Commanders go into offseason that could bring new owner, QB

Missing the NFL playoffs and searching for a starting quarterback is a familiar position in Washington.

This offseason of uncertainty for the team now known as the Commanders features an added twist: the potential of an ownership change. Dan Snyder could sell the team he has owned since 1999, and while Ron Rivera’s job as coach and head of football operations is likely safe, the next few months are expected to bring changes from the top down following the end of another mediocre season, which ended with a 8-8-1 record.

“When you have a change — new ownership or new coaching — that changes everything because, I’m going to be honest, it’s a business and when new people come in, they don’t really have allegiance to you,” said top wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who probably has the best job security as the face of the franchise after getting a new contract in June. “If there’s new ownership, if there’s not new ownership, I think the mindset still has to be to come in and earn the job.”

Who earns the starting quarterback job is the biggest on-field question facing Rivera and the front office after the experiment to trade for and play Carson Wentz backfired. The Commanders were eliminated from playoff contention after Wentz threw three interceptions in a Week 17 loss to Cleveland, and they can easily cut him with no salary cap ramifications.

Taylor Heinickewent 5-3-1 as the starter after Wentz broke a finger on his throwing hand, and rookie Sam Howell won his NFL debut in the season finale Sunday. One or both could be back next season, perhaps with another QB drafted or acquired by trade or in free agency.

“(Sam) or Taylor or whoever we bring in, we’ll be all right,” tight end Logan Thomas said. “It will be good. We’ll get on the same rapport, same count and get this thing moving.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s job could be in jeopardy after overseeing a unit that ranked 20th in the league, became predictable at times and got away from its strengths at others with questionable play-calling. Asked last week about his job security, Turner said: “That’s just part of this league. It could happen. It could happen to anybody.”

HOWELL THE FUTURE?

It was just one game with nothing at stake, but Howell showed glimpses of why he was once a top draft prospect in beating the Dallas Cowboys in Week 18. The fifth-round pick out of North Carolina became Washington’s first rookie QB to throw and run for a touchdown since Robert Griffin III in 2012.

With another offseason of work, does Howell think he can be a starter in the pros?

“I definitely can,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I played one game. They still have to make the decisions, and whatever decision they make I’ll be ready for it.”

OUT THE DOOR?

Daron Payne led the Commanders with 11 1/2 sacks, tying the franchise record for most by an interior defensive lineman. He is set to be a free agent and seems as good as gone if the team doesn’t use a franchise tag on the 2018 first-round pick who was a force with former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen.

“All the work that I put in over the years just finally came to fruition for me, so it just gives me faith to go into this offseason and keep grinding like I’ve been grinding,” Payne said, acknowledging he’s poised for a big payday. “I just want what I earned.”

DEFENSIVE STRIDES

Even while playing without Chase Young for the vast majority of the season as he worked to rehab a torn ACL and losing linebacker Cole Holcomb to injury, Washington’s defense rounded into form and finished fourth in the league. Allen was picked for the Pro Bowl, young defensive backs Benjamin St-Juste and Kam Curl showed major improvement and there’s a chance for more of the same next season.

“It only gets better,” St-Juste said. “If you’re pretty good in 2021 with a young defense and then you’re pretty good in 2022 with another young unit, those guys keep getting wiser and older. We keep getting older and we keep acquiring experience, we keep getting better and we keep playing off each other. We’re going to be even better for 2023. It’s promising.”

BYE, SNYDER

Amid multiple ongoing investigations into workplace misconduct and other issues, Snyder and wife Tanya in early November hired a firm to explore possible transactions related to the team.

Whether it’s to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — with a group potentially involving rapper Jay-Z and actor Matthew McConaughey — someone like New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris or a candidate who bid on the Denver Broncos last year, a sale in the neighborhood of $7 billion is possible.

The rest of the NFL team owners would need to approve a sale, which could come as soon as the annual March meeting in Arizona. Like Rivera, receiver Curtis Samuel went through an ownership change with the Carolina Panthers and knows a little of what to expect.

“From experience, it didn’t really affect the players too much,” Samuel said. “We was just focused on just becoming a good team. We didn’t really focus on upstairs stuff. Our main job was, ‘How can we win games?’”

That is always the question facing Washington, which has not had a winning season since 2016.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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