Commanders raise the stakes for Sam Howell heading into crucial stretch

Sam Howell's future looks murkier than ever...

Sam Howell
Sam Howell / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Commanders officially raised the stakes for quarterback Sam Howell heading into a crucial three-game stretch before 2023 concludes.

It hasn't been that long since head coach Ron Rivera proudly declared Sam Howell as the long-term answer at quarterback. Something the Washington Commanders have been desperately seeking since mismanaging Kirk Cousins' contract situation and allowing him to leave for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.

Things look entirely different right now. Howell's been inconsistent over the past few weeks. His benching in Week 15 at the Los Angeles Rams coupled with veteran backup Jacoby Brissett's eye-catching cameo only raises the stakes heading into a crucial three-game stretch to close out the campaign.

Commanders need to see more from Sam Howell

Howell hasn't spoken to Rivera about the change or what might be ahead based on comments via Sports Illustrated. However, the former fifth-round selection did acknowledge the need to increase productivity and consistency to enhance his chances of a brighter future under a new coaching staff in 2024.

"Honestly, we haven't even spoken about it. But yeah, I mean, just going try to keep doing what I can and taking it one day at a time and keep trying to be the best player I can for this team. I mean obviously, it's hard to say and if we knew what the issue was, we'd fix it. But I think what it comes down to is we just got to execute better and that starts with me. So it's been an unfortunate couple weeks. Obviously wish we could go back and do it again, but reality is we can't and all we can control is how we move on from this point and how we finish the year."

Sam Howell via Sports Illustrated

There were always going to be ups and downs throughout Howell's first season as a starter. The highs have been incredible. The lows have been bad. But the Commanders need to stay the course at this late stage for good or bad.

Rivera and quarterback confusion have gone hand in hand throughout his head coaching tenure. He's also looking to salvage a sense of respectability from another campaign of underachievement before he's eventually let go by Josh Harris' ownership group. Therefore, a permanent change cannot be ruled out if Howell struggles once again in Week 16 at the New York Jets.

What happens over the next three games is also going to come with long-term ramifications. Howell being benched for a second - or perhaps final time - won't go unnoticed by any new regime. This could lead the Commanders into taking a quarterback with their high-end first-round selection rather than acquiring a premier offensive tackle such as Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt.

The Commanders could also attempt something more ambitious by trading for a veteran or looking at the free-agent market for a potential difference-maker. That would be more expensive than adding a rookie, which would hinder their financial capabilities to mold a competitive roster.

It's a divisive topic among the fanbase. One could argue Howell deserves another shot with a more productive supporting cast and without a lame-duck head coach. Others feel like this fresh start needs a young quarterback from the college ranks to build around.

There are still three games for Howell to change this concerning the recent turnaround in narratives. But based on Rivera's non-commital comments, he's running out of time.