Taylor Heinicke

Taylor Heinicke To Remain Commanders’ Backup QB

The Commanders did a great deal of homework on this year’s top collegiate quarterbacks, and they came away from those evaluations most intrigued by UNC passer Sam Howell, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post writes. Washington ultimately selected Howell with the first pick of the fifth round of the 2022 draft, making him the sixth signal-caller to hear his name called.

Though his draft-day slide was doubtlessly disappointing, the Commanders certainly present an intriguing opportunity for Howell. The club acquired Carson Wentz from the Colts in March, and while Wentz will serve as the starting quarterback in 2022, he can be released after the season with no dead money ramifications. Current QB2 Taylor Heinicke, meanwhile, will be out of contract at the end of the upcoming campaign.

As Jhabvala notes, head coach Ron Rivera was clear during his postdraft press conference that Heinicke would remain the backup. So Howell will have the chance to develop as the No. 3 signal-caller, and both he and Rivera appear excited by that prospect.

“To have Sam fall to us was something we had to jump on,” Rivera said. “We had a very good grade on him — he was, at that point, the highest guy left on our board. … We feel this was a home run for us.”

Howell said, “I’ve had a good amount of communication with [the Commanders], but I just kind of knew all along. I kind of had a couple teams that I was interested in. Just after that combine interview and talking to Coach Rivera, I knew this was a place I definitely wanted to be.”

Howell’s trademark deep ball should mesh well with OC Scott Turner‘s Air Coryell-based offense, and if he makes the necessary strides in 2022, he will enter 2023 with a real chance to at least serve as Washington’s backup QB, and perhaps a shot to compete for the starting gig.

Heinicke, who wound up starting 15 games for Washington in 2021 after a Week 1 injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick, completed 65% of his passes last season. However, he also threw for 20 TDs against 15 interceptions, a ratio that leaves much to be desired. He is certainly a competent backup if nothing else, and while he will serve as Wentz’s clipboard holder in 2022, his future with the Commanders was complicated by the Howell selection.

Commanders Set To Be “Selectively Aggressive” In QB Pursuit

The Washington Commanders have a new name, new uniforms and, in all likelihood, are soon to have a new quarterback. It’s no secret that the team is looking for an upgrade on Taylor Heinicke, but as ESPN’s John Keim writes, the team’s roster is better suited this year than last to aggressively acquire a new signal caller. 

As Keim details, management is satisfied that the team is in a better place to pursue an upper echelon QB than it was in 2021. Last year, Washington offered a first- and third-round pick to the Lions for Matt Stafford, but were outbid by the Rams. Not long after, they unsuccessfully tried to trade up to get Justin Fields in the draft. Even though the team still only won seven games in this campaign, general manager Martin Mayhew used the term “selectively aggressive” to describe the organization’s plans in attaining an upgrade at the game’s most important position.

Head coach Ron Rivera is similarly confident in the rest of the roster: “I look at things with rose-colored glasses”, he said. “I’m an optimist. As you look at things you go, ‘I feel pretty good about this'”. His two years in Washington have seen the team only put up a 14-19 record, but a late-season four-game winning streak in 2021 offered reason for optimism moving forward.

Keim writes that the Commanders “will explore deals” at each tier of signal caller. While that could involve the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson, someone like Derek Carr could be more of a realistic option. He adds that the “sweet spot” might be Jimmy Garoppolo, due to the relative affordability of the final year of his contract. Acquiring the 30-year-old could keep a core with a strong offensive line (pending the future of All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff, who played on the franchise tag and is not close to a long-term extension) and a talented collection of skill position players intact.

While it would be unorthodox to make QB the final, rather than the first, position to be targeted in roster building, doing so could place Washington back in contention for at least a second playoff berth in three years. To make that possible, the front office has been “studying its options for a while” with regards to an upgrade at QB. Rivera remains positive that the other required pieces are already in place: “Our personnel is more than good enough… I believe in our team. I believe in what we can be”.

Washington Extends Charles Leno

Charles Leno has certainly bounced back since the Bears released him in May, as he’s agreed to a new three-year deal with the Football Team worth $37.5MM, according to tweets from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport.

Leno was a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft for the Bears and signed a four-year, $38MM extension in 2017. Leno was named an alternate for the 2019 Pro Bowl, but was released just two years later this past May.

After being released, the eight-year veteran signed a one-year deal with Washington worth $4MM. The prove-it contract was a worthwhile gamble as Leno’s new deal is his biggest yet in terms of annual value. Washington benefitted from the gamble, as well, as Leno earned the 3rd best pass blocking grade among all tackles in the league thus far this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether Washington plans to stick with Taylor Heinicke or Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback next year or if they choose to draft a young star from the 2021 NFL Draft crop, the Football Team has locked down their blindside tackle for the next three years.

NFL COVID List Updates: 12/23/21

We’ve compiled a list of players who were placed or activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list today. In some instances, players activated from the list remain on IR:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team

WFT To Start Garrett Gilbert 

It’s now official. On Tuesday, the Washington Football Team announced that quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen were unable to test out of COVID-19 protocols. With that, journeyman Garrett Gilbert will start tonight against the Eagles.

Gilbert, recently signed off of the Patriots’ taxi squad, started for the Cowboys last year in a Week 9 loss to the Steelers. Filling in for Dak Prescott (injured) and Andy Dalton (on the COVID list), Gilbert went 21-of-38 for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. It wasn’t a particularly memorable performance, but it was at least better than what the Cowboys were getting out of Ben DiNucci.

The 30-year-old passer has dressed for just seven games in his NFL career. This will be his biggest one yet as Washington fights for a playoff spot. A win tonight would give them a 43% chance of qualifying; a loss would require them to win out and get extremely lucky.

Washington has been able to activate a couple of its players for tonight’s game — cornerback Troy Apke and defensive tackle Tim Settle. Beyond that, they’ll elevate four practice squaders: fullback Alex Armah, linebacker De’Jon Harris, tackle David Steinmetz, and quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who will serve as the QB2 behind Gilbert.

WFT To Sign QB Garrett Gilbert 

The hits just keep on comin’. One day after placing Kyle Allen on the COVID-19 list, the Washington Football Team has done the same with quarterback Taylor Heinicke, per a club announcement. In desperate need of a signal caller, Washington has signed Garrett Gilbert to potentially start on Sunday against the Eagles. 

[RELATED: NFL Updates COVID-19 Protocols]

The NFL’s revised protocols could conceivably allow Heinicke and Allen to dress this week. But, with a little over 48 hours between now and kickoff, Washington had to act fast. Enter Gilbert, a 30-year-old journeyman with just seven pro appearances on his resume.

Gilbert’s lone start came with the Cowboys last year, a Week 9 loss to the Steelers. That too was a desperation move. Dak Prescott was injured, Andy Dalton was parked on the COVID-19 list, and youngster Ben DiNucci was coming off of a rough performance in Week 8. Gilbert finished the game 21-of-38 for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

At 6-7, Washington still has a path to the playoffs. Their fate may rest in the hands of Gilbert or one of their practice squad QBs, either Kyle Shurmur or Jordan Ta’amu.

WFT’s Taylor Heinicke Could Keep Starting Job

Taylor Heinicke might be here to stay. The Washington quarterback has a real chance to keep his grip on the starting role, according to sources who spoke with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport

Heinicke will start on Sunday afternoon against the Bills in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is dealing with a painful hip subluxation. Fitz, who has been placed on injured reserve, could be able to return by mid-November. But, depending on how things go in the coming weeks, the veteran could wind up holding the clipboard for the former UDFA.

The Old Dominion product helped the WFT top the Giants in his first start this year. In that game, Heinicke completed 34 of 46 of his throws for 336 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.

Just a few weeks ago, there was talk of Ron Rivera pursuing old pal Cam Newton. Now, Washington seems especially high on Heinicke. With Kyle Allen as his safety net, he’ll try to advance WFT to 2-1 today.

WFT To Place Ryan Fitzpatrick On IR

It was the fear yesterday, but now it’s official. Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip subluxation during the team’s loss to the Chargers on Sunday, head coach Ron Rivera confirmed. The veteran is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter).

Rivera announced that Fitzpatrick will be placed on injured reserve, sidelining him for at least the next three games. That means that it’ll be Taylor Heinicke under center when Washington takes the field in just a few days for a Thursday Night Football game against the Giants. It also means it’ll be Heinicke leading the team for the foreseeable future. If there’s any good news, it’s that Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets that there’s “no indication yet that it’s season ending.”

Rivera said Fitzmagic is getting second opinions to determine the severity. For now it’ll be Kyle Allen backing up Heinicke. Washington is coming off a division title and had high expectations for this season, leading many to speculate they could look to add a veteran signal-caller.

Recently release Cam Newton, of course, is very well acquainted with Rivera from their days in Carolina together, although it looks like for now the plan is to roll with Heinicke and see how he fares. Beat reporters at the press conference say Rivera was firm about staying in-house for now. If the former UDFA struggles, then it wouldn’t be surprising for Washington to look outside the building.

It’s a tough blow for Fitz, who was injured in the first half of the first game with his new team. He’ll turn 39 in November, so it’s fair to wonder how easy of a recovery this will be for him. Here’s to hoping he gets back as soon as possible.

Latest On Washington’s Quarterback Plans

The Washington Football Team attempted to trade for Matthew Stafford last month, offering a package headlined by the No. 19 overall selection in the 2021 draft in exchange for the longtime Lions passer. Although Detroit opted to take the Rams’ offer instead, there are five other quarterbacks from outside the organization that Washington wants to explore, as John Keim of ESPN.com writes.

Keim’s source did not name those QBs, but it’s safe to assume that WFT is at least kicking the tires on trade candidates like Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold. The club’s interest in Stafford and other signal-callers obviously suggests that it is not entirely sold on having Alex Smith return as the starter next season, but that scenario remains on the table.

If he does return, though, he would need to rework his contract. He is presently scheduled to count $24.4MM against the cap in 2021, and that is simply untenable. The newly-minted Comeback Player of the Year was a remarkable story in 2020, completing his recovery from a devastating leg injury suffered in November 2018 to start six games for WFT (winning five of them) and lead the club to a playoff berth. But he was more of a game manager than anything else, as he threw for six touchdowns against eight interceptions and posted a poor 78.5 QB rating.

Plus, he will be 37 when the 2021 season starts, and he missed three of the team’s final four games — including the wildcard round matchup with the Bucs — due to a bone bruise. So it’s far from a sure thing that he will be able to handle a full 16-game slate at this point, and even if he can, he no longer possesses the type of mobility that had become a key feature of his game.

He could theoretically agree to a pay cut to stay with WFT, or he and Washington could come to terms on an extension that reduces his 2021 cap number. Keim suggests that WFT would be willing to go the extension route, as the club is concerned that forfeiting draft capital for a different quarterback would limit its ability to strengthen the rest of the roster. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that Smith would play to the end of the extension, so Washington could be saddled with substantial dead money in the future.

Of course, Washington could also release Smith, but that would only happen if the team has already acquired or is prepared to acquire another quarterback. A release would save WFT $13.6MM in cap space this year, and it would also allow the team to avoid the possibility of carrying Smith-related charges on its books beyond the 2021 season. Interestingly, multiple NFL execs, coaches, and scouts tell Keim that they view Smith as a backup at this point in his career, which might make Smith more receptive to a pay cut (though that is just my speculation).

Smith could also retire, but he did not seem ready to hang up the cleats in a recent interview. And Keim says retirement is the least likely scenario at this point, so one way or another, Washington will need to be the one to make the call on Smith’s future.

All of this suggests that WFT is not going to entertain the notion of having Taylor Heinicke open the 2021 season as the starter, despite some tongue-in-cheek calls for him to do so. The team did recently hand the near-playoff hero an extension, and while it was originally reported as a two-year, $8.75MM deal, a lot will need to go right for the soon-to-be 28-year-old to max out that contract. Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post has the full breakdown, which includes a $1MM salary in 2021, a $1.5MM salary in 2022, and $1.25MM in per game roster bonuses over the next two seasons (Twitter link). Field Yates of ESPN.com adds that Heinicke will pocket a $1MM signing bonus, so it’s really a two-year deal with a base value of $4.75MM and up to $4MM in incentives (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Keim says Washington will retain Kyle Allen via an exclusive rights free agent tender. Allen followed head coach Ron Rivera from Carolina to Washington and makes for a solid third-string option if nothing else.

Washington Extends Taylor Heinicke

Taylor Heinicke briefly lit the NFL world on fire with his electric performance in a wild card playoff loss to the Bucs, and Washington isn’t about to let him walk out the door. Washington has given Heinicke a two-year extension worth $8.75MM to keep him around, sources told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Rapoport adds that there are “also incentives depending on how many games he starts.” Washington’s quarterback situation is very unsettled, so it makes sense why they’d want to at least have Heinicke as a fallback option. Alex Smith is sounding like he wants to keep playing and is under contract for 2021, although the team can get out of it and they probably don’t want to pay him his hefty salary.

Heinicke has one of the most remarkable stories we’ve seen in some time, as just a couple of months ago he was out of the league and taking classes at Old Dominion, where he starred in college. He hadn’t been with an NFL team since training camp of 2019, when Washington signed him to their practice squad on December 8th.

An injury to Smith put him on the active roster, and then Dwayne Haskins was so ineffective he was benched for Heinicke in Week 16. He played surprisingly well, but Smith returned for Week 17. Washington got the win to get them in the playoffs, but Smith’s calf still wasn’t right, leading to Heinicke getting the postseason start.

He very nearly pulled off a massive upset, keeping them close against eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay the entire way. He had previously only made one start, a spot start in 2018 with the Panthers in place of an injured Cam Newton. His familiarity with Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turner from those Panthers days ended up paying off for him, and that gutsy performance against the Bucs flipped him from working a day job to making millions as an NFL quarterback.