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Commanders GM Martin Mayhew: QB Sam Howell 'will have every opportunity' to win starting job

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Carson Wentz era in Washington, as brief as it was, is officially over after he was released earlier this week.

Left in the Commanders' quarterback room are second-year player Sam Howell and reserve Jake Fromm.

Howell is in the driver's seat to start under center come offseason workouts. Coach Ron Rivera said as much during Super Bowl week when he told NFL Network the former UNC QB would enter the 2023 offseason as Washington's QB1.

But the offseason is long, beginning this week at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine and continuing through the start of the new league year on March 15 and the 2023 NFL Draft in late April. There are opportunities for Washington to add a signal-caller in free agency, either a wily veteran or an up-and-comer, to push Howell, as well as in the draft.

General manager Martin Mayhew, entering his third season in the role, wouldn't commit Wednesday to a plan under center, but opened up about his thoughts on Howell and the QB room in general.

"There's still a lot of discussion about that, and we're working through our roster right now," Mayhew told at the combine. "One of the important things about the combine is an opportunity to see all the young quarterbacks that are coming out too, and we have an opportunity to look at those, as well as what's out there in free agency. 

"So Sam will have every opportunity to win that starting job. (I) was very impressed with the way he played and practiced last year. Obviously, very small sample, he only played in one game, but we got to see him the whole offseason, see him all through training camp, see him every week in practice. He has the skills that it takes to be a starter in this league, in my opinion."

That one game -- an assured season-finale triumph over the postseason-bound Cowboys -- saw Howell replace the benched Wentz, completing 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The 20-point win, in addition to the fifth-round pick's off-field growth as a backup to Wentz and Taylor Heinicke, has inspired confidence in Washington brass ahead of the '23 season.

"I think that is a tremendous, tremendous value," Mayhew said of Howell sitting for most of the 2022 season. "I don't think it's any coincidence that Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are two of the best quarterbacks in the league, and they had the benefit of being able to sit behind a quality quarterback, sit and learn for some period of time. I'm obviously not saying that Sam is those guys right now. But I think there's a lot of benefit to coming in without that immediate pressure every single week."

Howell has drawn praise this winter from everyone from Mayhew and Rivera to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to WR1 Terry McLaurin.

Rivera said Tuesday that while Howell has not yet been named the starter, he'll have a "great opportunity" to be the guy by the start of the season, reiterating that Washington does want to find a veteran QB.

The free-agent market features the likes of Lamar Jackson, Derek Carr and Geno Smith at the top, with other signal-callers available via trade. But by the sounds of it, Washington doesn't feel it like it needs to take a big swing, especially with Howell on the come up.

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