Carson Wentz isn’t the answer at QB for the Commanders in 2023


Ron Rivera is moving back to Carson Wentz, and that’s in an effort to beat Cleveland on Sunday, beat Dallas the following week and play further into 2023. “That’s what I’m really concerned with right now, is getting into the playoffs,” the Washington Commanders’ coach said, and it makes all the sense in the world.

These games, though, don’t exist in a vacuum. Whether Wentz plays well in place of Taylor Heinicke — who replaced Wentz way back when the Commanders were a lowly 2-4 — will help determine whether Washington clings to the seventh and final spot in the NFC playoffs. But it also will help determine who will play quarterback for this team next season. How frightening.

What a predicament. The correct course of action for fans is to root for the Commanders — and therefore for Wentz — so Washington might finish with a winning record for the first time in Rivera’s three seasons. But if Wentz plays two solid games — and maybe a third or even fourth in the playoffs — might he be entrenching himself in the job again next year?

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There’s the problem: Any Washington fan wants a playoff appearance, particularly in an NFC field that, aside from Philadelphia and San Francisco, is likely to include some decidedly beatable opponents. For a franchise that has just one playoff victory this century, passing on these opportunities is unwise.

But you don’t want Wentz to be the quarterback of the future — even in 2023. He is a placeholder, no better. Shoot, the Commanders are in this position — fighting for the playoffs as 2022 turns to 2023 — because Heinicke replaced the injured Wentz and karmically, if not statistically, provided a lift. Do the Commanders go on the 5-1 run that rids them of a 2-4 start with Wentz at the controls? We will never know. I suspect not.

The following drill might be tired, but it remains instructive. Compare a couple of quarterbacks and their 2022 statistics.

QB A’s stats: 62.9 completion percentage, 4.4 touchdown percentage, 2.4 interception percentage, 8.5 sack percentage, 6.5 yards per attempt, an 86.3 passer rating and a 32.6 QBR. (QBR is ESPN’s quarterback rating metric, a category led by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes at 78.7; Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins ​​ranks 20th at 51.0.)

QB B’s stats: 62.2 completion percentage, 4.6 touchdown percentage, 2.3 interception percentage, 6.8 sack percentage, 7.2 yards per attempt, an 89.6 passer rating and a 45.0 QBR.

Who’s who? Why does it matter? It’s clear one is not worth $22 million — Wentz’s salary this season — and the other $2,375 million, which is the average of Heinicke’s two-year deal. If you’re going to get basically the same production out of each quarterback, go with the cost-effective one so you can build the rest of your roster.

More than that: Wentz’s deal, should the Commanders not opt ​​out of it — and they can opt out with no salary cap ramifications — calls for him to make $20 million in 2023 and $21 million in 2024. That doesn’t seem like money well spent — and that’s regardless of how he plays over the following two weeks and potentially into the playoffs.

So this is a conundrum. Root for the Commanders because that’s what you were brought up to do — even if they played under other name(s). But at the cost of perhaps extending what seems like a lifetime of quarterback purgatory? That’s pricey.

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Washington’s offseason quarterback priorities should include, if not be topped by, re-signing Heinicke to be a backup, if not the quasi-incumbent starter should the Commanders take their quarterback of the (very near) future in the first few rounds of the draft — or if it is, by some miracle, rookie Sam Howell. Heinicke is adored in the locker room and by large swaths of the fan base. He is capable of winning a game or even a few in a row. Over an extended stretch, he’s invariably exposed. But you want him in your building and as your backup, unquestionably.

We don’t know what Howell, whom Washington selected in the fifth round this past spring, might bring because he hasn’t taken a regular season snap. But consider that quarterbacks leading teams into the NFC playoffs were taken in the second (Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts), fourth (Cousins ​​and Dallas’s Dak Prescott), sixth (Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady) and seventh (San Francisco’s Brock Purdy) rounds. It’s not impossible to find your quarterback further down in the draft. Whether that’s Howell or a player the Commanders select next spring doesn’t much matter. They just have to find him — somehow, some way, for once.

The danger is allowing the next two weeks — or more — to trick you into the idea that Wentz is the answer in 2023 and beyond. This team doesn’t necessarily need an all-pro at the most important position in American sports to succeed. It has talented young playmakers on offense — Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson as wide receivers, Brian Robinson Jr. as a running back — and its defensive front has reestablished itself as a reliable and disruptive strength. Washington doesn’t need to score 30 points a week to win. But these Commanders, whether with Wentz or Heinicke, have topped 20 points just five times in 15 games.

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That doesn’t cut it, and there’s now enough evidence that Wentz won’t magically change it. Oh, the quarterbacks above? QB A — the one with the (slightly) lower touchdown percentage, higher interception and sack rates, lower passer rating and QBR? That’s Wentz. For all his appeal, Heinicke has shown he’s not a franchise quarterback. Wentz has similar (or worse) stats — and he somehow is? Nope. No way.

It makes sense to turn back to Wentz against Cleveland because Heinicke has followed his magical run by going 0-2-1 and turning the ball over too frequently. But tread lightly here. Maybe there’s a way for the defense to lift the team to victories over the Browns and the Cowboys and to fight for a playoff win — and for Wentz to be more passenger than pilot, which could make moving on from him in the offseason a bit easier . Could.

Such a tough spot. If Wentz plays well, is he back in 2023? Is that what the Commanders and their fans should want? The answers may well be “yes” to the first and “no” to the second, which would keep the Commanders right where they have been for what seems like eternity: looking for a franchise quarterback, again and again and again.

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