Sam Howell can win his way into job security in final weeks of ’23

Sam Howell entered the season hoping to prove he’s the future of the Washington Commanders franchise at quarterback.

With four games remaining, Howell can finish the job — but it’s no certainty.

Right now, the Commanders hold the No. 4 selection in the upcoming NFL draft. If the team loses its final games, Washington would be in position to select one of the three quarterbacks expected to be at the top of the draft — Caleb Williams of USC, Drake Maye of UNC, and Jayden Daniels of LSU.

That would be bad news for Howell, who has put up a statistically proficient season, but could still end up competing for the starter’s job next year against one of those top signal callers.

If he can lead the Commanders to victories, though, the team would likely move back in the draft order, potentially ensuring that Howell stays under center for another year.

Last week, Howell said he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about external factors, but does feel like he’s grown over the season.

“I would say I definitely feel more confident, and I feel like I can see more things pre-snap,” he said. “I really haven’t gone back and kind of watched myself at the beginning of the season, but I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable and I’m able to see more things and have more of an understanding of what defenses are doing.”

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy agreed with that assessment.

He noted the off-schedule plays that Howell has made over the past month as proof of what the quarterback is capable of. Against the Miami Dolphins, Howell continued that stretch, scrambling for a touchdown and delivering an off-schedule strike to Curtis Samuel for a first down.

“He’s making plays now,” Bieniemy said. “Has everything been perfect for him? No. But he’s making tremendous strides.”

Those strides have coincided with a renewed emphasis on calling the run from Bieniemy. A big part of Howell’s statistical prowess is quantity, not quality. He leads the NFL in passing attempts and is second in yards.

The move to a more run-based attack is an acknowledgment that, while Howell is a piece of the puzzle, he’s not going to take the team on his shoulders.

While he’s on a rookie contract, if Howell can lead a balanced attack, protect the ball and put up decent numbers, he should allow the team the time and money to bolster the roster around him, making everybody better.

Rivera acknowledged that Howell and Bieniemy are still working on the balance between the running game and the passing game.

“I think what we’re trying to do is try and figure that portion of it out,” Rivera said of the run game. “Just making sure we can do certain things and certain elements. I mean, we’ve run the ball a little more effectively lately, and there’s been a little bit more of an emphasis on that as well.”

Howell said there’s no point in second-guessing coaching decisions. 

“Obviously, us players have got to do our job, we’ve got to take better care of the football, we’ve got to execute better in certain situations,” he said. “But I think (Bieniemy) is doing a really good job. He’s grown as a leader, as an OC throughout the season, as he’s done probably his whole career. He’s just gotten better every single week and he continues to work so hard, so it’s fun to play for him.

That development now enters a crucial phase, as the Commanders and Howell must find a way to turn yardage into wins over the final weeks to avoid a draft-day dilemma.

Source: WT