Commanders to evaluate entire QB landscape, including veterans and Sam Howell

Commanders to evaluate all possible QBs, including vets and Howell originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. — In each of the past two offseasons, the Washington Commanders attempted to stop their constant revolving door at quarterback by bringing in a veteran signal-caller.

Neither move worked.

Washington enters the 2023 offseason with major question marks throughout the organization. But on the field, finding a franchise quarterback remains a top priority. Speaking with reporters during his season-ending press conference, Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said the club will explore all options, once again, to try and find stability at the sport’s most important position.

“You pretty much have to enter every season looking at the entire landscape of what’s available,” Mayhew said. “I thought we did a really good job of that last year… We will do the same thing this year. We’re not going to rule out acquiring a vet. We’ll go through the entire landscape of who’s available, we’ll evaluate them, and we’ll get to a consensus on somebody.”

The first step of this process is to evaluate the quarterbacks currently on their roster. That starts with Carson Wentz, whom the team can release this offseason with no cap penalty, per OverTheCap. While Mayhew defended both the process and decision to bring in Wentz this past spring, neither he nor head coach Ron Rivera gave any indication that Wentz will return in 2023. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the 30-year-old is back in Washington.

When Wentz injured his finger in Week 6, backup Taylor Heinicke stepped in and gave Washington’s offense a spark. The Commanders went 5-3-1 with Heinicke under center this season, but Rivera opted to bench him for Wentz ahead of that must-win game against Cleveland. Heinicke was understandably upset by the decision and Wentz’s play in that game did nothing to justify the move.

Heinicke will be a free agent this spring and told reporters following Sunday’s win over Dallas he wants to return to Washington. Both Mayhew and Rivera expressed interest in bringing back the 29-year-old in some capacity, too.

“He was instrumental, I thought, in salvaging our season,” Mayhew said. “I thought he did a really good job getting us back on track and back winning games.”

“Taylor is a guy that’s done some really good things for us,” Rivera added.

The final quarterback on Washington’s roster is Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick this past April. This past Sunday, Howell led the Commanders to an upset win over Dallas in his first career start and showed several flashes of his potential, both with his big arm and above-average running ability. Rivera praised Howell for his efforts on Sunday, while Mayhew called his performance “impressive.”

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Howell is the only quarterback currently on Washington’s roster that’s guaranteed to be with the club in 2023. And, in just one start, Howell did his best to put himself in the conversation to be the team’s starter next season.

In the coming weeks, Washington’s brass plans to evaluate Howell as a whole and compare what he’s shown with the other options that may come available. Even though Howell’s game tape is a small sample size, Mayhew feels good about having him as a potential quarterback option moving forward.

“He’s got a very, very calm demeanor,” Mayhew said. “The guy has the right attitude, he’s got a very quiet confidence about him. It’s promising and it’s good to have Sam as an option as we move forward. We’re talking through what the other alternatives are right now.”

The 2023 quarterback free-agent class isn’t necessarily an inspiring group, either. Ravens star Lamar Jackson headlines the group, but it is expected Baltimore will franchise tag him if the two sides can’t agree on a long-term deal. Tom Brady will be a free agent this spring — never say never — but that doesn’t seem to be a possibility, either.

Besides Brady and Jackson, the rest of the class is filled with veterans that are far from elite quarterbacks. Geno Smith, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield are the best of that group, but there’s an argument that none of those passers offer the upside or contractual flexibility that Howell, who’s on a rookie deal, does. 

The Commanders could move up in the draft to take a quarterback, something Mayhew said is a possibility. But since Washington is currently slated to pick 16th, trading up to a position where one of the top passers is available will likely require multiple picks, at the minimum.

Perhaps Washington’s best option could be via the trade market, where Las Vegas’ Derek Carr figures to be available. Carr played under Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio with the Raiders from 2015-2017 and Del Rio spoke positively about the quarterback when asked about him a few weeks ago. Still, Carr struggled at times this season with the Raiders — he was benched for the final two games — and there’s no guarantee he’d be a great fit in Washington, either.

Towards the end of Tuesday’s presser, Mayhew was asked bluntly what he’s looking for when searching for the franchise’s next quarterback.

“The guy has to be a leader,” Mayhew said. “He has to have arm strength, an NFL-caliber arm. He has to be a guy that can create off-schedule, when things break down he can make something happen that’s positive. That’s what we’re looking for in that position.”

That answer can only describe a handful of signal-callers throughout the NFL. It’s extremely hard to find a franchise quarterback, let alone through free agency or the trade market.

Entering another offseason with a quarterback search, the Commanders’ brass remains confident this process will be more successful than the last.

“I think going into it, we’re in a much better place,” Rivera said.

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