I hate to see a man’s hopes and dreams crushed by the size of another man’s wallet.
I asked Taylor Heinicke, last year’s starting quarterback for the Washington Commanders, if he felt he had any opportunity to change the minds of Ron Rivera and the coaches about that position that went to Carson Wentz on March 16, when he arrived in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I don’t think that’s an option,” Heinicke said.
He paused, then spoke the truth. “You look at the NFL, at the end of the day it is kind of a business,” he said.
Then he spread his arms out to illustrate the business lesson. “If you are paying somebody $30 million and someone else $2 million, you’re paying this guy $30 million to play.”
Money — it’s why Heinicke has practically zero chance to compete for the job that he had last year, even if, by most accounts, he overachieved in that role.
Heinicke was quick to explain that there were other reasons Wentz is the starter. “Carson is a great quarterback,” he said. “You see it in the OTAs and minicamp.”
Yes, there are other differences between Wentz and Heinicke besides paychecks. Standing next to Wentz on the field, Heinicke looks like the ballboy. Wentz, at 6-foot-5, towers over Heinicke, who is listed at 6-foot-1, but that would be standing on top of Wentz’s wallet.
But by one measure, Heinicke appears to tower over Wentz, 29, who has been driven out of both Philadelphia and Indianapolis because, in part, he came up small in the leadership category.
Heinicke, 29,(16 games in 2021, 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 3,419 yards passing) the undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion, was a beloved figure in the Washington locker room last year, as he bailed his teammates out several times with his fearless play on the field.
“I love that dude,” linebacker Cole Holcomb said after Heinicke pulled out 17-15 win over Las Vegas. “Man, Heinicke he’s a little baller. He’s a grinder. Doesn’t matter what happens, he goes out there and slings it. If he throws a pick, he shakes it off and let’s go.”
Defensive tackle Jon Allen said, “Heinicke, what can you say about him. He keeps showing why he needs to be our quarterback.”
They likely haven’t fallen out of love with Heinicke just because there is a guy making $28 million replacing him.
And Heinicke became the darling of the league.
Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre took some time off from swindling the government to sing Heinicke’s praises, talking to him on the Sirius XM NFL Blitz show. “You’ve always probably been told you’re too small, you’re arm strength isn’t enough or whatever, you’ve turned that into motivate yourself to prove them all wrong and you certainly have,” Favre said. “You’ve got the team poised to make a playoff run yet again. I enjoy stories like yours and enjoy watching players like yourself.”
Another Hall of Fame quarterback, Troy Aikman, was also a member of the Heinicke fan club. On a Dallas radio show last year, Aikman said, “I like him. I like the way he competes. I like the way he can move around. I think he does some really good things, and I think the players believe in him.”
You would be hard-pressed to find similar testimonials for Wentz.
Here is what Aikman had to say about Wentz on an ESPN media conference call after he was traded to Washington. “This is probably his last opportunity, just being blunt about it, to prove that he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.”
What does all this mean? Save for Rivera — who traded for Wentz out of desperation and whose future as the Washington head coach is likely tied to the quarterback — it won’t take much for people to call for the little guy who could over the big guy if he can’t.
Heinicke appears to have taken the sparring partner mentality — he’s just there to make the champ better. “I hope he (Wentz) goes out there and succeeds,” Heinicke said. “My job is to back him up, help him out in whatever way I can and if, for some reason he goes down, I’m ready to go play.”
Sparring partners, though, sometimes beat the champ. Oliver McCall was a sparring partner for Mike Tyson, Tim Witherspoon, Michael Spinks and many other fighters. Then he got a fight with heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. “Oliver McCall is a good sparring partner,” Lewis told reporters. “He’s there to hit.”
McCall knocked Lewis out in the second round.
“There are things that you want to see in a prototypical quarterback that I just don’t have, but I feel I bring something else to the table, whether it’s scrambling or improvising, things like that,” Heinicke said.
And heart. You can’t buy heart — not even for $28 million.
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.