ASHBURN, Va. — Sam Howell will start the season opener at quarterback for the Washington Commanders, coach Ron Rivera said Friday, ending what had been a one-sided competition for the job.
Howell has worked only with the starters since spring practices began. He has taken all but several reps with the starters; Jacoby Brissett, signed in the offseason, took his place for a handful of snaps before the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Washington hosts the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener on Sept. 10.
It has long been known this was Howell’s job to lose — and he never did anything to lose his grip. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. In the two-day joint practice session against the Baltimore Ravens, his performance on the first day was “really, really good,” a source said. He wasn’t quite as sharp on the second day, but the Commanders still liked what they saw.
Rivera had pointed to this past week as a crucial one for Howell in measuring his development. After the second day, when asked what Howell needed to do to be named the starter, Rivera said, “Continue what he has shown.”
The Commanders liked his decisiveness — particularly when working through progressions and spotting an open target — and his improved footwork, on both pass drops and handoffs. They like his decision making. They say other aspects of his game, such as becoming more efficient in the red zone, can be developed with more experience.
“The biggest thing I’m really pleased about has been his decision making; that has been a big plus,” Rivera said Wednesday.
Washington drafted Howell in the fifth round in 2022, although one team source said before the draft that the Commanders would have targeted him in the second or third round had they not traded for Carson Wentz earlier that offseason. When Howell, who started all three years at North Carolina, was still there in the fifth, they pounced.
He served as the No. 3 quarterback behind Wentz and Taylor Heinicke early in the season. But when Wentz broke a finger in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, Howell was elevated to the primary backup. That gave him more work in practice against the scout team. He stayed in that role until Wentz returned in Week 15.
However, when Washington was eliminated from playoff contention two weeks later, it started Howell in the season finale. In a 26-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys, who played their starters, Howell completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also ran for a score. Rivera said they liked how he handled his start, from his decision making to his ability to self-correct any mistakes.
Early in the offseason, Rivera said Howell would enter spring workouts as the No. 1 quarterback but that he still had to earn the job. The Commanders eventually cut Wentz and lost Heinicke to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.
Rivera had said several times, “Don’t sleep on Jacoby.” But Howell played well enough that a true battle never materialized.
“Jacoby did some really good things too, so we feel really comfortable about the quarterback room right now,” Rivera said.