That means the Commanders will once again turn to backup and fan favorite Taylor Heinicke to fill the void. Rookie Sam Howell is slated to serve as his backup.
Wentz sustained the injury late Thursday in the second quarter of Washington’s win over the Chicago Bears, but he played the entire game without a splint or tape for protection. He said afterwards that his hand was “a little sore”, but added that he would be “fine”.
Wentz saw orthopedic surgeon Steven Shin Monday at Cedars-Sinai’s Kerlan-Jobe Surgery Center to determine next steps, including surgery. Should Wentz finish on IR, he will have to miss at least the next four games before returning to training.
After hosting the Packers on Sunday, the Commanders travel to Indianapolis to face Wentz’ 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 in a long list for the Commanders, who lost their starting point to Chase Roullier earlier in the season to a knee injury and are still without star defender Chase Young (ACL). Seven other starters have missed time this season due to injuries.
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The move to Heinicke marks the ninth time the commanders have switched starting quarterbacks since 2020, when Ron Rivera was hired as coach. It is also the third time that the team has switched to Heinicke.
The former Old Dominion star signed with Washington in December 2020 as an emergency strategist in the event 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 came on again when Ryan Fitzpatrick sustained a season-end hip injury in Week 1 and led Washington to a 7-8 record as the starter. However, it was clear at the end of the season that the Commanders intended to find a longer-term starter who could vertically expand the field in Coordinator Scott Turner’s attack.
So in March, Washington traded for Wentz and took on his entire $22 million salary. The Commanders swapped second-round rosters for 2022 with the Colts, giving up two draft rosters — a third round in 2022 and a conditional third round in 2023. The 2023 third round would turn into a second round if Wentz played 70 percent of Commanders snaps this season. If he misses a lot of time, that becomes less likely.
The price was hefty for a starting quarterback, especially one who was traded twice in so many seasons with a slew of not-so-flattering reports to follow. But Washington believed Wentz could stabilize his attack and revive his career to become a long-term solution. If anything, he had the size and arm strength, and it seemed that with the right pieces around him, the commanders could create a more explosive attack.
“It allows us to throw the ball even more vertically than in the past,” Rivera said during Wentz’s introductory press conference at the team’s headquarters in March. “…The vertical attack opens up a lot more stuff, opens up some stuff below in the passing game. It opens part of the ongoing game, knowing that [the defense is] not being able to get eight guys in the box. … I think it will really help us attack our opponents differently.”
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But the attack with Wentz at the helm has largely lagged behind for the past six weeks. Wentz has bagged 23 sacks, equal for the top league, and the commanders are among the bottom nine in net yards, third-down conversion rate and scoring.
While Heinicke doesn’t have the desired coaching staff size for the position and 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 have seemingly curtailed his athletic ability over the years, limiting offense and playbook. Heinicke’s talent for improvising and escaping the pocket to avoid pressure could help Washington keep the game alive and expand the drive.
However, another change at quarterback puts the Commanders in a precarious position during their third season of a rebuild with Rivera. Despite changes in roster, front office and brand, the Commanders could look a lot like the team that got out two years ago: Still need a fix at quarterback.