished second for Watson last year; the guarantee led to Blank’s team standing down.

Being prepared to trade three first-round picks and change for Watson and then passing on Jackson altogether would certainly make for an interesting path, but as of Tuesday, that is the organization’s plan. Arriving just after the Browns pried Watson from the Falcons’ grasp, Ridder is now the NFC South team’s centerpiece player.

Falcons To Sign QB Taylor Heinicke

Mar 18: We now have specifics on the deal, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. Heinicke’s new contract is, specifically, a two-year, $14MM deal with $6.32MM guaranteed, including a $4MM signing bonus, his 2023 base salary of $1.32MM, and his 2023 roster bonus of $1MM. He’s due a 2024 roster bonus of $1.32MM on the fifth league day of the 2024 season. He’ll also receive a per game active bonus of $40,000 for a potential season total of $680,000. Lastly, the deal has up to $3MM in playoff and playing time incentives each year that could push the contract to that maximum $20MM value.

Mar 14: The Falcons have been public about their intentions of adding depth at the quarterback position, and they are acting on it. Atlanta has agreed to terms with Taylor Heinicke on a deal, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (on Twitter). His colleague Tom Pelissero tweets that it is a two-year contract worth up to $20MM.

This deal represents a homecoming for the 29-year-old. Heinicke is also making a return to the NFC South, after he spent one season with the Panthers in 2018. That campaign was preceded by a single year in Houston, but he his of course best known for his three years with the Commanders. That span included 24 starts, and has earned him a pact carrying significant value for what is expected to be a backup role.

Heinicke found himself atop Washington’s depth chart for the 2021 campaign, but the team supplanted him with Carson Wentz this past offseason. The trade which brought in the latter was their latest attempt to find a long-term solution at the position, but things didn’t go according to plan with Wentz from both a health and performance perspective. Heinicke did still see nine starts last year, posting a 5-3-1 record with a passer rating of 89.6.

The Commanders have made it clear that 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell will enter the 2023 season as their starting quarterback, albeit one who will likely have an experienced passer behind him on the depth chart. Heinicke could have continued in his backup role in the nation’s capital, but now he will head to Atlanta, the location of another interesting quarterback situation. Desmond Ridder, the team’s third-round pick last April, took on the starting role late in the regular season in place of veteran Marcus Mariota, who like Wentz, has since been released.

When speaking about Ridder last month, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and head coach Arthur Smith both praised his performance across his four games of action. Notably, they declined to endorse him as the starter moving forward, adding that competition would be brought in. Signing Heinicke will accomplish that goal, and give the team a consistent veteran option if Ridder fails to take a step forward in his second season.

The Falcons were long named as a potential Lamar Jackson suitor, either through an offer sheet or a tag-and-trade. Not long after it became known that the Ravens were placing the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former MVP, however, Atlanta was reported to be one of several teams which will not be pursuing him. That will leave them with Ridder, and now Heinicke, occupying the top two spots on their QB depth chart.

Commanders To Sign QB Jacoby Brissett

Although the Commanders have continued to talk up Sam Howell as a live option to start in 2023, they will bring in veteran competition. Jacoby Brissett is expected to sign with Washington, Dianna Russini of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter).

This will be Brissett’s fourth stop over the past four seasons. The two-time Andrew Luck replacement starter spent 2020 with the Colts, 2021 with the Dolphins and 2022 with the Browns. With Howell having played in one NFL game, Brissett stands to have a good opportunity to make starts in 2023.

Brissett, 30, is signing another one-year deal, per the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala (on Twitter). He will earn $8MM guaranteed, with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler adding the contract can max out at $10MM (Twitter link).

The nomadic QB agreed to one-year pacts with both the Dolphins and Browns previously. The Commanders were interested in keeping Taylor Heinicke, per John Keim of ESPN.com, but they had Brissett just below their former backup on their offseason QB hierarchy (Twitter link). Heinicke signed a two-year, $14MM deal with the Falcons, where he will land in a similar situation to Brissett’s.

Brissett outplayed Deshaun Watson during the QBs’ time together on Cleveland’s roster. Bouncing back after not showing much in Miami, Brissett finished his 11-game season eighth in QBR. He threw 12 touchdown passes, six interceptions and averaged a career-high 7.1 yards per attempt. While the Browns only went 4-7 in Brissett’s starts, he attracted interest during his stay as Watson’s suspension gatekeeper. Over the course of his career, Brissett has made 48 starts.

Heinicke, Brissett and Baker Mayfield will step into stopgap arrangements. Considering Howell’s low draft pedigree (Round 5) and inexperience, Brissett might have stepped into the best situation of the three. The Commanders hired longtime Andy Reid right-hand man Eric Bieniemy as OC and return an intriguing wide receiver setup — Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel — to go along with a Brian RobinsonAntonio Gibson backfield tandem.

After aggressively pursuing big-name quarterbacks in 2022, the Commanders have only been connected to Howell and a low-cost veteran. A Brissett-Howell competition may be how Washington proceeds this year. The Commanders hold the No. 16 overall pick in the draft; it is a good bet the top four QB prospects will be off the board by then. Ron Rivera‘s comments have also not pointed to the team considering another rookie addition.

Commanders Committed To Sam Howell As QB1

Plenty can change over the next few months, but at the moment, the Commanders are preparing as if Sam Howell will be their starting quarterback in 2023. Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports writes that the Commanders are telling potential offensive coordinator candidates that Howell is expected to be the team’s QB1 when they open camp.

[RELATED: Commanders Contact Jim Caldwell About OC Job]

While the Commanders seem to be making it clear that they won’t be making a big splash at the position (either via free agency, trade, or with the No. 16 in the draft), ESPN’s John Keim cautions (on Twitter) that Howell still has to win the job. As Keim notes, “other options will be discussed” for the position, while Ralph Vacchiano of Fox Sports still expects the front office “to really look at QB options this offseason” (Twitter link).

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2022 draft, Howell spent most of his rookie campaign behind Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke. He started the Commanders’ Week 18 win over the Cowboys, completing 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 169 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also added another 35 yards and a touchdown on five carries. As Nicki Jhabvala tweets, the Commanders front office likes the idea of having a starting QB on a rookie contract, and they’re apparently confident enough in what they saw in 2022 to hand Howell the reigns in 2023.

While the writing was on the wall, this report seems to indicate that Wentz will be one-and-done in Washington. The organization has an easy out on his contract that will leave them with no dead cap. Meanwhile, Heinicke has continued to find himself in Ron Rivera‘s dog house, a strong indication that the fan favorite isn’t part of the team’s plans for 2023. Further, Rivera didn’t really give either of the two QBs a ringing endorsement when discussing the position earlier this week.

“It comes back to the one question that’s looming over everybody, and that’s the quarterback position,” Rivera said (via Vacchiano). “I was kind of hoping that we had found a solution. And who knows? We may not. We may have.”

Speaking of the team’s offensive coordinator search, Jhabvala tweets that the organization is “getting a list together” of potential candidates to replace Scott Turner. Pat Shurmur is the latest addition to the grouping, with Jhabvala pointing out the coach’s ability to develop young QBs. The former Giants and Browns head coach most previously served as the Broncos offensive coordinator during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Commanders QBs coach Ken Zampese was previously mentioned for a possible promotion to OC, while former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell declined the team’s interview request.

Commanders To Start QB Sam Howell In Week 18

12:35pm: It will actually be Howell who gets the call. The Commanders announced the rookie will make his NFL debut and start against the Cowboys. Considering Wentz’s status and Heinicke near free agency, it certainly makes sense for Washington to see what it has in Howell. The 6-foot-1 signal-caller served as North Carolina’s starter for three seasons.

8:30am: Carson Wentz‘s three-interception showing in Week 17 looks like it will be his final appearance with the Commanders. The team plans to pivot back to Taylor Heinicke for its season finale, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets.

The Commanders made their benching of Heinicke official a week ago, dusting off Wentz ahead of what became a must-win game against the Browns. Wentz struggled but played throughout in a game that eliminated Washington from the playoff race. Heinicke retaking the reins looks to signal the Commanders are again open for business at quarterback.

In addition to Heinicke being reinstated as Washington’s starter, Fowler adds rookie Sam Howell is expected to see action. Washington chose Howell in the fifth round of this year’s draft, and although Wentz’s injury made the North Carolina product Heinicke’s backup for much of this season, the first-year passer has not seen game action. The Commanders will take a look at a player who was not expected to fall to the fifth round.

For Wentz, it looks like he will be on the move for a third consecutive offseason. Both the Colts and Commanders traded for Wentz; each took on his Eagles-constructed contract. It should not be expected another team will do the same this year. Wentz’s $32MM-per-year deal runs through 2024 and calls for a $20MM base salary in 2023. The Commanders would save $26.2MM by releasing Wentz, taking on no dead money in the process.

Given the noise coming out of Indianapolis following a Wentz-piloted collapse in Week 18 of last season, it was surprising when the Commanders gave up two Day 2 draft choices and swapped second-round picks with the Colts to acquire him last March. Washington taking on his full contract also proved surprising, but the team had done extensive homework on the former No. 2 overall pick. Wentz did throw 10 touchdown passes in his first five games with the Commanders and did not have the chance to play with promising rookies Jahan Dotson and Brian Robinson sharing the field. He did have that chance last week but could not come through against the Browns.

Wentz went 16-for-28 against the Browns; the three-INT performance was his first such outing since the 2018 season. The North Dakota State product had shown flashes in both the 2019 and ’21 seasons, leading a shorthanded Eagles team to the 2019 playoffs and finishing last season with a 27-7 TD-INT ratio and a top-10 QBR finish. The broken finger Wentz suffered in Week 6 sidetracked his sixth NFL season. By the time the Commanders activated him from IR, Heinicke had replaced him. There is a good chance Wentz, who turned 30 last week, will be a free agent for the first time fairly soon.

Despite lacking Wentz’s talent, Heinicke helped turn the Commanders’ season around. They went from 1-4 to 7-5 during the former UDFA’s run of starts, but the Old Dominion alum’s surge began to fade come December. The Commanders have not won a game since Nov. 27. Heinicke has completed 62.2% of his passes, with his 7.2 yards-per-attempt number outpacing Wentz’s (6.4). Heinicke, 29, is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March.

Howell left North Carolina following his junior season, and ESPN slotted him as its No. 50 overall prospect. Howell, who had generated first-round buzz during his underclassman years, fell to No. 144 overall. From 2019-20, Howell combined for 68 touchdown passes compared to just 14 interceptions. Seeing a Tar Heel talent exodus ahead of his junior year, Howell saw his numbers dip a bit (24 TD passes, nine INTs, career-low 3,056 yards) in 2021. The Commanders will begin to see what this developmental season has unearthed; Howell’s rookie contract runs through 2025.

Regardless of Howell’s performance, it seems Ron Rivera‘s team will be in the market for another new starter soon. The Commanders were linked to a handful of this year’s passers, even making a three-first-rounder offer for Russell Wilson. The team that has started six Week 1 passers over the past six seasons appears headed for another new signal-caller come September.