It took until the absolute last game of their season, but the Washington Commanders finally decided to see what they had in Sam Howell by starting him against the Dallas Cowboys. While the game didn’t mean anything for Washington in terms of their playoff standings, a win over the Cowboys is always sweet in Washington, and the fact a win would keep them from any chance of winning the NFC East would make the win that much sweeter.
Sam Howell delivered the candy.
Apparently between the practices and his start last weekend, Howell showed Washington enough. On Saturday morning, CBS Insider Jonathan Jones — a UNC alum if you weren’t aware — dropped this nugget about Washington and Sam Howell:
The Washington Commanders have seemingly found their 2023 QB1: Sam Howell https://t.co/mPDACr1jP6— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) January 14, 2023
Per the article Washington is informing all of their potential offensive coordinator hires that Howell is going to go into the offseason as their starter, and their hope is to sign a veteran as his backup.
There are many parts to this decision. The first part is that Howell clearly showed Washington he has the tools to be a starter in the NFL. Not just because he sat back and waited, but that in his start he showed skills that would have him succeed in the league. I mean, how many can claim their first NFL pass is a touchdown?
It’s not just that it was a touchdown but a great read. He waited in the pocket long enough for Terry McLaurin to get just enough space from his defender, and made the right pass to where McLaurin could just stride into the end zone. It was also a big moment because it came after a sudden change on special teams, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
He also showed several plays with his legs that UNC fans had gotten used to, but perhaps the best play that showed fans he was ready for the big time was this bomb dropped in a bucket later on:
This is a high, high quality throw from Sam Howell. Wow pic.twitter.com/5XPdaFYsIX— Ethan Cadeaux (@Ethan_Cadeaux) January 8, 2023
Nothing like 50+ yard throw in a bucket to the receiver. That’s going to turn heads in the NFL.
That Howell held the lead and had these quality of throws was apparently enough to let Washington coach Ron Rivera feel comfortable anointing him as the starter going into the offseason. Another part of the decision is that it allows Washington to focus using their first round pick on something else to improve the team besides a quarterback. It’s also an acknowledgement that the free agent quarterback class for 2023 isn’t the strongest, so why not go with the younger (and cheaper) option in Howell and see what he can do with a full season.
Momentum from the Washington fanbase had been to go ahead and name Howell, though there had been fears that the potential sale of the franchise would factor into the decision. Naming Howell seems to acknowledge that Washington views they just need some tweaks instead of a major overhaul, and considering they were in playoff contention until week seventeen, it’s a fair assumption.
It will be interesting to see who Washington hires as their offensive coordinator and how they decide to use the talents Howell brings to the table. According to fellow SB Nation Site Hogs Heaven the name that has popped up is Pat Shumur. While out of the league last season, Shumur has a track record of developing young quarterbacks, and was the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2002-2008 when Andy Reid was the coach and Donovan McNabb was the quarterback. He was also the OC of the 2017 Minnesota Vikings, they of the Minnesota Miracle win over the Saints. He hasn’t been able to parlay that success into being a winning head coach, and he spent his last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. He’s clearly looking for a fresh start.
Either way, barring a surprise it looks like Sam Howell will get an honest chance to make an impact in Washington next season.