Taylor Heinicke

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Washington To Start Taylor Heinicke

Hours after John Wolford‘s initial playoff start, Washington will opt to use its young backup in its postseason opener.

Taylor Heinicke will start for Washington in its home game against Tampa Bay tonight. Alex Smith will be inactive. Heinicke will be the fourth quarterback to start for Washington this season, following Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and Smith.

With tonight’s game featuring a Heinicke-Tom Brady matchup, it will mark the biggest postseason experience disparity in NFL history. Brady has made 41 playoff starts; Heinicke has made one career regular-season start, doing so for the 2018 Panthers. He replaced an ineffective Haskins in Washington’s Week 16 loss to Carolina, completing 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Although Smith returned from a calf injury to start in Washington’s Week 17 game, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes the 16th-year veteran struggled to loosen up the injured muscle this week in practice and did not make much progress (Twitter link). Not that anyone would question Smith’s desire to play after what he’s overcome to return to action, but Rapoport describes this as a functionality issue — rather than a pain-tolerance matter — that will keep Smith out tonight (Twitter link).

Smith is essentially a lock to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors. The 36-year-old passer is signed through 2022, though Washington can entertain the notion of moving on from the former No. 1 overall pick without significant cap implications for the first time this coming offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

WFT Bumps Dwayne Haskins For Taylor Heinicke

Washington head coach Ron Rivera says Taylor Heinicke will start at quarterback on Sunday against the Eagles if Alex Smith can’t play. That leaves former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins as the QB3 on the depth chart and possibly inactive for the team’s critical Week 17 game.

[RELATED: Latest On Washington’s Ownership Turmoil]

Haskins couldn’t deliver on Sunday when he started in place of Smith. Heinicke — who hadn’t taken an NFL snap since 2018, replaced him in the fourth quarter. Washington went on to lose 20-13, capping Haskins’ day with 14-of-28 throws completed for 154 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Heinicke, meanwhile, went 12-for-19 for 137 passing yards and one TD.

Heinicke has been on the fringes of the NFL since going undrafted out of Old Dominion. After a brief stop in the XFL, he’s supplanted the once-ballyhooed Haskins on WFT’s depth chart. And, if Smith can’t go, he’ll have a chance to lead them to the playoffs.

Washington can clinch the division with a win over the Eagles on Sunday night. A loss would turn the NFC East race over to the winner of the afternoon Cowboys-Giants tilt.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 12/8/20

Here are Tuesday’s practice squad moves. There are many.

Atlanta Falcons

Chicago Bears

  • Placed on practice squad reserve/COVID-19 list: WR Thomas Ives, DT LaCale London, LB Manti Te’o; London and Te’o tested positive for the coronavirus

Cleveland Browns

Green Bay Packers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team

NFL Practice Squad Updates: 12/1/20

We’ll keep track of the NFL’s latest practice squad moves here:

Cleveland Browns

  • Released: CB Stephen Denmark

Detroit Lions

Indianapolis Colts

Minnesota Vikings

  • Released: CB Marcus Sayles

New York Giants

New York Jets

  • Signed: RB Pete Guerriero

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Football Team

QBs Josh Johnson, Taylor Heinicke Join XFL

Earlier this morning, the XFL announced a series of quarterback assignments. The league assigned Josh Johnson to the Los Angeles Wildcats, quarterback Taylor Heinicke to the St. Louis Blackhawks, and Chase Litton to the Seattle Dragons.

The move adds another bullet point to Johnson’s absurdly long transaction history in professional football. Since playing for Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego from 2004-2007, Johnson has been signed by 13 different NFL teams and had stints in two other upstart leagues (the UFL and AAF). While he is unlikely to ever be an NFL starter, his long-run of opportunities suggests he has the talent and mindset to be quite successful in a situation like the XFL.

Heinicke and Litton are both noticeably younger than Johnson, but have NFL resumes of their own. Litton has never appeared in an NFL game, but was signed to a reserve/futures contract by the Chiefs and signed to the Jaguars practice squad before he was released in October. Heinicke has bounced between four NFL organizations. He has appeared in seven games and started in Week 16 last season for the Panthers. Heinicke is a career 36 for 58 on passing attempts for 320 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

NFL Workout Updates: 11/11/19

Here’s the latest from around the league’s workout circuit:

Cleveland Browns

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

New York Giants

Oakland Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles

NFL Workout Updates: 10/29/19

Here is an update on workouts around the league:

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Titans Audition QBs Joe Callahan, Taylor Heinicke

Marcus Mariota is coming off one of his best starts of the season, that didn’t stop the Titans from auditioning some quarterbacks today. Veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer tweets that the Titans worked out signal-callers Joe Callahan and Taylor Heinicke.

Heinicke, a 2015 undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion, got into six games (one start) with the Panthers last season, completing 61.4-percent of his passes for 320 yards, one touchdown, and three picks. The 26-year-old also added another 31 yards (as well as a fumble) on five carries. He was released by the Panthers at the end of the preseason, and he’s since had workouts with the Bills and Lions.

Callahan, 26, has managed to put together a four-year career despite only appearing in a single NFL game. The former undrafted free agent out of Wesley (DE) has had stints with the Packers (two stints), Saints, Browns, Eagles, Buccaneers, and Ravens. He appeared in a single game with Green Bay back in 2017, completing five of his seven pass attempts for 11 yards. He joined Baltimore this past offseason before being cut in late August.

While Mariota wasn’t necessarily at risk of losing his starting job, he didn’t do much to quiet his critics during the Titans’ losses in Week 2 and Week 3. However, he bounced back in Sunday’s win over the Falcons, completing 18 of his 27 pass attempts for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 22 rushing yards on three carries. The Titans gave up some draft capital to acquire backup Ryan Tannehill, so it’s unlikely a free agent addition would be any better than third on the depth chart. However, it makes sense for the Titans to explore some options just in case they suffer a sudden injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.