Will Commanders Ever Find a QB?

Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke
Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - In these editions of Four Downs, we'll review the biggest hole on each team in the division and then give a short look at each team's major free agents for 2022.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Need: Cornerback

Without stepping too far into one of the biggest analytical debates of the year, Dallas' defense had problems in coverage. Trevon Diggs, the All-Pro with 11 interceptions, is also the same guy who allowed 11.1 yards per target in SIS charting, a far cry from the 8.6 he allowed in his rookie season. No. 2 corner Anthony Brown was targeted 104 times in 16 starts. Nickel corner Jourdan Lewis also struggled at times. Kelvin Joseph had a decent small sample size and probably is ready to help a bit more.

When you finish No. 1 in defensive DVOA but lose in the wild-card round because your corners can't check the 49ers wideouts on key third downs, that's pointing to some elemental improvement that needs to happen. Teams with defenses this good shouldn't be losing to Jimmy Garoppolo. It's a tough nit to pick, but that's kind of the rub when a team this good disappoints early in the playoffs. It's also hard to imagine the Cowboys finding a bigger solution than spending their late first-round pick on a corner, because they (as usual) are cap-strapped. In-house growth may be necessary.

Major Free Agents: S Jayron Kearse, TE Dalton Schultz, OG Connor Williams, LB Leighton Vander Esch, WR Michael Gallup, ER Randy Gregory

Schultz had a breakout season and is well-positioned to make some money off of it, though he may also wind up getting franchise-tagged if the Cowboys move on from Amari Cooper's big cap hit. Gallup will likely be looking at a one-year deal coming off a late-season ACL tear. Gregory figures to attract some real attention after a six-sack season with a career-high 43 (per SIS) pressures. Kearse already sounds like he's coming back for Year 2. The Cowboys are going to need to move on from Tank Lawrence or Amari Cooper—or work some major restructures—to keep more than a couple of these players.

New York Giants

Biggest Need: Offensive line

Well, here's a preview of the major free agents section: Of the five Giants offensive linemen who played the most snaps last season, the only player who isn't a free agent is left tackle Andrew Thomas. Now the Giants do have some in-house guys who could pick up some slack, but it's leaning heavily into rehab. Matt Peart is coming off a December ACL tear. Ben Bredeson missed time with a hand injury and was a healthy DNP for all of November. Shane Lemieux started nine games in 2020 and missed all but one 2021 start with a torn patellar tendon.

The Giants also have this teeny little problem where they are over the cap and don't have a lot of pre-June 1 routes to create cap space from their big-dollar players outside of releasing Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, and Kyle Rudolph. Martinez and Rudolph aren't must-keeps, but Bradberry wasn't a bad player at all last year and would be a tough loss. In other words, be prepared to see an offensive lineman go to the Giants in the top 10 in the draft, and look for New York to be aggressive in small-stakes free agency as well. Former Bills lineman Ike Boettger could be a good fit with both general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll having Buffalo roots. Schoen mentioned to Peter King that he wanted to get to $40 million in cap space. That sounds wild right now from where the Giants are, but if they want to really churn the roster, they could get there. That would likely involve moving on from Sterling Shepard and possibly even Saquon Barkley.

Major Free Agents: OG Will Hernandez, C Billy Price, LT Nate Solder, LG Matt Skura, TE Evan Engram, ER Lorenzo Carter

Engram is somehow only turning 28 in September even though it feels like he has been around forever. He is someone who simultaneously has a lot of unlocked promise and also someone who has delivered so little on that promise that you can't really count on much. Carter has kind of topped out as a third edge rusher/zone dropper versatility defender, but that kind of player has some value in a league that's leaning more and more heavily into creeper pressures. He could find a decent market for his services.

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Need: Wide receiver

You can blame some of this on Jalen Hurts, and though he played hurt, the Tampa Bay playoff game was not a ringing endorsement of his chances to be a star in this league. But the Eagles had to play DeVonta Smith as a No. 1 receiver from the jump because they had literally no one else. Former sixth-rounder Quez Watkins became the No. 2 receiver by default as Jalen Reagor continued to disappoint. JJ Arcega-Whiteside got hurt yet again. The Eagles didn't have a single wideout finish higher than 32nd in DVOA among qualified receivers.

The NFL draft brings a bevy of first-round wideouts that should be available near the Eagles' three mid-round selections. Ohio State's Garrett Wilson, Arkansas' Treylon Burks, USC's Drake London, Alabama's Jameson Williams, and (also) Ohio State's Chris Olave would be reasonable picks. We have never seen Hurts work with real receiving talent yet outside of Smith, and adding another wideout in the first while bringing in a veteran free agent could be the best way to fully understand how good Hurts could be.

Major Free Agents: CB Steven Nelson, S Anthony Harris, ER Derek Barnett, S Rodney McLeod, RB Jordan Howard

Another spot that's a candidate for a first-round pick is the secondary, where Harris and McLeod are both over 30 and Nelson, 29, was a stop-gap solution signed well after the draft. Barnett has been a reliable source of pressures as a rotational lineman but hasn't turned many of them into sacks and finished with a career-low 2.0 of them in 2021. Howard will probably stay in a small role, as the Eagles definitely seem to be the team that thinks the highest of him at this point.

Washington Commanders

Biggest Need: Quarterback

Same as it ever was. The Commanders haven't had a qualifying quarterback finish with a positive DVOA since Kirk Cousins in 2016. It continues to be a major problem, and every year they try something new and watch it blow up in their face. They have brought in decent-seeming veteran stopgaps such as Alex Smith, Case Keenum, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round. Somehow the end result of all of this was Taylor Heinicke starting 15 games in 2021. As good of a story as he was in the playoffs against Tampa Bay in the 2020 season, Heinicke is not a solution either.

It's hard to imagine the Commanders being involved with any of the major quarterbacks on the market, unless they are the team that's going to pay the Deshaun Watson markup and deal with the PR fallout (and that relies on Watson actually wanting to go there). But this could be a spot for Jimmy Garoppolo. It could be a spot for Jameis Winston. It could be a spot for Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis to be drafted earlier than anticipated. It could be a combination of those things. The former Football Team won't ever be more than a playoff afterthought until they fix this spot.

Major Free Agents: S Bobby McCain, G Brandon Scherff, WR Adam Humphries, OL Cornelius Lucas, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, RB J.D. McKissic

Scherff got the franchise tag last offseason and remains a good bet to be one of the best free agents on the market, but he'll turn 32 next December, hasn't played a full season since 2016, and is purely a short-term solution. His SIS blocking stats have held up well, but Washington got decent play out of Wes Schweitzer and might move on. The Commanders have enough cap space to bring him back, but likely can't do another tag. McKissic is an interesting free agent as one of the best receiving backs on the market. He finished last year concussed, is small, and will be 29 before next season. But he has been extremely prolific over the past three seasons and should be an affordable way to create cheap yards after the catch. Washington reportedly wants to re-sign McKissic.


46 comments, Last at 05 Mar 2022, 1:29pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 25, 2022 - 10:57am

No. 2 corner Anthony Brown was targeted 104 times in 16 starts.

Does that matter? Opponents through 600 times against Dallas. Those throws had to be at someone. Hole in Zone wasn't on the field every play.

When you finish No. 1 in defensive DVOA but lose in the wild-card round because your corners can't check the 49ers wideouts on key third downs, that's pointing to some elemental improvement that needs to happen. 

SF converted four 3rd downs via passing (including one via penalty). They failed more than they succeeded passing on 3rd down.

They may need DB help, but the examples provided aren't strong evidence.

Points: 0

#12 by Theo // Feb 26, 2022 - 11:53am

Looked like arguing with the goal of convincing us of something, not trying to explain something.

If Garoppolo can beat the #1 defense, maybe he isnt as bad as you think he is.

But that cant be right.

Points: 0

#15 by Pat // Feb 26, 2022 - 12:46pm

Garoppolo's problem isn't his ability, it's his availability. I don't understand where this "Jimmy G sucks" comes from.

He's a solid QB in terms of ability *and* the 49ers should absolutely move on.

Points: 0

#19 by theslothook // Feb 26, 2022 - 4:06pm

That playoff run was one of the least inspiring runs by a winning QB. It wasn't quite zombie Peyton Manning, but it was concerning enough. I thought he was okay in Dallas and almost unplayable in the other two games. 

The play calling was also pretty indicative of a coach who had zero faith in his quarterback. 

Points: 0

#22 by Bryan Knowles // Feb 26, 2022 - 10:06pm

I think the best way to describe Garoppolo is limited, rather than good or bad or inspiring or anything of that nature.  What Garoppolo does well, he does really well -- there's a reason why the 49ers' offense was significantly more explosive with Garoppolo under center than it was with Mullins or Beathard or Hoyer, and that reason is Garoppolo is a significantly better quarterback.  He has a great sense of timing and rhythm, and the willingness to make the sorts of throws over the middle that allow a Samuel or a Kittle or someone to pick up the massive amounts of YAC the 49ers have relied on since Shanahan came to town.

In a clean pocket, when things are going well, Garoppolo is a top-10 quarterback.  Now, every passer is better in a clean pocket when things are going well, but the gap between "things are working Garoppolo" and "things are not working Garoppolo" is significantly larger than average; I don't have time at the moment to dive into the Big Well of Stats to pull out all the numbers, but we'll get to it when we talk about QBs under pressure and failed completions and all that good stuff over the next few months.

Garoppolo has two major problems.  The first is a lack of arm strength/willingness to throw the ball deep or outside the numbers.  And I think that's some of where the "zero faith" arguments come in -- at a certain point, Shanahan stopped calling a ton of those outside routes because he knew his quarterback wouldn't or couldn't hit them.  And the second is an inability to do something special to turn a failed play into a successful run.  He's not going to scramble out of pressure like a Russell Wilson; he's not going to throw the ball at an insane angle like a Patrick Mahomes; he's not going to rifle it 50 yards downfield to let a receiver make a play like Josh Allen.  If a play breaks down, Garoppolo is going to throw it away, or take a sack, or throw an ill-advised interception as he tries to will the play to work.

So if you believe in your supporting offensive cast, Garoppolo is a better option for you than a Wentz or a Winston or someone of that tier -- and significantly so, I'd imagine.  But if you're looking for a quarterback to elevate a lesser offense, Garoppolo's value drops rapidly.

Points: 0

#26 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 27, 2022 - 12:32pm

There’s also his inability to see linebackers in coverage.

Points: 0

#27 by Romodini // Feb 27, 2022 - 1:05pm

I remember seeing some interesting pressure related stats about Dak Prescott one time that I hope will show up in the QB's under pressure analysis you mentioned.

It was related to play variance and how Dak performed at nearly an elite level in games he wasn't pressured heavily, even on plays that he was being pressured, while in games in which he is heavily pressured, he performs pretty badly, even during plays he isn't being pressured.

Points: 0

#28 by theslothook // Feb 27, 2022 - 3:17pm

The two.major problems you have listed were the same things you could have said about late career Peyton Manning and late career Drew Brees.

So clearly, an inability to rifle to the ball with huge velocity and the inability to make off script plays aren't the handcuffs they appear.

Personally, as Aaron Brooks above noted, Jimmy G has a penchant for not seeing underneath linebackers. To me, Jimmy G either runs a scripted offense well or everything becomes a slow slog of innacuracy and coverage misreads. And let us not forget that he's been given as pristine a roster construction as you can ask.


Points: 0

#41 by bravehoptoad // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:41pm

I could certainly quibble with how "pristine" the roster construction is.  The right side of that 49ers line was bad, bad.  Their running game relied on a 6th-round, light weight rookie and a WR. 

I'm not sure that Garoppolo is better with a script.  His best year by far was in 2017, when he was rushed into action and didn't yet know Shanahan's offense that well.  Shanahan certainly wants his QBs to be highly scripted, and that's essential when he's using the full encyclopedia of his offense, but Jimmy G looked best when he was able to play more intuitively because he hadn't yet digested all 21 volumes of Shanahan.  I suspect he's a QB who'll be better in a simpler offense.

Points: 0

#46 by theslothook // Mar 05, 2022 - 1:29pm

My statement about on script is really with respect to Jimmy Gs processing speed. His worst decisions tend to come on slower developing plays where he just doesn't get the read he thinks he's getting. His famous ints aren't from forcing an innacurate throw that isn't there but just plain not seeing defenders in coverage to begin with.

Also, he has two all pro caliber receivers, the best Lt in football, and a offensive minded coach with a track record of success. Just how many other qbs can you name with better circumstances?

Points: 0

#43 by turbohappy // Mar 01, 2022 - 2:32pm

Doesn't even have to be late career Peyton. He didn't really make a lot of hero plays or make you say wow on any one play. But he was ruthlessly efficient and accurate on plays that worked and limited the damage on those that didn't.

Points: 0

#45 by theslothook // Mar 05, 2022 - 1:24pm

I think early career Manning was more talented a.thrower than people remember. He wasnt a drink and dunker during those years either and he put on a clinic out of deep attacking sideline throws.

Points: 0

#32 by Noahrk // Feb 28, 2022 - 12:23pm

I tend to defer to team experts (fans), and in this case it fits perfectly with my own observations. Garoppolo's numbers are very good, but he's in a stacked team and protected by the gameplan. If he couldn't have success in the 49ers I don't have high expectations for his future.

Points: 0

#24 by Pat // Feb 27, 2022 - 11:12am

You did remember that Garoppolo had a serious injury he was playing through, right? Actually multiple: torn thumb ligament, sprained shoulder.

I don't see Garoppolo the same way others do, apparently. When he's healthy he's a really solid QB. It's just that he's rarely healthy, and so people see the limited Jimmy G often enough they think that's him.

This isn't me trying to excuse performance: like I said, the 49ers should totally move on from him. Just waaay too much variance due to injuries.

Points: 0

#42 by bravehoptoad // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:42pm

That's pretty much exactly what they said to him when they drafted Lance.  We love you, dude, but we can't hack the injuries. 

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 25, 2022 - 11:08am

unless they are the team that's going to pay the Deshaun Watson markup and deal with the PR fallout (and that relies on Watson actually wanting to go there).

Would it be any worse than their current PR fallout? Miami and Washington could take flyers, because really, their PR situation can't get any worse.

The former Football Team won't ever be more than a playoff afterthought until they fix this spot.

Well, maybe. The Redskins haven't had a franchise QB since Theismann. They've won two SBs and gotten to at least the division round 5 other times since then.

Points: 0

#3 by mehllageman56 // Feb 25, 2022 - 11:29am

They fixed the spot temporarily with Jay Schroeder (3rd in DYAR in 1986) and Mark Rypien (1st in 1991) among others.  They haven't had a permanent fixture at the position since Theismann though.

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 25, 2022 - 11:34am

Inanimate Carbon Rod would have finished in the top-3 in DVOA for the 1991 Redskins.

Whatever a Jeff Rutledge is finished with a 96% DVOA in mop-up.

Points: 0

#17 by mansteel // Feb 26, 2022 - 3:12pm

I haven't scouted Inanimate Carbon Rod so I can't speak to his abilities (though he sounds better-suited to DT than QB), but I can tell you that Mark Rypien was not just being carried by what was indeed a great roster around him. Not sure what he was on that year, but he was really good. Seemingly every long bomb, of which there were many, was right on the money. Not sure why that year was such an outlier for him, but it was absolutely a legitimate performance.

Points: 0

#25 by mehllageman56 // Feb 27, 2022 - 12:28pm

Rypien was 5th in DVOA in 1989 (with a DYAR of 1,129, good for 5th) and 6th in DVOA in 1990 and 9th in DYAR with 711.  He was working up to that great season, but then fell to 10th in DVOA the next year before falling off a cliff (33rd in DVOA in 1993).

Points: 0

#29 by carlosla // Feb 27, 2022 - 5:26pm

1993 was the first year after Joe Gibbs left. Not a coincidence.

Points: 0

#5 by IlluminatusUIUC // Feb 25, 2022 - 12:15pm

I dunno if Watson wants to go to Washington, but getting out of the AFC seems like a solid plan. The Texans are more likely to accept a deal out of conference and he'd have a much clearer path to Pro Bowl nods (at least for now) 

Points: 0

#8 by barf // Feb 25, 2022 - 3:09pm

What with all the sexual harrassment charges with Washington, Watson will fit right in.

Points: 0

#6 by theslothook // Feb 25, 2022 - 12:21pm

If the Owner wasn't such a ...lets just call him controversial person, I'd be more inclined to celebrate the Redskins/Football team's accomplishments.

The team has a pretty sterling history and it occured during a period when the NFC was absolutely dominant. They were, I suppose, a version of the Ravens of today.

Even the last two decades haven't been an unmitigated disaster the way some of the other cellar dwellers have been. And that's with Dan Snyder as an owner and being perpetually in cap hell. For all of their mishaps, they seem to draft well when they have picks. 

Points: 0

#7 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 25, 2022 - 1:09pm

It's remarkable to me that somehow the Redskins and the Cowboys have accomplished so little in the last 20 years, all without ever really bottoming out.

Points: 0

#9 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 25, 2022 - 5:19pm

Washington needs a QB. I wonder if anyone was telling them that last year. I wonder why Favre wannabe and Fitztragic wasn't the greatest combo. Oh they think Jimmy G at $24m would be different? It's time they just pull the trigger on one in the 1st and pray he's the one. And even if he's not perfect, he'll at least be cheap. Poor mans Favre Jr can be the backup/sacrifice.

And I don't think the Cowboys CBs are that bad. A lot of potential. IDK who their safeties are gonna be though. I slot them Kenyon Green in mocks since it's not a deep S class though. 

Points: 0

#10 by carlosla // Feb 25, 2022 - 10:42pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

They did “pull the trigger on one in the 1st” aaaallll the way back in 2019. They got pretty good reviews for getting Haskins without trading up. And then he turned out to be a complete knucklehead.

It’s just astonishing how few decent QBs there are. Mostly, you gotta get ‘em at the top of the draft… where most still don’t work out… or get “lucky” with an underrated player who gets passed over: Rodgers, Wilson, Brady etc.

That said, the WFT will be regretting selecting Chase Young over Justin Herbert for something like the next 12+ years, I’m guessing.

Points: 0

#11 by billprudden // Feb 26, 2022 - 9:02am

Chase Young over Herbert is already franchise-trajectory-altering, only 2 years in, great point sir.

Points: 0

#13 by Theo // Feb 26, 2022 - 12:18pm

We will see this offseason if Haskins can beat Rudolph/Willis for the Steelers QB spot.

Points: 0

#21 by ImNewAroundThe… // Feb 26, 2022 - 8:04pm

But just had to have the 64th graded most valuable position, LB, with a 5YO

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#14 by Theo // Feb 26, 2022 - 12:25pm

Everyone forgets the Redskins drafted Robert Griffin.

I thought he was pretty good until he got injured. 

Points: 0

#18 by mansteel // Feb 26, 2022 - 3:18pm

Griffen was very good in what was a really well-desiged offense that fit his strengths: lots of play-action/quick slants, plays designed to give him a run option, etc. When he had to drop back and pass from the pocket on 3rd-and-long, he was terrible (the Redskins were last in the league in such situations...I remember they were 4-of-fortysomething at one point). He was going to have to improve dramatically in that area to be a very good long-term solution, but unfortunately never got the chance to try. 

Points: 0

#20 by carlosla // Feb 26, 2022 - 4:31pm

I agree RGIII was very good in a very well-designed office, but he wasn’t throwing slants. He was chucking it downfield to guys who were wide open on crossing routes — this was the early Kyle Shanny offense. RGIII led the entire league in Y/A. That’s not possible throwing slants.

FWIW, they were 20th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage. 21st in total yds, 21st in expected points.

He got destroyed by a coach who ran him out there when he’d already blown his knee out. Never the same player again, unfortunately. 

Points: 0

#23 by Theo // Feb 26, 2022 - 11:25pm

I remember RGIII hobbling around, obviously hurt, and a coach Shanahan standing there as if there was nothing wrong.

Idiotic move.

Points: 0

#31 by serutan // Feb 28, 2022 - 12:21pm

Which is a lot of the reason why we never got to find out if RG3 would eventually become a good passer.

Points: 0

#39 by Mountain Time … // Feb 28, 2022 - 11:46pm

RGIII didn't just have a good rookie year, he had arguably the best rookie year of all time, up to that point

Points: 0

#16 by Romodini // Feb 26, 2022 - 12:48pm

The Cowboys are currently problematic at linebacker, not corner, but linebacker is not deemed a huge positional value in analytics so I guess that's why that true need couldn't be mentioned?

Micah Parsons is more impactful at playing edge, Jabril Cox is unrealized potential due to injury, LVE is likely gone and not worth paying anyway. The other starting linebacker options on their roster are backups who I can't recall ever seeing them do enough to be hopeful about.

Points: 0

#30 by Stendhal1 // Feb 28, 2022 - 4:16am

No, the Commanders will not find a quarterback next year.  Therefore, they will run the Wildcat offense using a running back to receive snaps or, in an emergency, the Wishbone, which will surprise a few defenses.   Next question? 😊

Points: 0

#33 by Pat // Feb 28, 2022 - 1:22pm

We have never seen Hurts work with real receiving talent yet outside of Smith, and adding another wideout in the first while bringing in a veteran free agent could be the best way to fully understand how good Hurts could be.

I mean... kindof? Yes, totally agree that WR's a need for the Eagles, but... Hurts literally had the TE with the highest DVOA in the league, accumulating enough DYAR to be roughly equivalent to a typical #1 WR.

Bigger concern for me regarding the WRs is that the WR type that they need is the one that they're horribly terrible at finding, more of a flanker type. I'd almost be happier if they just punted at WR just because I have no faith in their ability to draft one.

Points: 0

#36 by serutan // Feb 28, 2022 - 6:39pm

One would think so,  but it does seem they chose to throw at a non stick wall...

Points: 0

#37 by Pat // Feb 28, 2022 - 7:30pm

I swear sometimes I think they're *actively* targeting bad choices. Like, every larger/flanker-type they go after is slow, and every speedy type they go after is small. Even when there are *literally* guys available who are just better on both!

Points: 0

#38 by Spanosian Magn… // Feb 28, 2022 - 10:06pm

Having receivers who are big and fast is gauche and unsporting. Pick one or the other, like a gentleman.

Points: 0

#40 by Pat // Mar 01, 2022 - 10:31am

I must say, I did not consider the possibility that Howie Roseman's wide receiver picks are just there to give the rest of the league a chance.

Given the size of his ego, I can't entirely dismiss that...

Points: 0

#44 by COtheLegend // Mar 04, 2022 - 2:59pm

Because of what you wrote at the bottom of your post, if a veteran, established WR were to become available, I would be okay with the Eagles using draft capital to acquire that player.

Points: 0

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