As the Washington Football Team continues its several-year search of finding a franchise quarterback, evaluating the play of Taylor Heinicke has been one of the more difficult quarterbacks assessments.
There's one side of the spectrum that looks at Heinicke's untraditional path to becoming a starter as to why he can't be a franchise guy. He's 28 years old, went undrafted and is a player who's never been able to stick around with one organization long-term.
Yet, there's the other side that views Heinicke's play this season -- he currently has a higher passer rating than Matt Ryan, Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Ryan Tannehill, among others -- and wonders just how good the quarterback can be if he's given more time.
On Monday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera was asked by NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay how he evaluates Heinicke, both in the short and long-term.
"He's kind of that 'senior rookie' to me," Rivera said. "The truth is that he's never really had some continuity in his career. [He's] been a practice squad guy, been a backup guy, got a start, got hurt, never really had a chance to bounce back. We bring him in last year and he has really good moments that give you confidence."
Heinicke started all but one game for Washington this season, which was candidly not the team's plan at the sport's most important position entering the season. Just a few weeks after Heinicke re-signed with the team, Washington signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year, $10 million deal in free agency with the expectation of him being the team's starting quarterback.
Yet, on just Washington's fourth offensive drive of the year, Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury -- one that looks as if it will end his season. It's been the Heinicke show ever since.
"Going into this season, we felt with Fitz we had our guy," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, Fitz gets hurt. But then, we find out about Taylor. And, each week, you see something better than him."
For Heinicke, it's been an up and down season thus far. In Washington's four wins, most notably the team's past two victories over Tampa Bay and Carolina, he's been nearly superb. Yet, in the team's six losses, Heinicke has struggled to maintain possession of the football and shown his limitations as an NFL starting quarterback.
Before Washington's Week 9 bye week, the team had lost four straight games and largely struggled on offense. While Heinicke was certainly responsible for some of the unit's shortcomings during that span, his head coach believes the team's numerous injuries on the offensive side of the ball played a role, too.
"I know there was a run where it was tough, that four-game skid," Rivera said. "But remember, we had missed our whole right side of our offensive line [Brandon Scherff and Sam Cosmi]. We lose our tight end [Logan Thomas]. We lose two wide receivers [Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown] right off the bat. And, just as we were starting to get Curtis back, we lose him. So, you're down these weapons, those four weeks was really hard to be fair and evaluate Taylor."
Over the past two weeks, Washington has received reinforcements on the injury front with Scherff, Cosmi and Brown all returning to action. The club is optimistic that both Samuel and Thomas will return soon, too.
With Washington's offense nearing full health once again, Rivera believes evaluating Heinicke's play will be a lot easier moving forward. And so far, the head coach has been pleased with his quarterback's progress.
"Now, we're starting to get those pieces back, those players back," Rivera said. "You see his decision making, how quickly he's going through his progressions, how he's anticipating windows to throw into. Those things are really starting to come."
Although Rivera has been impressed with Heinicke as of late, the head coach made it clear that the search for a franchise quarterback is still ongoing. Rivera is keeping all doors open, including Heinicke, but plans to explore all avenues this offseason with the hope of finding that franchise guy to lead his team moving forward.
"We're doing as much homework as we can right now," Rivera said. "All the current college players coming out and we'll be doing the same thing when we start getting ready for free agency. Also we're going to evaluate our guys. I think our guys are continuing to grow and develop because they're young guys with good arms that shows some of the skillset we're looking for. We're going to evaluate everything.”