Washington's Ron Rivera is one of the most respected people in the NFL as a successful former linebacker in the league who won a Super Bowl ring with the Bears and a two-time Coach of the Year with Carolina. In recent years, however, Rivera has become very wishy-washy regarding his starting quarterback and that's apparently the case again this summer, as he announced Tuesday that Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett will compete for the starting gig with the Washington Commanders. SportsLine offers odds on the winner.
Rivera didn't have to worry about making any QB moves for much of his tenure with the Panthers because he had Cam Newton. Newton got hurt early in the 2019 season and Rivera has largely been playing musical chairs at the position since, both with the Panthers and now Commanders.
Last year, Taylor Heinicke saw action in nine games, Carson Wentz in eight and Howell in one. Wentz opened the year as the starter and got hurt in Week 6. Heinicke took over and played well for a while. He struggled against the 49ers in Week 16 and Rivera chose to bench him for Week 17 vs. Cleveland and start Wentz, despite the former Eagle's rust and the fact he hadn't been that good before going down. Wentz was terrible in the loss to the Browns and Washington was eliminated from wild card contention. Wentz is now gone and remains a free agent, and Heinicke has landed in Atlanta.
If Howell had been able to declare for the draft after either his first or second season at North Carolina, he might have been a first-round pick. Alas, he wasn't quite as good in his third season with the Tar Heels and slipped to the 144th pick in the 2022 draft, where Washington scooped him up.
Howell started last season's meaningless finale at home vs. Dallas and led a 26-6 upset, completing 11-for-19 for 169 yards, a touchdown and a pick. He also rushed for a score against one of the NFL's top defenses.
About a month ago, it was reported that Howell had shown enough both last season and this year in OTAs to convince the Commanders he's their starter. Rivera had said the team was "very comfortable" with Howell. First-year offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy praised Howell's demeanor through Washington's offseason program.
Yet on Tuesday, Rivera said the team will discuss giving Brissett first-team reps this offseason and that he will compete with Howell.
"I do," Rivera said when asked if he saw his quarterback situation as a competition. "Again, it's one of those things that, guys, it's … just because I said (Howell's) gonna start off as QB1 doesn't mean he's gonna finish as QB1. I like to believe, though, that if he goes out and does things he's capable of, he's got a very, very good chance of doing that. I think Jacoby's shown us some things that have really caught people's attention. We talk about Jacoby almost as much as we talk about Sam. I just think as we go through this process and until we play games, it'd be unfair to start making assessments. Again, there is a lot of confidence."
Brissett is a journeyman with an 18-30 career record and was 4-7 last year with Cleveland before giving way to Deshaun Watson. Only league MVP Patrick Mahomes and Comeback Player of the Year Geno Smith had a higher completion rate over expected than Brissett.
With new ownership in Washington, Rivera's job is probably on the line in 2023 following three straight non-winning seasons (one of which included a fluke playoff berth) and with only two years left on his deal. Coaches with jobs on the line generally lean toward playing a veteran QB over an inexperienced one in Week 1 unless the talent level is obviously different.
If, say, the Commanders opened with one of the NFL's best teams, that might give Rivera second thoughts about putting Howell on the field. But they open at home against the team with the lowest over/under win total in the NFL (4.5) in the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are +320 favorites to finish with the league's worst record.
The Commanders are -6 and the SportsLine Projection Model has both QBs playing: Howell completing 12 of 18 for 120 yards with 1.1 TDs and 0.48 INTs, and Brissett 8-for-12 for 78 yards with 0.70 TDs and 0.31 INTs. It's certainly possible that both play. There aren't any individual season over/under totals yet for either Washington QB as the sportsbooks wait for the dust to clear a bit in the competition. Howell is +10000 to lead the league in passing yards and the same price to win MVP. Day 3 quarterbacks like Howell generally face an uphill battle to become successful in the NFL.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Who starts Week 1 at QB for Washington vs. Arizona?
- Sam Howell -130
- Jacoby Brissett +130
- Other +2000
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