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Top takeaways from Martin Mayhew's press conference at league owners meetings

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Washington Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew addressed a small group of reporters at the league owners meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, yesterday. Here are some of the top takeaways from his press conference. 

1. He's still excited about Sam Howell. 

Mayhew continued to get peppered with questions about the team's decision to give Sam Howell "every opportunity" to be the starting quarterback, and through all the inquiries about Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (note: he confirmed the Commanders will not try to acquire the Pro Bowler and former MVP), he reiterated the team's plans to stick with the quarterbacks on their roster. 

"I would say we've been very impressed with Sam Howell from start to finish," Mayhew said. "I know the fans and you guys saw one game, but we saw Sam throughout his college career." 

Many others outside of the organization have pointed out that Howell only has a handful of live reps, making them wary of putting so much faith in someone with a limited sample size. Mayhew, however, is happy with Howell "exactly where he is." He prepared every week like he was going to play during his rookie season, and considering that he did beat a playoff team in his first start, Mayhew doesn't view him as a developmental player. 

And the Commanders' evaluation of Howell goes beyond his rookie year. They have been impressed with him since they first saw him throw at Dyami Brown’s pro day in 2021. Howell still has to compete, but there is no doubt from Mayhew that he can win the job outright. 

"The guys trust him, they respect him, he works his butt off," Mayhew said. "He's very smart. Like I said, he can make every throw that there is and the guy's very, very talented. He's going to be a good player, I believe."

2. He's a fan of Eric Bieniemy's approach.

Eric Bieniemy has been the Commanders' assistant head coach/offensive coordinator for about a month now, and Mayhew has been impressed with how he handles his business.

"He's brought a lot of energy, a lot of passion, very knowledgeable, knows kind of what he's looking for," Mayhew said.

Mayhew has only spoken with Bieniemy about a dozen players, but Mayhew has noticed that he is a staunch advocate for players he believes in. That was the case with offensive lineman Andrew Wylie, and Mayhew said that Bieniemy was "very vocal and very honest about it."

That type of communication, plus his reputation as being a stellar coach throughout his career, has Mayhew excited to work with Bieniemy.

"You appreciate that kind of input when you start making those kinds of decisions," Mayhew said.

3. Updates on Chase Young's option.

Chase Young is entering his fourth season, which means that it is time for the Commanders to make a decision on whether to exercise his fifth-year option. The has not been much news on this front from the team so far, but Mayhew did say that there are ongoing discussions about the topic.

"We have a number of things to work through," Mayhew said. "We're getting through the first part of free agency right now. We're still in draft preparations."

Young started his career off as the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but a knee injury upended his second season and most of the 2022 campaign. He was activated for Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers and ended up playing 115 defensive snaps.

The Commanders have already taken a step towards keeping their defensive line intact by giving Daron Payne a contract extension. When asked whether that move complicates the decision on Young, Mayhew said, "It doesn't. It's all about players."

"It's about that and that's the way you win football games. So, we had no problem putting that amount of money into two defensive tackles, and we had no problem moving forward with defensive ends if we need to."

4. Cody Barton could be an ascending player.

The Commanders were unable to retain Cole Holcomb in free agency this offseason, but they feel comfortable with what they have in his place. Acquiring Cody Barton was one of the Commanders' first moves once the new league year began, and that was because they view him as what Mayhew called "an ascending player."

"He was a green dot guy, you know, he was making the calls," Mayhew said. "We think he's an ascending guy. I think he has a lot of upside, and we're looking forward to working with him."

Most of Mayhew's excitement about Barton comes from what the linebacker was able to accomplish in 2022. His tackle number tripled to 136 stops after being mostly a special teams contributor in his first three seasons. Once he became the Seattle Seahawks' on-field play-caller, Barton's production jumped significantly, and the veteran is excited to take his next step with Washington.

"We think he's ready to step his game up and he showed that last year," Mayhew said.

5. More potential for roster shakeups.

The Commanders have made several changes to their roster, from releasing veteran players to bringing more depth, but may not be done.

This is particularly true concerning the running back position after the Commanders released J.D. McKissic. They are excited about Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson leading their backfield, but they would still like to bring in another player who could round out the rotation.

There are players on the roster who could fill that role, but this year's draft class is particularly deep at running back. There are also still some veterans in free agency who could fit Bieniemy's system. Mayhew is open to all options.

"We'll be looking across the board to get better, so we'll address that if we need to."

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