It has only taken Sam Howell 11 games to rank fourth among Washington passers since the franchise’s last Super Bowl 32 years ago.
Slightly above Trent Green and Alex Smith in my personal rankings, just below Mark Rypien, Brad Johnson, and Kirk Cousins respectively. Howell has a chance to top them all, but that he’s already the fourth best among 35 quarterbacks who have started since 1992 speaks equally to the grotesque as greatness.
Oh, what this team could have done with a passer some seasons. There were failed first-rounders like Heath Shuler, Dwayne Haskins, and Patrick Ramsey, while Jason Campbell was at least passable and Robert Griffin III legendary before injuries soon took him.
There were big names coming for one last payday like Mark Brunell, Jeff George, Jeff Hostetler, Donovan McNabb, and Carson Wentz. Real nobodies like Garrett Gilbert, who actually played decently as the Covid replacement for one game, and John Beck. And, plenty of “just guys” like Cary Conklin, Tony Banks, Kyle Allen and Rex Grossman. Plus, a one-of-a-kind in Taylor Heinicke.
In a preseason presser, coach Ron Rivera said the difference in Washington not rising to the NFC East’s elite during his tenure was constant change at quarterback. Well, the Commanders finally have a solid passer in Howell and the defense collapsed. So, they’re still no better off than Rivera’s 2020 arrival.
But the one constant out of Rivera’s mouth whenever exhaling is Howell gives the team hope. No matter Rome burned around the quarterback. The offensive line is awful. The defense can’t stop anyone. Next year’s first-rounder should probably go to the offensive line, but there’s a case for a defensive end to replace recently traded former first-rounders Chase Young and Montez Sweat, along with cornerback or middle linebacker.
Some fans remain reluctant to anoint Howell the franchise passer and Rivera won’t say it unconditionally in case the second-year quarterback finishes poorly. But after a failed arms race over a generation, how can fans not embrace the fifth-round pick whose stats are eye-popping?
Howell has thrown for 300-plus yards three straight games, matching only Griffin and Cousins in team history. He’s on pace for 29 touchdowns. The only franchise passer to hit 30 was Sonny Jurgensen in 14 games. Jurgensen is the benchmark of greatness as a Pro Football Hall of Famer who, like Howell, found himself with surrounding talent that couldn’t win regularly.
Howell has moxie like Billy Kilmer in the 1970s and Rypien as the late ‘80s spilled into the ‘90s. They weren’t the most talented, but they beat teams through grit. Howell’s touchdown throw to Brian Robinson versus Seattle was one of the team’s better plays in years.
Rypien led the Redskins to their final glory with the 1991 championship before suddenly aging. Johnson was chased away by new owner Dan Snyder and won his Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. Cousins was mistreated by former Washington president Bruce Allen and has gone on to a solid career in Minnesota, though no rings.
Maybe Howell survives being a punching bag this season, and a probable new coach next year, to lead Washington’s revival over time. But, already he’s earned a spot among the franchise elite in a lost generation of the Snyder occupation.
Think someone better is out there lurking for the job? There’s always someone better. They just don’t end up in Washington.