Eyes had rolled around the NFL all offseason when Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera said Sam Howell would be “QB1” heading into 2023. While Rivera backed off his initial comments a bit, he did say Howell entered the offseason as “QB1” but will be given every chance to win the starting position for 2023.
The Commanders signed reliable veteran Jacoby Brissett to compete with Howell while also mentoring him. Brissett is coming off a strong season with the Browns and will give Howell everything he can handle.
Will it be a fair competition? If the Commanders want Howell to win the job, he’ll win the job. Ultimately, everything comes down to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Rivera insisted there would be no big swings at the quarterback position all offseason. That meant no trade for a veteran, no significant free-agent QB signing, and no moving up in the NFL draft to select a quarterback.
With the 2023 NFL draft now in the rearview mirror, Rivera stuck by his word. Howell and Brissett are Washington’s quarterbacks, and one will start in 2023.
That means everything Rivera and the organization have said about Howell is true. We know the players believe in Howell. While Rivera has said all the right things, remember, he had to be talked into starting Howell against Dallas in the season finale. Howell played well, leading the Commanders to a blowout win over the playoff-bound Cowboys. That performance seems to have shifted Rivera’s thinking that Howell is ready to be Washington’s quarterback.
The Commanders hosted Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker on a pre-draft visit. However, they passed on him in the first and second rounds before the Detroit Lions selected him in the third round. He was there for the taking, and Washington passed. The Commanders also passed on Kentucky QB Will Levis.
We can say that Washington’s current ownership limbo is why there was no big swing at the quarterback position. And that’s likely true. However, what’s also true is Rivera and his coaching staff saw enough from Howell to realize that if the team improved the offensive line, hired an offensive coordinator who could tailor an offense around Howell [Eric Bieniemy], and kept improving the defense, the Commanders could win while Howell developed.
His rookie contract was also attractive, allowing Washington to work on extensions for other players and dip its toes into free agency.
Two prominent writers each agreed that Washington should be giving Howell a chance.
First, Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire:
The Commanders have made their statement at quarterback — they are clearly all-in on Sam Howell, and I don’t disagree with that assessment.
Then, this from Pete Prisco of CBS Sports:
They firmly believe in Sam Howell — and they should —even if nobody wants to believe it.
Both are correct. The Commanders should believe in Howell. Who cares where he was drafted? Was he a perfect prospect? No. But too many Twitter GMs automatically assume Howell can’t be a franchise quarterback because he was drafted in the fifth round. Howell has the arm talent, athleticism and more to be a successful starter. The problem with Howell was his mechanics, which he has worked hard to improve.
After the 2020 season, Howell was considered a potential top-five pick for 2022. However, he struggled during his final college season, dropping his stock. The talent is there. It’s always been there.
Now it’s up to Howell to prove he deserves the job. Don’t count him out.