The first quarter of the first game of the season, against the Jaguars, was composed of glorious quarterback play from Carson Wentz. Since then, we’ve seen something ranging from mediocre to hideous, often in the same game.
I, like so many others, thought the acquisition of Wentz seemed like a reasonable gamble, even if it came at far too high a price in terms of draft picks and salary cap hit. Surely he was going to be an upgrade over last year’s starter, Taylor Heinicke, right?
Washington's pass offense last year:— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) October 3, 2022
58.5 passing grade, -0.04 EPA/play, 20/17 TD/INT, 20/30 BTT/TWP 6.5 yds/att, 6.3% sack rate
This year so far:
58.8 passing grade, -0.10 EPA/play, 8/8 TD/INT, 6/8 BTT/TWP, 5.7 yds/att, 8.5% sack rate
Wentz' salary being the only difference
Turns out he hasn’t been, and that everything we gave up to acquire him merely adds insult to injury. And, while some fans argue that the investment of those draft picks and salary capital into Wentz necessitate that we keep playing him - despite poor results - that’s a dangerous mistake.
In investing, this is what’s known as the “Sunk Cost Fallacy”:
The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.
At this point, Ron Rivera, Martin Mayhew, and their band of merry men have put their reputations - and perhaps their careers - and lots of team resources on the line on the bet that Carson Wentz was the answer to their perpetually mediocre results. Right now, however, Carson looks an awful lot like he’s looked with the Eagles and Colts for the past several years, posting a 22-23-1 record with those teams over the past three seasons.
The question now becomes, does the coaching staff possess the proper balance of awareness and humility to recognize the folly of their decision to acquire Wentz at significant expense in the first place? Mike Tomlin - a better coach by essentially every measure - has already cut bait on Mitch Trubisky, who the Steelers paid a measly $5.25M this year, in favor of rookie Kenny Pickett.
Ironically, in many respects, that lower cost on the front end may have made it easier for him to do so. Executing a very expensive bad decision often makes it more likely that the decider sticks with it longer:
In economic terms, sunk costs are costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. [They] therefore should not be a factor in our current decision-making, because it is irrational to use irrecoverable costs as a rationale for making a present decision. If we acted rationally, only future costs and benefits would be taken into account, because regardless of what we have already invested, we will not get it back whether or not we follow through on the decision.
We will not be getting back the 2022 third rounder, or the equivalent of the 2022 fourth rounder, or the $28M+ we paid for Carson this year. We should now focus on minimizing losses, and planning for the future.
Cutting Future Losses
It’s critical to remember that Carson Wentz’s trade with the Colts included a provision that substantially increased the trade capital impact to the Commanders if Carson plays at least 70% of snaps in 2022.
Once that threshold is crossed, likely around game 11 or 12, the Commanders owe the Colts their 2023 second round pick, as opposed to their 2023 third rounder. At this rate, that may well be a top 40 pick, and the thought of giving Chris Ballard another high second - like we ultimately did in the trade that brought us Montez Sweat - makes me sick to my stomach.
The Path Forward
While there are surely some who would like to see Sam Howell thrown into the starting roll, I’d offer that there’s plenty of time for that. Let’s continue to give the rookie time to marinate, to get comfortable with the speed of the game, and to pick up the playbook.
In the meantime, I’d like to see Taylor Heinicke given the opportunity to start again this year, not because I think he’ll necessarily put the team in playoff contention, or paper over all of the playcalling and line protection deficiencies that we’re currently seeing with the offense, but because I think he can make the team more competitive on offense than it’s been for the past several weeks.
Recall that last season, Taylor was operating essentially with Terry McLaurin and John Bates as his top receiving options. This year, the team has three legitimate wide receivers, Logan Thomas back at about 80%, and a running back room, that once Brian Robinson returns, could be one of the most stout in the league. Yes, the offensive line, particularly with Chase Roullier down, seems to have struggled more this year, but Heinicke’s escapability becomes an even more valuable asset under those circumstances.
That having been said, I’d give Taylor 3-4 games to show what he has with a legitimate surrounding cast. If he flounders, which he may well do, I’d give Howell the rest of the season to show whether or not he can be the future in Washington.
That’s going to be critical knowledge going into the 2023 draft. If he’s not, the team’s entire football operations should be torn to the ground in the offseason so that the new GM and coach can identify and acquire the quarterback that they will choose to make their bed with. We’re entering turbulent times once again in the nation’s capital.
Who would you like to see start at QB for the Commanders in Week 5?
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