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The Washington Commanders’ quarterback carousel will spin yet again.
Carson Wentz underwent surgery Monday in Los Angeles to repair a fractured ring finger on his right hand, the team said in a statement. He will begin rehab immediately, but his timeline to return is uncertain. The team has not decided if it will place Wentz on injured reserve, but he will miss at least Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
That means the Commanders will again turn to backup and fan favorite Taylor Heinicke to fill the void. Rookie Sam Howell is slated to serve as his backup.
Wentz suffered the injury late in the second quarter of Washington’s win at the Chicago Bears on Thursday, but he played the entire game without a splint or tape for protection. He said afterward that his hand was “a little sore” but added he would be “all right.”
Wentz saw orthopedic surgeon Steven Shin at Cedars-Sinai’s Kerlan-Jobe Surgery Center on Monday to determine the next steps, which included surgery. Should Wentz end up on IR, he will have to miss at least the next four games before returning to practice.
After hosting the Packers on Sunday, the Commanders travel to Indianapolis to face Wentz’s previous team, the Colts, in Week 8. A home game against the Minnesota Vikings and a trip to play the Philadelphia Eagles follow.
Wentz’s injury is the latest on a long list for the Commanders, who lost starting center Chase Roullier to a knee injury earlier in the season and are still without star defensive end Chase Young (ACL). Seven other starters have missed time this season because of injuries.
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The change to Heinicke is the ninth time the Commanders have switched starting quarterbacks since 2020, when Ron Rivera was hired as coach. It’s also the third time the team has switched to Heinicke.
The former Old Dominion star signed with Washington in December 2020 as an emergency quarterback in case of a coronavirus outbreak and got his first start in the team’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January 2021.
Heinicke impressed enough to land a second contract with the team. Last year, he filled in again when Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 1 and went on to lead Washington to a 7-8 record as a starter. It was clear at the end of the season, however, that the Commanders planned to find a longer-term starter who could stretch the field vertically in coordinator Scott Turner’s offense.
So in March, Washington traded for Wentz and took on his full $22 million salary. The Commanders swapped 2022 second-round picks with the Colts and gave up two draft selections — a third-rounder in 2022 and a conditional third-rounder in 2023. The 2023 third-rounder would turn into a second-rounder if Wentz were to play 70 percent of the Commanders’ snaps this season. Should he miss significant time, that becomes less likely.
The price was hefty for a starting quarterback, especially one who was traded twice in as many seasons with a slew of not-so-flattering reports that followed. But Washington believed Wentz could stabilize its offense and revive his career to become a long-term solution. If anything, he had the size and the arm strength, and it seemed that, with the right pieces around him, the Commanders could create a more explosive offense.
“It allows us to throw the ball vertical even more so than we have in the past,” Rivera said in March during Wentz’s introductory news conference at team headquarters. “… The vertical attack opens up a lot more things, opens up some things underneath in the passing game. It opens up some of the running game, knowing that [the defense is] not going to be able to put eight guys up in the box. … I think it will really help us to attack our opponents differently.”
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But the offense with Wentz at the helm has lagged for much of the past six weeks. Wentz has taken 23 sacks, tied for the league high, and the Commanders rank among the bottom nine in net yards, third-down conversion rate and scoring.
Though Heinicke lacks the coaching staff’s preferred size for the position and doesn’t have Wentz’s arm, his return could jump-start the Commanders — or at least help them play at the level they did last season. Injuries to Wentz’s knee and back over the years seemingly have curtailed his athleticism, limiting the offense and its playbook. Heinicke’s knack for improvising and escaping the pocket to avoid pressure could help Washington keep plays alive and extend drives.
Another change at quarterback, though, leaves the Commanders in a precarious position during their third season of a rebuild with Rivera. Despite changes to the roster, the front office and the brand, the Commanders could look much like the team that trotted out two years ago: still in need of a solution at quarterback.