The Washington Commanders released quarterback Carson Wentz and defensive back Bobby McCain on Monday, saving nearly $29 million in salary cap space just weeks before the start of free agency and paving the way for the team’s younger talent.
Wentz returned as a starter in Week 17 for a game against the Cleveland Browns that all but sealed his fate. Washington was 7-7-1 when Wentz took over for Heinicke and threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in a loss that knocked Washington from playoff contention.
As part of their trade for Wentz, the Commanders swapped 2022 second-round picks with the Colts and gave up a 2022 third-rounder and a 2023 third-rounder. Wentz had only one year of guaranteed money left on his contract, so Washington was able to make a clean split without taking on dead money — or money that would count against its cap — after one season.
For the first time in his career, Wentz will be a free agent. This offseason, he will be in search of his fourth team in four seasons, a sharp fall for the No. 2 selection in the 2016 draft.
With Heinicke set to hit free agency as well, the Commanders will, at least for now, turn to Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick in 2022 who is the only quarterback on the books for 2023. Howell will enter camp as the projected starter, but Coach Ron Rivera has indicated he hopes to add a veteran in some capacity, and new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy agreed there is a need for competition in the quarterbacks room.
“I’m fired up about the opportunity to get to know the kid,” he said of Howell. “But more than anything, you always want to create competition. You want to make sure that we’re getting the very best out of the people who were in that particular position.”
McCain’s exit is largely because of the emergence of Darrick Forrest, a 2021 fifth-round pick who proved a vital piece of the Commanders’ secondary in 2022 after he played mostly special teams as a rookie. Forrest recorded a team-high four interceptions as well as two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 88 tackles.
McCain’s play at free safety, along with Benjamin St-Juste’s performance at cornerback, prompted Washington to shift McCain to the slot as the third safety in its “Buffalo” nickel package. McCain’s versatility afforded the team flexibility in how it used its defensive backs, and as Washington reconfigures its secondary again, adding more position flexibility will be a priority.
The Commanders have long valued defensive backs who can play multiple spots and can switch during a game or even a series — players such as safety Kam Curl, who last season played primarily as a linebacker, and cornerback Kendall Fuller, who can play inside and outside.
The 2023 draft class is fairly deep on defensive back talent, and some analysts project Washington will add a defensive back in the early rounds. But the team’s needs extend to many positions, including the offensive line, tight end, linebacker and, of course, quarterback.
For Rivera and the Commanders’ personnel and coaching staff, the work begins in earnest this week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis — the same place Washington decided to trade for Wentz a year ago.