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Commanders’ No. 1 offseason priority: Find their QB of the future

By newadmin / Published on Tuesday, 10 Jan 2023 19:44 PM / No Comments / 3 views

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It’s clear that general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Ron Rivera like what they’ve built so far in Washington. Rivera even thinks the team took a big step forward this season. He’s convinced that even though they missed the playoffs again: “We have a chance to get there.”

If only they had the quarterback that could lead them.

That is what this offseason will be all about for the Commanders, just like it was a year ago, and just like it has been for each of the last six offseasons. They do have a lot of promising pieces on a team that finished 8-8-1. They might even have the core of an actual contender.

But none of that matters if they can’t finally find a franchise quarterback they’ve been seeking forever. So here they go, with another year of a search that never seems to end.

“You pretty much every season have to look at the entire landscape of what’s available,” Mayhew said on Tuesday at the Commanders’ season-ending press conference. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that last year (when they decided to trade for Carson Wentz). We will do the same things 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.”

Commanders’ Sam Howell shows off dual-threat ability with two TDs in victory over Cowboys

Sam Howell got it done with his legs and his arms for the Commanders in the 26-6 victory in Week 18.

Right now, of course, there is nothing close to a consensus. Perhaps the only thing they might agree on is that the Wentz era will have to end. It’s only been 10 months since they acquired him from the Indianapolis Colts and believed he was the answer to their quarterback question. But his slow start, his thumb injury, and his disastrous final start in Week 17, pretty much signaled an end to that.

Taylor Heinicke isn’t the answer either — not after they replaced him with Wentz both last offseason and late this season. Maybe the answer will be rookie Sam Howell, who looked “promising,” according to Mayhew, when he beat the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season finale. But Howell’s performance — 11 of 19, 169 yards, one touchdown, one interception and five carries for 35 yards — was only a “very small sample,” Mayhew said

“He was impressive,” Mayhew said. “But there’s going to be a lot of evaluation process for him. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”

How it shakes out is anyone’s guess because every other option appears wide open. And that leaves every other possibility wide open. They could try to swing a trade for someone like Derek Carr, or dive head-first into free agency for Lamar Jackson if he’s available. They could give Howell a shot and bring in a veteran like Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield to help him and hedge their bets. Or they could try to get aggressive and move up from the 16th pick in the NFL draft.

Any quarterback with a pulse and possible route to Washington will surely get a look.

It was too early for them to offer any specific hints on Tuesday, of course. They weren’t even specific on the type of quarterback they want to find.

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

“You have to have the complete package.”

Yes they do, because so many of the other pieces really are already there. The Commanders want to build around their running game, and they have a budding star in running back Brian Robinson, and a nice veteran complement in Antonio Gibson. And they have an array of good weapons to help any quarterback out, like receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson, and tight end Logan Thomas, too.

They have the NFL’s third-best defense, which seemed to get better in the second half. It should be even stronger next season with a fully healthy Chase Young, especially if they re-sign or use the franchise tag on Payne. They were a .500 team with all their injuries and issues this season, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that if they can bolster their offensive line a bit they would have the core of a 10-win team, at least.

But that’s if they can find their quarterback — the same “if” that’s hovered over Rivera since he’s arrived. He understands that. He made it clear several times this season that “quarterback” is the Commanders’ biggest problem.

Other than that, he really seems to like his team.

“I kind of like the direction we’re headed,” Rivera said. “One of the things we talked about was taking big step from last year, being Year 3. And we didn’t quite get to the playoffs like we wanted to, but the biggest thing that we did was we took the kind of step that gives us the right direction, that puts us where we want to be.”

He’s not wrong, even though the season was an overall disappointment. They lost Robinson for a stretch early in the season when he was shot in the leg in a robbery attempt, just when they were ready to basically build their offense around him. They started 1-4 as Wentz struggled to pick up the offense and get into a rhythm. Then he missed two months with a broken finger.

Heinicke came in and “was instrumental in salvaging our season,” Mayhew said. “I thought he did a great job getting us back on track.” And he did, leading the Commanders on a 5-1-1 charge back into the playoff race before things started to fall apart.

Which left them here, in their all-too-familiar position for a franchise that has been to the playoffs just once in the last seven seasons and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005. They’ve gone through 12 starting quarterbacks in the five years since Kirk Cousins left for the Minnesota Vikings. He was the last player they had who even resembled a franchise quarterback. Before him, they might have to look back to Mark Rypien, who last played for them in 1993.

That can’t continue. This never-ending search has to end. Rivera, entering his fourth season as the Commanders coach with a 22-27-1 record, won’t survive another year of middling quarterback play. Mayhew, entering his third year, might not make it through another failed search either, especially with the franchise possibly up for sale.

But it’s not about them. It’s about the team they’ve built — one that is ready to pop if only it can surround the right leader. Maybe it’s Howell. Maybe they have to break the bank for Jackson or make a mega-deal for Carr or even deal some of their future to Chicago to get a hold of the top pick in the draft.

They have to spare no expense, no effort, and they have to be right.

Mayhew said on Tuesday that “really, a quarterback is (just) one person on the field”, and he insisted “it’s difficult for one guy to come in and completely flip everything.”

He’s wrong. The right guy at quarterback really could flip everything in Washington for a change.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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