Embrace the Young Gun: How Sam Howell Can Help Build a Winning Roster
I said it in a previous article, but Sam Howell excites me for the future of the Commanders for a number of reasons. Many considered Howell the top QB expected to enter the draft when eligible following his sophomore season. He deserved the recognition, breaking the rookie passing TD record in the ACC as a freshman, and showing off a big arm throughout both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Unfortunately, pretty much every starting skill player on North Carolina’s roster entered the draft in 2021, including now-professional teammate and wide receiver, Dyami Brown. A lot of people think that means Howell can’t win without strong support, and I guess that’s fair to say; however, if you don’t have some form of support, how much can one man do in a game with both teams fielding 11 players? Howell and Josh Downs built a strong connection throughout the season, and Howell passed for over 3,000 yard and 24 TDs to only nine interceptions, adding another 828 yards and 11(!!!) TDs on the ground. So yeah, even with a weaker team, Howell still accounted for more offense than most realize. I watched a lot of “QB Coaches” and “QB Gurus” talk about Sam Howell on YouTube (I know the difference between the ones who know what they’re talking about and the 17 year old hype beasts whose analysis consists of, “I mean look at that throw” without any support of why it’s a good throw). The overwhelming consensus amongst them is that Howell had a second to third round grade coming out of North Carolina. So please, stop looking at the fact that he’s a fifth rounder, or his draft spot in general.
I said in a previous article that my “favorite throw from Howell’s game against Dallas” was to the stud rookie wideout Jahan Dotson. Dotson ran a great route, taking an outside release and exploding off the line as if to run a deep route, then snapping it off into a curl. Howell threw the ball perfectly. The throw arrived as Dotson left his break, was on Dotson’s outside shoulder about face-high, and led Dotson up-field allowing him to pick up another 10 yards or so after the catch after running past a recovering Cowboys corner. I watched that game alone, but not many people would’ve been happy with my reaction had they been near me (I tend to be rather obnoxious watching the games). I clapped so loudly and jumped off of the couch. It was exactly what the Commanders missed all season on offense. The number of sailed throws from Heinicke or throws straight to the other team from Wentz stalled the offense all season. Heinicke forced the receiver group to wait about five seconds after coming out of a break for the ball to arrive. I’d be furious if I were them. The Commanders WRs created separation all season and poorly thrown passes including high and slow throws all caused drives to stall and the Commanders to turn the ball over. Examples? Heinicke missed Curtis Samuel over the middle against the Giants the first time high and behind him that would’ve been a first down and probably another 25 yards with how bad Samuel beat the defender and his speed. Minnesota game, Heinicke sails a pass with open receivers in both flats that gets picked off, Vikings score on a short field to cut the lead (Scott Turner’s play calling also led to two short fields that the Vikings scored on, but I won’t open that can of worms). Wentz, well… don’t really need to touch on that. I mean he played so poorly I don’t know where to start. Moving on nonetheless…
My point is, Howell threw with the timing, anticipation, and accuracy to start at quarterback for the Commanders next year. He played well in the preseason too, making some pretty special throws that backup WRs dropped (“rail” or “hole” shot a few times against Baltimore that Dyami tried to get cute with). He showed his potential, now it’s up to the Commanders to pay Daron Payne, heavily invest in the OL through the draft and free agency, surround Howell with talent, and support him for an entire off-season. Financially, this makes too much sense.
The Commanders set themselves up in the 2022 Draft in more ways than one, ASSUMING Howell plays his way into the starting role long term. Last off-season, Terry McLaurin signed an extension with the Commanders for three years totaling $71 million. He earned that contract this season, setting a new career high in yards, catching five TDs, and hauling in over 75 passes total. They created a focal point of their offense. Then, they traded back from 11th overall to 16th overall, and acquired draft picks that then turned into players such as Jahan Dotson, Brian Robinson, and Sam Howell himself. Dotson proved his draft positioning was well worth the investment this season. He compliments Terry McLaurin so well, and with another year of Curtis Samuel’s speed, this trio could be one of the better groups in the league. Even after Samuel leaves (my guess is he doesn’t re-sign here after next year; I certainly wouldn’t pay him anything near what we did on this contract barring a great season next year), Dotson and McLaurin will be around causing nightmares for opposing defenses. The defense played their way into a top ten ranking, so with some simple holes to fill, and prime opportunities to fill them, I’m not too worried about the defensive side of the ball if they continue playing at this level.
So why did this set them up financially? The Commanders can cut five to six players on their roster and free up anywhere from $53-$60 million in cap space. Here’s what you do with it: Hand Daron Payne a fat check (guessing $21-$22 million a year, but might need to entice him to stay with $25M/yr hate to say). Then, you sign a bonafide starting linebacker in Tremaine Edmunds to help with the linebacker depth. Spotrac.com suggests Edmunds market value to be $11 million per year. Done. Say Payne gets 23 and Edmunds 11, that’s only $34M of the $50+ created. You can still go after a center, corner, and offensive lineman (I want them to draft specific players at each of these spots in certain rounds) with all of the left over money to (again) build around and support Sam Howell. This frees up a lot of money moving forward, allowing the Commanders to hopefully be able to sign top tier free agents in positions of need because of the rookie QB contract from Sam Howell. THAT is why Howell is so valuable. He offers such high upside allowing you to focus on other positions of need to build a strong roster. All I’ll say is check out the Dolphins, Eagles, and Chargers with their rookie QB and how they used the money elsewhere.
Howell offers a question mark for sure right now, but I personally think he owns all of the tools to be a starting quarterback in the NFL with some fine tuning combined with his mobility. The Commanders NEED to take advantage of the simple trade back that could’ve helped changed the trajectory of the franchise moving forward. Part Two of my favorite draft prospects will be out tomorrow, and if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!