Sports

Sam Howell Stands Out as Part of the Future of Washington Commanders


Via Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

For a change, there is no midfield controversy in Washington.

The Command fully committed Carson Wentz. They invested in him both financially and emotionally. He was their unquestionable starter. And last year, Taylor Heinickeis the obvious number 2.

But that’s for this year.

Behind both is a quarterback a college scout who has been described by FOX Sports as “one of the draft stealers”, and he will likely influence the Commanders’ future plans. According to federation sources, some NFL teams with points in the second round then-North Carolina midfielder Sam Howell before he slips all the way to the top of the fifth lap. That’s when the Commanders, who weren’t even looking for another QB at the time, pounced.

And this summer, they weren’t disappointed at all with that decision.

“He has a very bright future in this league,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said after Howell played the entire pre-season final, losing 17-15 in Baltimore. “He still has a lot of work to do. I know [offensive coordinator Scott Turner and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese] would tackle this problem with a wide tooth comb and highlight the things he could have done better.

“But he was excited to watch.”

In that pre-season final, surrounded by mostly backups and players who wouldn’t make the final list, Howell completed 24 of 35 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown shadow. He looked as if he had ordered the attack and didn’t look flustered at all.

However, that might be the last time people see Howell in a game in a long time. The commanders are Wentz’s team. They made that clear when they got him from Indianapolis Colts and agreed to receive his $28.3 million cap for this season. And Rivera quickly named Heinicke, who started 15 games for Washington last season, as his primary backup. Rivera even called Wentz on Day 3 of the NFL Draft to tell him that the Howell selection was “all about developing a young man more than anything else.”

But the question is: For when? Wentz was only 30 years old, and the Commanders hoped he could be their starter for many years to come. But it’s worth noting that he didn’t get a contract extension when Washington traded for him, and he’s got no money left in the guarantee for one of the last two years of his current contract after this season.

That means the Commanders can cut or trade him after 2022 if they decide they want to go ahead. And while they could switch to Heinicke if that happens, they switched from him once and his contract ends after this year.

QB NFC East Rating

Ignore Bayless and Shannon Sharpe rank NFC East quarterbacks, including new Commander QB Carson Wentz.

Who knows what will happen if the Commanders decide to switch to midfield again in 2023? In an era where the midfield movement seems to dominate the season, anything – and anyone – is possible.

But surely Washington was lucky to have an attractive future option in Howell.

“Given his talent, he should never have lasted this long in the draft,” said another NFL scout. “It happens with midfielders. You don’t appreciate if you don’t need to. But he’s also inconsistent [in his final year at North Carolina]. Not much [of talent] around him, but what was knocking at his door was that the tools were already there, but he still didn’t look ready. “

Howell didn’t exactly lighten the scoreboard in pre-season for the Commanders, but he certainly looked like he belonged in the league all summer. He finished with decent stats – 43 of 69 (62.3%), 547 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while running 13 times for 94 yards. A scout who has watched him complete 24 of 35 280-yard passes and encounter Raven says he looks “generally comfortable” but sometimes keeps the ball in his pocket for a bit too long.

“It’s something that all young midfielders have to go through,” said the scout.

“I think I’m pretty ready in the pocket,” Howell said after the game. “But it will come with more rep and efficiency.”

Unfortunately for him, the time for more work has run out. As the regular season rolls around, Howell will be limited to mostly scouting reps in practice, like all third innings. He will also be out of action on game days, unless Wentz or Heinicke is injured. And even then, there’s no guarantee the Commanders won’t be looking to contract a veteran to dress up for games instead of him.

But the door is wide open for 2023 and beyond, especially if the Commanders’ risky move to acquire Wentz fails. If the team were looking for a draft-day quarterback, even Rivera conceded that Howell “would be someone we took very seriously” in previous rounds. Rivera said, to get him with the 144th overall pick in the draft, was “a race home for us.”

They are not yet ready to surround the bases. The Commanders are playing a long game with Howell, who can be anything to them from career third string player, future backup, to their future quarterback. A lot has to happen before his future in Washington becomes clear.

But based on how Howell performed this summer and how the Commanders seem to feel about their act of “stealing,” it’s clear he’s a good insurance policy for the franchise.

Ralph Vacchiano is an NFC East correspondent for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. He had spent the previous six years covering the Giants and the Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that he had spent 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. He can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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