From ownership to QB, Commanders face uncertain future – Washington Commanders Blog
ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Chiefs enter the offseason with questions that will define their short-term and long-term futures: ownership, offensive lineman and quarterback. And they don’t go into it with a lack of faith.
“I feel like we’re pretty close,” Brian Robinson Jr. said.
“I don’t think we’re missing anything,” receiver Curtis Samuel said. “We just have to execute better, especially in the red zone.”
In finishing 8-8-1 — a sixth straight winless season — Washington showed growth in several areas. The Commanders defense finished third in yards and seventh in points per game. But the offense was 20th in yards and 26th in points.
Coach Ron Rivera, who completed his third season, said he likes the direction they’re going. But this direction also depends on the main questions that will be answered.
Commanders announced in October that they were for sale, and multiple offers were submitted near the end of December. There is still no guarantee that owners Dan and Tanya Snyder will sell the franchise, but the expectation from team sources is that they will. But then the questions arise: to whom and when? The earliest a new owner will be approved is at the end of March at the league meetings.
With an overall record of 22-27-1, Rivera may have been in trouble this offseason. The uncertainty of the franchise will likely give him another season to take a bigger step, but it also means he’ll have to impress another owner in a short period of time. He is not alone.
“When new people come in, they have no loyalty to you,” receiver Terry McLaurin said. “That goes for me too. … If there’s new ownership, if there’s no new ownership, I think the mindset should still be to go in and win the job.”
Rivera went through a similar situation in Carolina when Jerry Richardson sold the team after the 2018 season. Rivera was retained but then fired with four games remaining in the next season; The Panthers were 5-7 and had lost four straight.
Rivera said his approach will not be affected by a potential sale.
“Well, the biggest thing is in Carolina when I went through it, it was almost like, ‘Ron, it’s business as usual,'” Rivera said. “That’s what we tried to do. We tried to put all the pieces in place as we normally would.”
The Commanders will receive far more than the $4.65 billion it took to buy the Denver Broncos. Washington could also offer a new owner land — where the stadium currently sits in Maryland; its 254-acre practice facility; and rights to 200 acres of land in Woodbridge, Va.
Washington must find a new offensive coordinator after firing Scott Turner on Tuesday. Commanders would like to keep the same scheme if possible — they didn’t see the system as a problem, but they wanted a more stable leadership-based identity. There was frustration with the play calls and how they didn’t always line up with what Rivera wanted or what the talent suggested. The players were frustrated.
Washington will interview outside candidates, but if it decides to promote from within, then quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese will take a long look, a team source said Tuesday. With a staff heading into a critical fourth season — likely with a new owner — Washington would prefer to limit the disruption as much as possible. If there is a new system, it must be adapted to the staff or else it can lead to many changes and a more challenging learning curve.
What does the future hold for Wentz and Rivera in Washington? Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Washington hasn’t said it will release Carson Wentz, but it doesn’t have to. Considering he would count $26.7 million against the salary cap if retained, Wentz will almost certainly be cut, a team source said. If his play had been better and the team had won more games with him, then Washington could restructure his contract to keep him around for a few more seasons.
However, Wentz didn’t provide what Washington was hoping for: a consistent passing attack down the field. There were a number of factors that played into Wentz, from poor defense and, in his first six starts, a lack of consistent play. Washington traded for him because, general manager Martin Mayhew said, the Commanders felt Wentz fit what they wanted — a strong-armed quarterback who could hit the field with offside throws.
That leads to the next question: What will they do this offseason? Sam Howell is the only quarterback under contract next season who is guaranteed to return. The former fifth-round pick started the season finale and completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed five times for 35 yards and a score. One game isn’t enough for them to call the fifth-round pick a Day 1 starter in ’23, but it’s enough to be intrigued — as they have been with him since before the draft. A team source said at the time that he was the quarterback they liked best.
They’ll take that small sample size, combined with what they saw of him during practices and meetings, and compare him to the quarterbacks available in the draft.
“We compare it to what will be available,” Mayhew said. “What we have seen in practice from him has been very good. It translated very well into the game, which hasn’t always been the case with other players in the past. He just has a very, very calm demeanor. The guy has the right attitude, he has a very calm confidence about him. It’s promising and it’s good to have Sam as an option as we move forward.”
Taylor Heinicke is a pending free agent — and someone the Commanders view better as a high-level backup. Both sides would like to continue the relationship, but it wouldn’t make sense for Heinicke to stick around if Washington plans to draft a rookie in the early rounds — or if the team gets another veteran to compete for the job.
For now, Rivera said Washington will consider all situations. After starting eight quarterbacks in Rivera’s first three seasons, the Commanders need to settle on someone — and get better, more consistent production. To help, they need to fix the line. But they like their talent at receiver, tight end and running back.
“Going into it, I think we’re in a much better place,” Rivera said.
McLaurin, who has played 10 quarterbacks in his four years, said finding stability at the position is “extremely important.”
“Not just for myself, but for the cohesiveness of our whole group,” he said. “All the quarterbacks we’ve had this year did different great things, but having some consistency there would help everybody.”
2022 NFL Playoffs
• Wild Card Guide » | Matching Keys »
• First look at all 14 NFL playoff teams »
• Barnwell Bracket Predictions »
• Playoff QB Rankings » | Off-Season Guide »
Full playoff bracket and schedule »
Defensive tackle Daron Payne
Payne leads Washington’s pending free agents thanks to a career-best season in which he recorded 11.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. He and Jonathan Allen formed a solid duo inside for Washington, which ranked seventh in points and third in yards per game allowed.
The first step will be Rivera meeting with the Snyders to figure out their offseason budget in an offseason full of uncertainty. Once they know that, they can then go to Payne’s representatives.
“You know what I mean, man. It’s self-explanatory,” Payne said.
Washington considered trading Payne in the offseason, unsure if it could keep him. But unless they were disappointed with an offer, league and team sources said at the time they wouldn’t trade him — knowing they would likely receive a compensatory third-round pick in 2024 if he ended up left via free agency.
The Chiefs initially balked at paying him what they paid Allen in 2021 — a four-year deal that averaged $18 million a year. But Payne’s 2022 season increased his projected salary.
“The boy played outstanding football this year,” Mayhew said. “He has always been disruptive. He’s always been in the backfield, he’s always been around the ball. Well, this was the first year that he was really finishing the way he did this year. It would be hard to move forward without him, obviously. We have a plan and we definitely want to get him back.”
Washington could also use the franchise tag on Payne, which would cost $18.95 million.
The Chiefs also have to plan for not just Payne, but possibly Montez Sweat, a free agent in 2022, and Chase Young, a free agent in 2025. If Washington goes without an expensive quarterback on the roster in 2023, it has more flexibility to keep Payne. The Commanders currently have roughly $13 million available under the cap, but cutting Wentz alone frees up $26.7 million.
Washington also wants to keep linebacker Cole Holcomb, who is coming off a right leg injury that sidelined him for the last 10 games. Could also extend safety Kamren Curl, entering his fourth year, offseason.