Taylor Heinicke

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.

Commanders To Start QB Carson Wentz In Week 17

As the Commanders attempt to turn their bounce-back stretch into a playoff berth, they will move back to their original starting quarterback. The team confirmed Carson Wentz will start against the Browns in Week 17.

Wentz has not started since going down with a broken finger nearly three months ago, and the team rallied behind Taylor Heinicke to reach this point. But as the Commanders try to become the rare team to go from 1-4 into the playoffs, it will be the QB acquired in March in charge of pushing this process past the finish line.

Wentz, who will turn 30 on Friday, is in Washington because of how poorly his finish to the 2021 season went. After contracting COVID-19, the quarterback who fetched first- and third-round picks in 2021’s Eagles-Colts trade performed poorly in his final two games as a Colt. This led to the team blowing a win-and-in opportunity as a two-touchdown favorite in Jacksonville. Jim Irsay promptly ordered his decision-makers to move on from Wentz, despite the high price the Colts paid, after one season.

The Commanders received criticism for giving up what they did for Wentz — a 2022 third-rounder, a conditional 2023 Day 2 pick and a second-round pick swap this year — and not adjusting his contract. But the former No. 2 overall pick’s injury this season will prevent Washington from sending a 2023 second-rounder to Indianapolis. The conditional choice will be a third, as Wentz will not hit the 70% snap barrier — one he did surpass as a Colt to give the Eagles a 2022 first — to move the pick into Round 2. The Commanders had Wentz on an eight-man list of possible QB upgrades this offseason, and while they made a monster offer for Russell Wilson and pursued other targets as well, the team liked Wentz’s 6-foot-5 frame and arm strength.

Despite the team activating Wentz from IR weeks ago, he returned to action as Heinicke’s backup. He spent the past two games as the Commanders’ QB2, being benched by an NFC East team for the second time in three seasons. The Eagles sat him for Jalen Hurts in December 2020, leading the 2017 near-MVP out of Philadelphia. Wentz rebounded to a degree in Indianapolis, finishing ninth in QBR despite facing steady criticism for his up-and-down play, but was quickly sent to Washington this offseason.

Prior to Wentz going down in October this year, he submitted an uneven start that had the Commanders at 2-4. But he did throw 10 touchdown passes in five games to start his Commanders season. And he fared well upon relieving Heinicke against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. Wentz completed 12 of 16 passes 123 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. Wentz will also have a chance to play with a healthy Brian Robinson and Jahan Dotson; the two promising rookies did not share the field during Wentz’s previous batch of starts.

Washington, which has not won a game since Week 12, is 7-7-1 and controls its own playoff destiny. The team faces Cleveland and Dallas to close the season. The franchise has not secured two playoff berths in a three-season span since Joe Gibbs‘ second go-round with the team, which led to wild-card spots in 2005 and ’07. The Commanders will count on Wentz — their sixth Week 1 starting quarterback in the past six years — to lead the way back to the postseason.

This will make for another high-pressure spot for Wentz, whose through-2024 contract includes no guarantees beyond this season. The Commanders can save $26.2MM in 2023 by releasing him. That would trigger another quarterback pursuit for a franchise that has not enjoyed stability here since the Kirk Cousins franchise tag saga. Heinicke is on track for unrestricted free agency in March.

Commanders To Stick With QB Taylor Heinicke

After sitting through the first six weeks of the season, Taylor Heinicke has quarterbacked the Commanders back into the playoff race. The 29-year-old undrafted quarterback out of Old Dominion has cashed in on his second-chance opportunity in the NFL and appears to be unready to give it up yet, according to Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post.

Despite proving himself as a serviceable starting quarterback last year, when he took over for an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick to start nearly the entire rest of the year and lead Washington to a 7-8 record in games he started, the Commanders went out and traded with the Colts in order to acquire Carson Wentz. When Wentz was placed on injured reserve with a fractured ring finger on his throwing hand, the Commanders had a measly 2-4 record. Heinicke came in without skipping a beat and immediately helped Washington to win five of its next six games.

Enroute to a 5-2-1 record as a starter, Heinicke has continued his brand of consistent play. Unfortunately for the Commanders, in order to achieve Heinicke’s brand of consistency, they tend to sacrifice explosiveness and excitement. And when the team finds itself behind, like it did last night, a lack of explosive play and an over-dependency on the running game is not an ideal recipe for a comeback.

When the Commanders failed to make a comeback in last night’s loss to the Giants, ceding crucial ground in the NFC Wild Card race, head coach Ron Rivera immediately brought Heinicke into his office, still in his stained jersey and pads. The content of the conversation was reportedly candid and sobering. Rivera recalled to the media part of the conversation:

“My conversation with Taylor last night, it was: ‘Hey, look, we had some really good moments during this game. We did some really good things, but we’ve got to build on it now. We’ve got to finish. We truthfully got to finish in the red zone.'”

This has been an echo all season in the Commanders’ facilities. Missed opportunities due to poor execution continuously lead to situations in the redzone where instead of coming away with seven points, the team has to send the kicking unit onto the field or, even worse, turns the ball over for no points. This was emphasized last night when Washington only converted one of three redzone attempts into a touchdown.

Despite the tough conversation, Rivera reaffirmed to the media that he wants to move forward with Heinicke as the starter and Wentz as the backup. “I think that the biggest thing more than anything else is sticking with Taylor and what we’re trying to establish,” Rivera said. He admitted that the long-term future at quarterback is something that he has to consider at some point, but, for now, he will stay with the hot hand and try to keep the momentum that the team earned after their 2-4 start.

The road to the playoffs will certainly not be easy. The schedule for Washington wraps up with a road trip to a surging 49ers squad on Christmas Eve, followed with a matchup against the Deshaun Watson-led Browns, and finishing with a division matchup against the Cowboys.

Rivera plans to face that daunting stretch by sticking with the team’s recent identity of consistent quarterback play backed with a run-first attack. He just needs Heinicke to help increase his team’s efficiency in the redzone and not leave points on the board. Rivera put his trust in Heinicke, saying, “As long as I’m open with him and he understands where I’m coming from, I think we both get the messaging.”

Taylor Heinicke To Remain Commanders’ Starting QB

NOVEMBER 20: Heinicke will remain the Commanders’ starting quarterback unless he starts to struggle and Washington’s offense begins to regress, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports. John Keim of ESPN.com subsequently confirmed the report, and while Wentz is likely to be activated off of IR soon, he will return to the roster as a backup. Wentz has been informed of the decision, per Keim.

This decision stands to impact the compensation that the Colts will receive for the trade that sent Wentz from Indianapolis to the Commanders this offseason. If Wentz does not play at least 70% of the Commanders’ offensive snaps in 2022 — a scenario that is looking increasingly likely — the Colts will receive a 2023 third-round choice from Washington instead of a second-rounder.

NOVEMBER 16: Carson Wentz is just about ready to return to practice, but for the time being, the Commanders will be rolling with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters that Heinicke will start this Sunday against the Texans, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post (on Twitter).

Rivera doesn’t seem to be committing to Heinicke as his starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. While Wentz has been cleared to throw, he’s yet to be designated to return to practice. If the Commanders sincerely wanted Wentz under center going forward, they’d surely give him a full week of practice before tossing him back into the fire.

While the Commanders don’t have to make a decision about their QB1 with Wentz technically still on the shelf, some around the NFL believe Washington is preparing to give Heinicke the reigns for the rest of the 2022 season. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes that “many around the league” expect the team to stick with Heinicke as their starting QB, “at least for the short term.” One source told Fowler that the young players on the Commanders “gravitate” towards Heinicke because of his “fiery personality and his no-fear attitude,” and Rivera is cognizant of the locker room support that the quarterback possesses. On the flip side, the organization also values Wentz’s “skill and toughness,” and it doesn’t sound like there would be any mutiny if the staff decides to roll with the veteran.

Heinicke has certainly impressed under center. In his four starts, he’s guided the Commanders to a 3-1 record, including a victory over the previously undefeated Eagles. He’s completed 62 percent of his pass attempts for 840 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions, and he’s added another 60 yards and a score on the ground. This performance comes on the heels of a 2021 campaign that saw him go 7-8 as a starter while tossing 20 touchdowns vs. 15 interceptions.

Wentz was acquired by Washington this past offseason and started each of the first six games before suffering a hand injury that landed him on IR. Washington was 2-4 in Wentz’s six appearances, with the 29-year-old completing 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards, 10 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

Commanders Name Taylor Heinicke Week 7 Starting QB

Carson Wentz‘s first season in the nation’s capital has been put on pause due to the finger injury he suffered during the team’s Week 6 game. He has since undergone surgery, but is facing a multi-week absence. His immediate replacement was confirmed on Tuesday.

Head coach Ron Rivera named Taylor Heinicke Washington’s starting quarterback for Week 7 against the Packers. That comes as little surprise, given his experience with the team and the total lack thereof regarding the alternative, rookie Sam Howell“We think he’s on track,” Rivera said of Howell, “but Taylor right now gives us the best opportunity to be successful” (Twitter link via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post).

Heinicke, 29, is in his third season with Washington. He dressed for only one regular season contest in 2020, but made a name for himself in the playoffs in a one-score loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. That landed him a two-year extension laden with playing-time incentives.

He started all but one regular season contest he appeared in last year, going 7-8 and completing 65% of his passes. His 6.9 yards per attempt average and 20:15 touchdown-to-interception ratio left plenty to be desired, and made Washington a key player in the offseason QB market. They made a sizeable move in trading for Wentz, but it was made clear after the draft that Heinicke would remain his backup.

Howell will dress as the QB2 on Sunday, after being inactive for the first six weeks of the campaign. The 22-year-old burst onto the scene at North Carolina, throwing 38 touchdowns as a freshman in 2019. After a successful sophomore season, his passing numbers took a step back in 2021, though he added 828 yards and 11 scores on the ground. He ultimately fell to the fifth round – joining a number of other passers in April’s underwhelming class on Day 3 – setting him up for what the team hopes will be a strictly developmental season.

In a depth move to in the wake of Wentz’s absence, the Commanders also signed Jake Fromm to the practice squad, per a team announcement. The former Bills draftee started twice for the Giants last year, and recently worked out with the Dolphins amidst their QB injury woes. A decision on whether or not Wentz will be placed on IR, meanwhile, is expected to be made later this week, reports CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson (Twitter link).

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