Will Taylor Heinicke Return?
By: Tayyib Abu (@tayyibabu1)
The quarterback carousel began in earnest over the weekend. Late on Saturday, news broke that Matthew Stafford was heading west to become a Los Angeles Ram. The first significant domino fell over the weekend. The Rams got their man at quarterback, Stafford and Sean Mcvay could form a devastating tag-team. The Rams fought off stiff competition from Carolina, Denver and Washington. Those teams are still searching for the answer; Washington, in particular, is looking for a franchise quarterback.
After winning the NFC Least in 2020, Washington is desperate to ram home their advantage. A ferocious defense is the platform that led Ron Rivera’s team to a division title. Several members of the defensive roster are on rookie deals; that means they are all under cap-control. This fierce group finished as the third-ranked passing defense in the NFL. That is a robust platform to build a winning team. After missing out on Stafford, it is more important than ever that Washington explores the quarterback position options.
With Stafford off the market, and Deshaun Watson’s status uncertain: Dak Prescott is the big prize on offer in the free-agent store’s quarterback section. Prescott was enjoying a superb season for the Cowboys before an injury ended his year. At 27-years-old Prescott is not an old quarterback, his 2020 form demonstrated that he was getting better. His QBR for the season was a career-high 78.6, Prescott also displayed an ability to air the ball out. The Cowboys could not run the ball; therefore, Prescott threw the ball over 40 times in several games; the fact that he kept them in those games is a testament to his talent.
Prescott ended the narrative that he is a safe passer or a better runner than passer. His next-gen passing chart shows that he was brilliant at throwing outside the numbers as well as deep downfield. Prescott will come with concerns; How is the rehab going? Will he be the same player? Those are legitimate questions; however, Washington is in no position to judge Prescott on that. Comeback Player of The Year-elect Alex Smith led Washington with a winning record in the games he started. With Antonio Gibson and Scary Terry Mcluarin; Washington possesses two, star offensive weapons that Prescott can lean on. A move like this is incredibly ambitious, bordering on audacious. Nonetheless, if the Football Team wants to upgrade their quarterback room, as well as weaken a division rival; it is a move they must consider.
Once upon a time, Cam Newton won an MVP under Ron Rivera’s stewardship. Now Newton needs a team, and Rivera needs a quarterback. Newton was on a base salary of $1.5 million at New England in 2020; he will be an inexpensive pickup for Washington. Newton is incredibly difficult to judge based off one year in New England with no receivers. The New England offense is bereft of good talent at the skill positions. Newton’s career passing yards gained per attempt is 7.3; in 2020 for New England, it was 7.2. The arm is still performing at the same level. Newton will never be Aaron Rodgers; conversely, a player like Aaron Rodgers will never hit free agency.
Newton is still a competent passer if not an explosive passer. The beauty of Newton is that he offers such a unique proposition under center. While his rushing totals will never match what he did in his rookie year, Newton displayed solid rushing skill in New England. A man of his size is difficult to stop. Newton with Antonio Gibson in the backfield creates a dynamic duo that could run all over teams. If Washington committed to a run-game using play-action, they could get away with it as the defense is exceptional. A ball-control offense married to a rampant defense could be the key. Moreover, Ron Rivera and coordinator Scott Turner could revitalize Newton.
If Dak Prescott stays at Dallas, Andy Dalton could be in play for Washington. Dalton is not a backup quarterback; he can be a solid starter for most NFL teams. With his quick-fire release, accurate passing and veteran experience; Dalton can be a steady hand. Similar to Newton, the Red Rifle will be reasonably inexpensive for Washington to acquire. Dalton is an excellent short to intermediate route thrower; that is good news for Terry Mclaurin and Cam Sims. Both of those players excel after the catch. Washington could use plenty of in-breaking routes to get their wideouts into space.
Dalton is good working out of short dropbacks, that can be useful in Landover. With a top running-back in Antonio Gibson and that tremendous defensive unit; Dalton doesn’t need to be Superman, he just would need to look after the ball, make smart decisions and let the talent around him succeed. In his lengthy career, Dalton did all of that in Cincinnati. He owns that experience.
The Comeback Player of The Year award should get renamed the Alex Smith award. The former San Francisco 49er went through hell after he suffered a horrific broken leg injury. After 17 surgeries, Smith finally stepped out onto a football field in 2020. With Dwayne Haskins causing himself more bother, and Kyle Allen getting hurt; Rivera called upon Smith to be Washington’s signal-caller. With Smith under center, Washington went 5-3 which catapulted them into contention in the NFC East. At pick 19, Washington is probably out of range to draft one of the top four quarterbacks. The next best available could be Mac Jones who could still be on the board when Washington is on the clock.
Jones is not a viable day one starter. Therefore, Washington can draft their future quarterback, while using Smith as the starter. His QBR of 78.5 confirms that his play was of a high level. Smith is not a deep-ball passer; he will dink and dunk his way to methodical drives. Washington can build around Gibson and Mclaurin on offense; while letting their defense go to work. Smith can be the veteran voice guiding a young quarterback in his development. Smith can do all of that while ensuring the on-field results stay consistent. In a division with three bad teams, that might be all Washington needs for 2021.
In one playoff game, Taylor Heinicke thrilled the NFL world. The Old Dominion Alum shone one wildcard weekend as he took it to Tampa Bay. Heinicke is a practice squad veteran; he’s been on four different teams’ practice squad. Critically, Heinicke crossed paths with Ron Rivera in Carolina. The Panthers claimed him off waivers in light of Cam Newton’s injury in 2018. After a lost stint in the XFL due to Covid, Heinicke went back to school to finish his engineering degree.
That was until Ron Rivera sounded the bat-signal for Heinicke. The engineering student came into play for Washington after Smith’s calf injury. Heinicke played like a wild man; he ran, threw good passes, some bad passes and provided unpredictability to Washington’s offense against Tampa. Heinicke demonstrated enough raw tools for Washington to bring him back and evaluate him during the off-season programme. It would be the wildcard move from Washington; however, he is called Riverboat Ron for a reason.