سایت طوفان بت : Is Sam Howell still the franchise QB in Washington? Recent struggles have put that future in doubt


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From the moment Ron Rivera named Sam Howell his starting quarterback in the summer, the coach had never flinched. He has praised Howell’s potential, even as he struggled. He lauded his growth, even as the losses mounted. He made it clear he believed the Washington Commanders had found their franchise quarterback.

Then, last Sunday, he flinched.

It wasn’t just that Rivera pulled Howell with 9:05 to go in the Commanders’ 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, or that the offense clicked as backup Jacoby Brissett nearly rallied Washington for the win. It’s that the benching was weeks in the making, as Howell’s struggles have mounted. 

And it was that Rivera said that if the Commanders still had any shot at the playoffs, he might not be willing to put Howell back in.

“Well, if this was about playoffs and we’re right in the middle of it, that’s something you have to most certainly consider,” Rivera said. “Do we still have that opportunity to continue to win? That’s one of the things you always consider because you have to make sure everybody’s getting the opportunity to be successful.”

That’s something the eventual new regime of the Washington Commanders will have to consider, too. And it’s no longer as easy a decision as it once might have seemed.

It’s not just that Howell has struggled mightily over the last four games — a 59.4 completion percentage, 196 passing yards per game, two touchdowns and six interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns. It’s that with him leading the way the Commanders (4-10) have lost five straight, seven of eight have gone 2-10 since their surprising 2-0 start.

As a result, they would currently pick fourth in the 2024 NFL Draft. They have a real shot to pick as high as second. That means whoever takes over for Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew after the season will be holding a top pick in a quarterback-rich draft and could maybe even have a shot at USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye, or perhaps LSU’s Jayden Daniels.

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The new GM and coach will also have no allegiance to Howell, a fifth-round pick in the 2022 draft, nor will they care that Rivera once believed his legacy in Washington would be the franchise quarterback he left behind.

Of course, just because Rivera benched his 23-year-old quarterback doesn’t mean anyone in Washington has — or should — give up on Howell yet. Overall, he’s still had a surprisingly productive season. He ranks seventh in passing yards with 3,568, even though he’s thrown for just 229 total in the last two weeks. He’s completed 64.6 percent of his passes and thrown 19 touchdowns despite being sacked a ridiculous 59 times.

More often than not, he’s been a bright spot on a bad Commanders team. 

“There have been some positives and it continues to be positive,” Rivera said. “But the thing you always want to make sure is (that) we’re still seeing the growth. That’s something we have to sit down and discuss and see exactly where we all feel he is.”

Lately, it’s hard to argue there’s been much growth. The six interceptions Howell has thrown in the last four games has ballooned his season total to 15 — the most in the NFL. And it was hard not to notice how well Brissett performed after Howell was pulled on Sunday, going 8 of 10 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on his only two drives.

Yes, the Rams’ defense was sitting back a bit protecting what was a 28-7 lead with nine minutes to go. But there were little things that Brissett did that Howell hadn’t been doing. And there are bigger things, like rediscovering Terry McLaurin, the Commanders’ best receiver. He had a career-high 141 receiving yards on Sunday, including 93 on passes from Brissett. The lack of a connection between Howell and McLaurin has been disappointing all season. One game earlier, McLaurin didn’t even catch a single pass.

That has all helped the doubts creep in where there hadn’t been many before. In early November, Rivera was all but handing the keys to the franchise to Howell. He said, “This franchise has been looking for quite some time and for the first time in a while, I think that that guy might be here.” Now he’s questioning his growth, saying he needs a “reset,” wondering out loud if he’s the guy who gives his team the best chance to win.

“That’s stuff that I have to take into consideration — exactly where he is and how he’s handling these things,” Rivera said. “He’s done a really good job for us and it is a long year. It’s been a tough year. But again, this is stuff that we can hope that he understands, and he learns and he grows.”

There are certainly signs that he has, and he can. As recently as last week, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was still raving about Howell’s progress, his intelligence, his pocket presence and more.

“Do I like what he’s done? Yes, I do,” Bieniemy said. “Obviously, in this league, you’re measured by wins and losses, so we have to make sure that is reflecting in that column. But I’m very happy with his development and his growth process. Do we have a long way to go? Yes, we do, but he’s growing every single day.”

Howell’s teammates seem to sense that and still believe in him, too.

“Sam’s still doing a good job of growing and learning and giving us chance to make plays down the field,” McLaurin said. “We’re still rolling with him. We’ve just got to continue to support him and make his job a little easier.”

“He’s going to be a good player in this league for a long time,” Brissett added. “The key is just you can’t be discouraged, can’t lose confidence, and I’m sure he won’t. I’m sure he can come back and be better than this.”

Howell didn’t sound discouraged after he was benched on Sunday. He even insisted: “I know I’m not defined by this one game.” And he won’t be. Rivera has already said Howell will be the starter again when the Commanders play at the New York Jets (5-9) on Christmas Eve. It’s a good bet he’ll be the starter in the final two games, too.

After that, though, all the bets on Howell are now off, because there are just too many variables about his future. No one knows yet who’ll be in charge, let alone what they think of Howell — or even what new owner Josh Harris thinks of Howell and his potential. It’s unclear just how high the Commanders will be picking in the draft, and what the new boss’ evaluation of the quarterback class will be.

There was a time, though, when Howell seemed to be steaming towards making it an easy decision for whoever ended up in charge. Through the first eight games he had completed 66.9 percent of his passes, he had thrown for 2,146 yards and 13 touchdowns, his passer rating was 90.1, and everyone seemed to believe the best was yet to come.

But the only thing that came next were struggles and doubts, leaving many to wonder if Rivera even still believes the Commanders have their franchise quarterback. Not that it matters, since that won’t be his decision.

The legacy he hoped to leave behind is now very much up in the air.

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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