By Adam Aniba
Washington finished the season once again with 7 wins, but there will be no playoff berth of NFC East title. Unfortunately, Dallas has that crown this season, after sweeping the Burgundy and Gold. Defeating a depleted Giants team, who marched out their 3rd string rookie QB, left more questions to be answered.
The need at quarterback is clear with Taylor Heinicke, showing he's not the answer and will be added to the long list of disappointing starting quarterbacks over the last two plus decades for Washington. It's even debatable whether or not Heinicke can be a viable bridge veteran for the next young signal caller. He answered durability concerns after missing no games this year due to injury (1 game missed for COVID) and had a few highlight reel plays, but his limitations as a passer were exposed by opponents all season (20 tds & 15 ints w/ 6.9 per pass attempt).
Trades and Free Agency
The chances of Washington trading for a franchise quarterback, such as: Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Deshaun Watson and the biggest reach of all, Aaron Rodgers (could be FA with a player option reached on last extension) seem far fetched. It's unlikely a seasoned, blue chip, veteran quarterback, with upside, would voluntary come to Washington if other suitors were involved. Other names, such as Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubisky and Marcus Mariota have frequently been talked about among the fan base, but all of these quarterbacks offer limited upside with an offense that needs more pieces.
The days of free agents being wooed by Dan Snyder on his private jet with suitcases of money are now duplicated by half the league. Free agents are looking for endorsements, stability and to set up shop in their new cities. Under the current climate, the situation in Washington leads to more questions, rather than answers for blue chip free agents.
The search for a competent franchise quarterback has continuously led to dead ends for Washington under owner Dan Snyder. The '12 season with Robert Griffin III, in which he led Washington to an NFC East title, earned rookie of the year honors and was selected to the Pro Bowl, seems like a distant memory.
The downfall of RGIII and rise of Kirk Cousins also gave fans hope, only to see the charismatic quarterback depart for Minnesota with no compensation after multiple low ball offers from Washington.
Fingers were pointed at former team President Bruce Allen for the 'Cousins mishap', but it wasn't the first and only mistake made for impending FA's and draft picks. Washington drafted Dwayne Haskins 15th overall in 2019, but as fans fondly remember, the Haskins experiment was the quickest tenure for a 1st rd quarterback drafted under Snyder.
The NFL Draft
The draft is still the likeliest avenue to go the franchise quarterback route. The headliners at the position in a perceived weak QB class are Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral. Both could possibly be on the board when Washington's first pick rolls around. Other options, such as Malik Willis, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder, and Carson Strong will be available, but #11 seems too high for any of those prospects. Trading up a few spots could be in play, if Ron Rivera covets a particular signal caller, but could have competition from teams like the Panthers, Falcons and Broncos who all select before Washington.
The Other Option
The off the field drama has been well documented for Washington, but another losing season, could push Owner Dan Snyder to once again meddle in roster decisions or even fire Ron Rivera. All options have to be on the table this offseason, including looking at potential ERFA (Exclusive Rights Free Agent).
One particular AFC quarterback, caught our eye in Ravens backup QB Tyler Huntley. Some fans might remember Huntley's performance against the Burgundy & Gold (8/28/21 pre-season). The QB threw for 285 yds and 4 tds, in addition to running for another 14 yds and a TD.
Although the former Utah signal caller went undrafted in '20, the Ravens signed him immediately post-draft as their 4th string signal caller. Their starter, Lamar Jackson, has dealt with durability issues, which opened the door for Huntley, who's kept Baltimore competitive despite the team's injuries and Jackson's absence.
In relief duty for Jackson this season (7 games w/ 4 starts), Huntley has thrown for 1,081 yards for 3 tds and 4 int (2 int in final game, but also has 47 rush att for 294 yds and 2 tds. The numbers are impressive for a backup and his grit nearly led to an upset win vs Green Bay in week 15 (31-30 L)
Playing In The Pac-12
As a dual-threat signal caller at Utah, Huntley dealt with various minor injuries that kept him off the field his first three seasons in Salt Lake City. When healthy, he was one of the most underrated signal callers in the nation. In his senior season, Huntley started all 14 games leading his team as a 1st-team All Pac-12 selection. Huntley was neck and neck with former LSU, now Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in regards to completion percentage in 2019 (73.1% 220 att for 301 completions).
During that span, Huntley threw for 3,092 yards for 19 tds and only 4 ints, but what kept Pac-12 defensive coordinators up at night was his ability as a runner, particularly in short yardage situations (104 rush att 290 yards 5 tds).
Huntley's pro day numbers were in the 90th percentile in most categories among drafted quarterbacks in 2020.
6'1" 196 lbs | QB | Utah
UDFA 2020 signed by BAL
*Pro Day #'s*
4.56 sec Forty-Yard Dash
4.31 sec Short Shuttle
10'8.5 Broad Jump
43.5 Vertical Leap
*Utah Career Stats (37 games)*Passing- 574/854 7,351 yds 46 tds & 20 ints
*Rushing- 389 att 1,146 yds 16 tds
What it Could Cost
As an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) with an expiring contract, Huntley will likely get the one-year contract offer from the Ravens (league minimum based on seasons played), thus taking him out of the free agent marke and his ability to negotiate with other teams. Some believe the Ravens won't talk to interested teams for anything less than a 3rd rounder in this year's draft, but future conditional compensation could be packaged in a deal. A proposal could look like 3rd rd in '22 and a 4th rd conditional draft pick in '23 (could turn into a 3rd rounder based on starts/production).
In addition to draft capital, Baltimore could seek players added to any potential deal for Huntley. The recent exploits and potential cost of a LTD for Daron Payne, could lead to him being placed on the trading block, but that's a hypothetical worth exploring at a later date. The Ravens didn't use a draft pick to select the former Utes QB, but they will have a chance to get a package of picks, etc in return.
Making a move for Huntley could be a low risk, high reward move for a quarterback that was at one time viewed as one of the most accurate passers in college football. Some may question why he went undrafted if he was so good. The former Utah QB wouldn't be the first undrafted free agent to excel. Durability and system gave teams pause on Huntley, but the Ravens were convinced that he was a valuable asset. Huntley has the makings of a solid signal caller, that should continue to get better, despite going undrafted and playing behind Lamar Jackson.
Carrying 3 quarterbacks in 2023 is also an option, especially if they select one in the draft. Washington could turn their focus to other positions, early in this upcoming draft with a trade for Huntley.
A Day 2-3 QB prospect like WKU's Bailey Zappe (Led NCAA passing TD in '21) could be in play in this scenario. This would leave the 2023 draft as Plan B, where they can go all in for a franchise quarterback, such as Alabama's Bryce Young. Quarterback isn't the only position of need for this team will need to adress in FA and the draft, they'll also have to lock up some of their own.
It's more evident than ever, that Rivera needs to find a franchise caliber QB this year, otherwise he could be out the door in 2023.