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The Washington Commanders are going to give Sam Howell a chance to prove he can be their starting quarterback, but they have another strong option on the roster if they need to go in another direction.
With Carson Wentz being released and Taylor Heinicke signing with the Atlanta Falcons, the Commanders dipped into the pool of quarterbacks available in free agency and signed Jacoby Brissett to start the offseason workout program as their backup. A 2016 third-round pick, Brissett was one of the more accomplished quarterbacks available after coming off a strong 2022 season with 2,608 yards.
And with 48 career starts, Brissett brings a healthy amount of experience to the Commanders' quarterback room. Whether he starts a game or not in 2023, the Commanders plan to take advantage of his insight.
"We'll lean on him all the time," said quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard.
Brissett, who is now on his fifth team in eight years, has shown his potential as a starter since his rookie season. With Tom Brady suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo injured back in 2016, he led the New England Patriots to a 27-0 victory over the Houston Texans while completing 57% of his passes and running in a touchdown in the first quarter.
Since then, Brissett has played for the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. His combined record with those teams as a starter (18-30) is not remarkable, although it should be noted that each of the franchises had roster issues that went beyond the quarterback position.
In Cleveland, Brissett was competent with a career-high in completion rate (64%) while throwing for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, the Browns' defense, which ranked in the bottom third of the league in points allowed (22.4) did not do the offense any favors, and thanks in part to that, they went 4-7 with Brissett as the starter.
Part of Brissett's value for the Commanders comes from the different schemes he has been in, which includes four seasons of being in West Coast-influenced systems with Chuck Pagano and Frank Reich. For someone like Pritchard, who is coaching in the NFL for the first time, having someone on the roster with that much experience will be vital.
"I mean, shoot, it'll be useful for me," Pritchard said. "What he's seen on gameday, what he's seen in training camp and practice at different franchises. Obviously, I'll lean on \[Eric Bieniemy\] a ton, but just seeing different ways of doing things and being able to bring some tangible evidence to some of the things that we say or think about...his experience will be invaluable in this whole process."
What Brissett could do to help Howell, though, was one of the biggest reasons that he fit into the Commanders' plans. Once the team pinned Brissett as a target in free agency, head coach Ron Rivera reached out to his contacts around the league to learn more about him. The consensus was that Brissett is "great to be around young quarterbacks."
"You hear the positive things, and that really fit into what we were looking for," Rivera said. "You see a guy that has good athletic skills, has good quarterback skills, has a good arm, has a quick twitch to him and makes good decisions for the most part. He is athletic. This is a guy that we thought we'd bring in, he's going to compete. He's going to push Sam, and Sam is going to push him."
Rivera has made it clear that Brissett is going to compete with Howell to be the starting quarterback, and if Howell fails to earn the job himself, "I'm going to play that guy that we believe at the end of the day gives us the best chance at winning football games."
Brissett certainly wants to play, but his primary focus is on making sure he is a good teammate for Howell.
"Being a good teammate will trump anything," Brissett said. "That's been the case, no matter my role throughout my career. It's always started with being a good teammate, and the roles kind of unfold because I may need [Howell], he may need me ...Just finding ways to help each other get better for our own benefit, but also for our room, for our offense and also for this team."
And if Howell does win the job, he'll have another person in his corner to help him maximize his skill set.
"He's played a lot of football in this league, and he's won games as a quarterback in this league," Pritchard said of Brissett. "I think the value that he brings there, the experience he brings there, is a big, big deal."