Washington Commanders’ Commitment to QB Sam Howell Already Looking Shaky

The Washington Commanders are already showing a shaky commitment to quarterback Sam Howell this offseason after previously anointing him as the 2023 starter.

The 2023 NFL owners meetings have brought some intriguing takeaways as owners, general managers, and head coaches have made insightful statements. Whether it’s intentional or not, there can be veiled messages or direct contradictions from previous stances. One of the most fascinating sets of statements from Tuesday came from Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera.

The Commanders entered the offseason declaring to offensive coordinator candidates that second-year quarterback Sam Howell would likely be their starter in 2023. They hired former Kansas City Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy to lead the unit after moving on from Scott Turner. Then, the team allowed veteran QBs Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke to depart in free agency.

It’s fair to question whether the Commanders are actually committed to Howell in 2023 or if we could see any surprises in the 2023 NFL Draft. We dive in below.

Commanders Give Shaky Commitment to QB Sam Howell

The Commanders are in a difficult spot, and Rivera admitted as much at the owners meetings. He explained that the uncertain ownership situation could even affect whether the team picks up star defensive end Chase Young’s fifth-year option, as “it’s a very delicate situation.

Even considering that Young missed the 2022 season as he recovered from a torn ACL, it would be a shocking development for the franchise to turn down the chance to extend Young’s deal at a cost-controlled rate for one year.

Some of Washington’s willingness to commit to Howell so quickly may be attributed to the timing of the team’s sale. Despite the franchise receiving a bid for a record price of $6 billion, the influx of cash will take some time through the finalization process. Because the team is still for sale, current owner Dan Snyder would’ve put a massive amount of money in escrow to secure Lamar Jackson, plus forfeited two first-round picks, if the Ravens declined to match a deal.

That could explain why Rivera said Jackson is “a tremendous talent,” but pursuing him “wasn’t the direction we wanted to go.” Jackson is a complete anomaly in NFL history, becoming available as a 26-year-old MVP winner at quarterback. But he has yet to receive an official offer from another team.

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Considering Washington’s lack of success at the position, their lack of terrific draft assets, and the ties that Jackson has to the DMV area, pursuing him would’ve made a ton of sense.

Maybe Snyder wasn’t willing to risk any franchise sale on their level of interest in Jackson. That’s understandable. But it’s the hedging of whether Howell is actually their plan for 2023 that should raise eyebrows.

While Howell has already expressed he’s “super excited” and “super grateful” to be penciled in as the team’s starter, Rivera’s words and the team’s actions have been far from binding. The Commanders added 31-year-old Jacoby Brissett on a one-year, $8 million deal in free agency, and Rivera said “they have not ruled out drafting” a first-round quarterback.

Brissett’s addition is a solid one. He was a perfectly average starter for Cleveland in 2022 in a run-heavy offense after two middling or quiet years in 2020 and 2021. However, he’s had more on-field success than Heinicke, who has admitted he’s just happy to be around and not start.

There’s a legitimate chance Brissett wins the starting job, which is fair considering his level of play last year. Rivera said, “we will play the guy that gives us the best chance to win football games,” which is identical to the approach he took with Wentz, Heinicke, and Howell last year. Even when Heinicke was playing better than Wentz, he benched Heinicke and only went to Howell when the season was decided.

Rivera added “it’s a priority” to have a third quarterback on the roster, meaning another investment is coming into the position. While it’s fair to be concerned about having to play a third-string QB, that’s a strange priority if the team believes Howell would’ve been a first -or second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Having to play a third-string signal-caller is almost a death sentence to any team, barring the incredibly rare Brock Purdy emergence.

MORE: Washington Commanders Sale — Potential Buyers To Replace Dan Snyder Include Jeff Bezos, Magic Johnson

Howell probably shouldn’t have been a fifth-round pick in his draft class. He showed good accuracy, arm strength, mobility, and decision-making at North Carolina. I’d liken him to Baker Mayfield, who had success in the NFL before injuries and was the No. 1 overall pick.

However, with only one game on his résumé where he completed 57.9% of his passes for 169 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, and the fact he’s learning a new system in Year 2 already, committing to him would be unwise. The Commanders are right to be shaky in their plan of starting him. Their messaging is already starting to reflect that just one month before the draft.

With Rivera facing the challenge of keeping his job after a change of ownership and no real assets to land a star rookie passer or the financial backing to acquire Jackson, going all in on Howell before signing Brissett made sense. As more talent is added to the quarterback room, Howell will have to quickly prove he’s their best bet to win in 2023, or he’ll find himself on the bench.

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