A flourishing relationship between Sam Howell and Eric Bieniemy should cement the play-caller's status with the Washington Commanders beyond 2023.
The Washington Commanders might not harbor dreams of winning the Super Bowl, but that was never going to be realistic considering the franchise was in flux under new owners. However, reaching the wildcard positions represented an ambitious yet attainable objective in the fourth season with head coach Ron Rivera leading the charge.
It's been an up-and-down campaign, to put it mildly. A two-game winning stretch through the opening fortnight was as good as it's gotten so far, and the few moral victories achieved will bring little in the way of solace when the time comes for Josh Harris' ownership group to make the moves needed.
There's a lot of football left, but reaching the postseason at 4-6 with a tough-looking stretch of games upcoming seems unlikely. Therefore, this is about picking out the positives and building around them accordingly in the hope of a more profitable future.
Looking at the current state of affairs, this all starts and ends with quarterback Sam Howell. The former fifth-round selection is the shining light amid another underachieving season, leading the NFL in passing yards and looking every bit the franchise signal-caller everyone within the building hoped.
The Commanders' ownership must also recognize this fact. Doing everything possible to help Howell progress further should be the team's top personnel priority next season above all else, which also involves keeping Eric Bieniemy and quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard around in some capacity.
Their respective roles in Howell's development cannot be overstated. This is building the sort of strong relationships that last in the NFL - a gift the Commanders cannot waste.
This sentiment was echoed by Howell during his Wednesday presser comments via SB Nation. The North Carolina product was highly complimentary of Bieniemy and seems to be responding well to a tough-love approach that also comes with an arm around the shoulder when the situation dictates.
"He cares so much. I think he’s one of those coaches who puts so much into it, and he demands a lot from his players, and I think as players, that’s what we want from a coach. He’s put so much into this team, into our offense, and I think a lot of people in this building respect him. He’s done a great job. He’s calling games really well right now. We just got to try to keep this momentum going and keep trying to play better and better and keep trying to win football games. We’ve obviously learned more about each other as we’ve gone throughout this journey. I just think there’s nothing like going through games together and getting that experience, so our relationship’s definitely closer. We’ve grown to get more comfortable with each other and I would say there is probably more dialogue as far as what I like, what I don’t like. But it definitely has grown."- Sam Howell via SB Nation
It doesn't seem likely Rivera will be around in 2024 unless there's some drastic turnaround in results. Whether this involves a promotion for Bieniemy and moving Pritchard to the offensive coordinator position to ensure both stick around is a decision for the higher-ups - but the benefits are there for all to see.
There are so many unknowns surrounding the Commanders in terms of long-term strategy. Harris has normally practiced patience throughout his ownership of other sports franchises, but people like Magic Johnson are more intent on doing whatever it takes right now to provide a winning product.
Some fierce debates are already in motion if the hiring of analytics guru Eugene Shen is any indication. But what cannot be ignored is the impact Bieniemy and Pritchard are having on Howell during his sensational first campaign as Washington's starting signal-caller.
Breaking this up might do more harm than good. Something that Harris and his team of wealthy investors should also take into account when discussing what comes next for this once-proud franchise.