The Washington Commanders squeaked out a win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football, and while they may have won that battle, they appear to have lost the war.
Carson Wentz fractured his right ring finger against the Bears and is facing a 4-6 week recovery, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. Having lost their starting quarterback for the second consecutive season, how will the Commanders move forward? And what does the future hold for Wentz?
Commanders QB Carson Wentz Sidelined by Thumb Injury
No one thought the Colts would be able to trade Wentz after he collapsed down the stretch of the 2021 campaign, playing his part in Indy missing what looked to be a guaranteed playoff appearance. Even if general manager Chris Ballard did find a taker for Wentz and his $22 million salary, surely the Colts would only get a late-round pick in return, right?
Enter the Commanders, whose awful ownership situation and consistent roster mismanagement have turned the franchise into a laughingstock. Although Washington was presumably bidding against themselves, Indianapolis somehow got the following in exchange for Wentz and a seventh-round pick:
- Move up from No. 47 to No. 42 in the second round of the 2022 draft
- 2022 third-round pick (No. 73)
- Conditional 2023 third-round pick (will turn into a second-rounder if Wentz plays 70% of Washington’s snaps)
Even assuming that Wentz won’t get to 70% playtime this season, and discounting the 2023 selection because it’s a future pick, the value of this trade package is roughly equal to a late first or early second-round choice, according to Chase Stuart of Football Perspective’s value chart.
It was an absurd price to pay for Wentz. Yet, even if the cost was outlandish, you could squint and imagine the 29-year-old having success in Washington if he could harness his deep-ball ability in Scott Turner’s offense.
But the results haven’t been there. Wentz hasn’t posted a QBR over 50 in a single game, and his cumulative 34.1 mark ranks 27th in the NFL. He’s also 27th in adjusted net yards per attempt, and he’s thrown more uncatchable balls than any other quarterback in the league, per Pro Football Reference.
Wentz is seeing a specialist before Washington makes a decision on an injured reserve stint, but it’s not far-fetched to say Wentz may have thrown his last pass for the Commanders.
He has a $20 million salary in 2023, and Washington will have to make a decision on him in March. Wentz is due a $6.2 million roster bonus on March 19, and the Commanders won’t pay that sum if they plan to release him.
Wentz could return from injury and change everyone’s perception of him with enhanced production down the stretch, but nothing in his play over the last several seasons has indicated improvement is coming.
If he hits the free agent market next offseason, it’s hard to imagine any team handing Wentz a starting job. At best, he’d likely get an opportunity to compete for a role, but he may have already entered the top-notch backup portion of his career.
Taylor Heinicke Will Take Over, but Sam Howell Should Get a Look
Speaking of high-end No. 2 quarterbacks, Taylor Heinicke is set to replace Wentz under center. Heinicke started 15 games for Washington in 2021 after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury in the first game of the year, leading the Commanders to a 7-8 mark.
While Heinicke will get veteran’s deference, we know what he is by now. He’s an extremely capable backup, but he’s physically limited as a starter.
At 2-4, the Commanders are largely out of the playoff picture, and their schedule is about to get difficult. They’ll face the Packers, Colts, Vikings, and Eagles over the next four games. If Washington moves to 2-5 or 2-6 in the coming weeks, what benefit will they get from running out the 29-year-old Heinicke?
The Commanders selected North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell in the fifth round of the 2022 draft, but he was once in consideration for the first overall pick. Howell threw 92 touchdowns over three seasons with the Tar Heels, ran for 828 yards in his final collegiate campaign, and then flashed in the preseason.
The odds of finding a franchise quarterback in the fifth round aren’t great, but Washington doesn’t have anything to lose by playing Howell. If he fails, the Commanders will probably have a top-five pick in 2023 that they can use on a new QB. If he succeeds, they’ll have a cheap QB under contract for the next three years.
The only problem? Ron Rivera is the man tasked with making this decision, and he’s trying to keep his job. Heinicke is the safe choice, and Rivera has every incentive to go with the veteran.
Long term, Howell offers more upside and is the better quarterback choice for a team that looks like it needs a rebuild. But asking the Commanders to make the right decision has proven to a be fool’s errand.