Commanders

NFL Free Agency: Should Commanders target any quarterbacks?

Commanders

With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents that the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. First up: quarterback options.

As Ron Rivera enters the critical third season of his rebuild in Washington, the Commanders head coach has one big issue hanging over his head: the Burgundy and Gold are no closer to finding its franchise quarterback than his first day on the job.

Currently, Washington only has one quarterback under contract for 2022. That would be Taylor Heinicke, who started 16 games for the Commanders last season. Heinicke had some great moments, but also ones he'd likely want to forget. The 28-year-old is preparing for a QB battle for the starting gig this fall, but let's be real -- if Heinicke is Washington's QB1 throughout the entire 2022 season, something went wrong.

Rivera and his staff are prepared to make a big swing at the sport's most important position this offseason. The head coach has gone on the record to say so multiple times. Yet, there's no telling exactly what that swing will be.

Last year, Washington opted to try and solve its quarterback position with a temporary fix. The team signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency, with the hope that the ageless veteran would be an upgrade over the four QBs Washington played in 2020. The experiment didn't work out, as Fitzpatrick completed all of three passes before suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 1.

 

If Washington wants to make a major upgrade at quarterback this time around, it'll almost certainly have to come via trade or the draft. The 2022 QB free agent class lacks high-end talent -- to be fair, rarely do elite passers hit the open market. However, there's a real argument that none of the passers available in free agency would even be an upgrade over Heinicke.

But, if Rivera and Washington's front office do explore free agency for a quarterback, who might they want to take a chance on? Here are two names to watch out for...

Mitch Trubisky

The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Trubisky is infamously known for being selected before both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Despite quarterbacking the Bears to two playoff appearances in a span of three years, Chicago moved on from him following the 2020 season.

The former North Carolina standout spent last year as Josh Allen's backup in Buffalo, hoping that after a year of learning behind Allen and under now-Giants head coach Brian Daboll he'd have another crack at being a starting quarterback elsewhere.

Of all the quarterbacks available in free agency, Trubisky arguably has the most upside. He's only 27 years old and one of the youngest quarterbacks available that has plenty of starting experience. His career numbers -- 10,652 yards, 64 touchdowns, 38 interceptions and a 29-21 record as a starter -- aren't too shabby, either.

If the Commanders were to go the free agency route at QB, Trubisky feels like the option Rivera and his staff would explore first. In fact, Washington was reportedly linked to Trubisky just before the 2021 NFL Trade Deadline, but no deal ever materialized.

In recent years, we've seen former first-round picks like Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston get second chances with other organizations following disappointing tenures with their original teams. Tannehill, for the most part, has shined in Tennessee. Winston, after spending 2020 as Drew Brees' backup in New Orleans, got the chance to start for the Saints in 2021 and led the club to a 5-2 record before suffering a season-ending injury. 

If Washington's coaching staff believes that Trubisky can have a Tannehill-esque turnaround, don't be surprised if they at least inquire about the quarterback -- especially if no trade happens before free agency opens.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston, the 2015 No. 1 pick, is set to hit free agency for the second time in his career. However, this time around, his future seems to be a lot murkier.

Winston suffered an ACL tear on Halloween, prematurely ending what had been a strong start to the 2021 season for the quarterback. Winston had led the Saints to a 5-2 record before the injury. His numbers were impressive, too, as Winston threw for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions in six and a half games. For a quarterback who threw 30 interceptions in 2019, Winston's improvement in ball security was impressive.

Talent alone, Winston might be the best option on the free-agent market. However, his injury status and past play make his fit in Washington questionable at best.

 

For Rivera, finding a franchise quarterback has been priority No. 1 of the offseason all along. While the head coach's job security isn't really in question, Rivera shouldn't have the patience to take a chance on a player with as many question marks as Winston currently has.

Whoever Washington's QB1 ends up being, they need to be in Ashburn by the start of OTAs to begin learning the offense and getting as many reps as possible. Winston's knee recovery almost certainly will keep him out of being a full participant in OTAs and possible minicamp. In fact, there's no guarantee Winston is fully recovered by the start of training camp in July. Washington can't afford to take that risk.

Additionally, while Winston showed plenty of improvement with the Saints last year, nothing he did should signal to Washington's coaches that he's a franchise guy for years to come. Winston was overly efficient in 2021 -- throwing a touchdown on 8.7% of his pass attempts. That's a number that certainly isn't sustainable over the course of a full season, let alone multiple years. Winston was on a hot stretch before his injury, but it was likely only a matter of time before he cooled down.

For many other teams around the league, Winston presents an intriguing option. For teams looking for a high-quality backup, Winston is the best option out there. But for the clubs that need a franchise quarterback or even a multi-year starter, Winston is quite the risk.

Other Free Agent Targets:

Safety Marcus Williams

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

CBs Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden

WR Mike Williams

WRs Chris Godwin, Michael Gallup