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Commanders fans are enthusiastic about Eric Bieniemy, optimistic about Sam Howell, but skeptical about a quick sale of the team

Poll results!!

NFL: Washington Commanders-Eric Bieniemy Introductory Press Conference Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Bieniemy

Eric Bieniemy has arrived in Washington riding a wave of enthusiasm following his 5 year stint as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs where he was part of a coaching staff that led the team to 3 super bowls in 4 seasons, earning two very large championship rings in the process.

For a long time now, Washington fans have understandably lacked enthusiasm for even the best news; there was a feeling that we couldn’t have nice things — that as long as Dan Snyder was in charge, nothing the franchise did really mattered. Danny Boy could taint anything.

Whether it’s due to months of reporting that Dan is selling up and moving to London, or simply the lustrous aura of success that surrounds Eric Bieniemy in the wake of his team’s most recent super bowl win, Commanders fans are gladly jumping on the bandwagon.

More than 9 out of 10 respondents in this week’s Reacts survey said that they believe that the hiring of Bieniemy will make a genuine positive difference for the beleaguered franchise. This is a remarkable result on a blog that routinely gets a long string of dispirited comments in reply to every announced move along the lines of, “This franchise can’t get anything right” or “Until Dan Snyder is gone, I don’t believe anything will make a difference”.

The response from fans with respect to Bieniemy being hired as Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator is quite a break from that tradition.

For the past several years, Eric Bieniemy has been the poster child for everyone who thinks the NFL hiring process is broken with respect to minority candidates. It’s no secret that the move from KC to DC is an effort to move Bieniemy out of Andy Reid’s enormous (literal and metaphorical) shadow. He is coming to the Commanders where he will be the unquestioned architect of the offense. If he can turn around the production of an offense that ranked 24th or 25th in points scored in each of the past 3 seasons under Scott Turner, then that will go a long way towards setting EB up for the next step in his career.

There is certainly lots of reason for optimism. For the 5 years that Eric Bieniemy was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, the Chiefs had the most productive offense in the NFL.

Of course, as many people are quick to point out, it’s hard to separate Bieniemy’s impact from that of head coach Andy Reid and two-time league and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.

How will EB fare when he’s teamed up with a different head coach and a different quarterback?

Sam Howell

Washington still has several quarterbacks under contract at the moment, but that’s about to change. Taylor Heinicke’s contract ends in mid-March, and there’s nothing that indicates he will be re-signed by the Commanders. The Carson Wentz experiment was an abject failure, and even Blind Freddie knows that #11 will be released some time in the next 17 days.

Aside from Jake Fromm, that leaves the franchise in the hands of second-year player, Sam Howell.

Earlier this offseason, Ron Rivera made it clear that he planned to go into the offseason with Howell as QB1. Coach Rivera also made it clear that the team would not once again commit big resources to securing a veteran signal caller to add to the roster. That suggests that he expects to either add a veteran backup or journeyman, draft a mid-round rookie, or both.

Of course, plans can change, and presumably, with so much on the line for him personally, Bieniemy should have a huge say in what the Commanders do at quarterback this season.

On the day of his introductory press conference in Ashburn, the new Assistant Head Coach was given the opportunity to unconditionally back the young former UNC QB, but EB faltered:

“I’m still going through the evaluation process. When it’s all said and done with, you know... Sam has some stuff to him, but like I said, you always want to create competition.”

That sounds very much like a coach who is open to other options. I strongly suggest that you stay open to the possibility that the Commanders may do something unexpected at the QB position between now and July.

But Hogs Haven readers don’t share my reservations.

Overwhelmingly, those who responded to this week’s survey felt that Sam Howell will be the starter when the Commanders line up for their first offensive snap of the 2023 season.

As a rookie, Howell was active for every game that Carson Wentz missed due to injury in 2022, but he played in only one game — the Week 18 game against the Cowboys, which he started and finished, beating Dallas by 20 points and avoiding a losing record for the 17-game season.

While Howell looked pretty comfortable in that game, there were limits to what he was asked to do. He threw 19 passes, completing 11 for 169 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, and he ran 5 times for 35 yards, picking up 4 first-downs and a TD with his legs. It’s a pretty small regular season sample size for a coaching staff with so much riding on the upcoming season.

Dan Snyder and the sale of the franchise

When Dan and Tanya Snyder announced on November 2nd that they had hired Bank of America to gauge the possibilities for selling the franchise, most observers immediately circled the March owner’s meeting as the likely time for a sale to be approved. Until fairly recently, I think most people who believed that the sale will actually happen would have expected it to be finalized at that time.

Of course, reporting on the sale has been opaque — so much so that, nearly 4 months later, no one seems to really know if the sale will actually happen. Reports have been confused and contradictory. In just the two or three days since our poll question was published, there have been multiple and seemingly conflicting reports, one saying that Jeff Bezos has engaged a firm to investigate the feasibility of purchasing the Commanders, with others suggesting that the bids have been lower than previously reported, and another saying that Bezos has been “benched” by Snyder, who simply won’t sell to him.

What has become clear is that the process doesn’t seem to be nearing a conclusion any time soon. Those responding to this week’s Reacts survey seem to have already adjusted their expectations.

Less than 40% of those responding to the survey believe that the sale will be finalized in March. On the same day that we published the survey, there were reports that if the sale happens, it will likely be finalized in early summer.

From the beginning, the team and those who speak for Dan Snyder have refused to comment on the potential sale beyond the initial announcement about Bank of America, leaving fans feeling anxious and impatient, and spawning both reports and speculation that do little to clarify what’s going on.

For now, Commanders fans live in hope that the 24-year nightmare will soon end. The hiring of Eric Bieniemy offers a spark to help ignite the dormant enthusiasm of the long-suffering fan base, and the offseason promises to be both interesting and frustrating as the football people try to build a roster against a background of continuing uncertainty.

Ron Rivera and Eric Bieniemy both have their futures invested in achieving success in 2023, and they need to find a way to navigate the uncertainty, and use free agency and the draft to improve the roster of a team that finished last in the division and out of the playoffs in 2022.

It should be a pretty compelling offseason, and one that you may potentially be able to watch on Hard Knocks. After all, what could be more compelling than a franchise for sale, a head coach on the hot seat, a young quarterback, and Bieniemy’s all-in bet that he can revive a moribund offense?

The next five months should be good clean fun.

SB Nation Reacts is a survey of fans across the NFL. Throughout the year we ask questions of the most plugged-in Washington Commanders fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to participate in regular email surveys.

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