Commanders move on in QB after Taylor Heinicke agreed to deal with the Falcons


On Tuesday, former Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke agreed to a two-year deal with his hometown Atlanta Falcons as a backup, according to two people who knew of the deal. The contract is valued at $14 million – or up to $20 million after incentives. It also includes a $4 million signing bonus, bringing its total guarantees to $6.32 million.

The commanders also let go of running back JD McKissic and placed an original $2.672 million restricted free agent tender for safety Jeremy Reaves, a special teams All-Pro pick.

The most notable move was the one the commanders didn’t make with Heinicke.

During his more than two seasons in Washington, Heinicke started 24 games for a 12-11-1 record. In his 26 total games, he completed 64 percent of his passes for 5,415 yards and 33 touchdowns with 21 interceptions and an 87.5 passing rating. He also led Washington to five fourth-quarter comebacks and five winning runs.

Heinicke had been out of the NFL for 16 months and was living at his sister’s house in Atlanta, where he was studying for finals in advanced math, when Washington signed him as a “quarantine quarterback” during the coronavirus pandemic in December 2020. Weeks later, he was called up as a backup and then a starter.

From 2022: Taylor Heinicke brings a little taste of stability to an unstable franchise

“I’ve always said to myself that after the last game I play I’ll give myself two years to see if I can get back in and I think that’s a good window,” Heinicke said of his absence in 2021 the NFL. “Those two years crept up there. … If I didn’t get the call to be called [in 2020]I wanted to hang it up and start a new chapter in my life.”

Heinicke came off the bench in place of Dwayne Haskins after a loss to the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter and then started in the playoffs for the first time in his career against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

Heinicke’s performance in a narrow loss to the Bucs earned him a two-year contract. Washington signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a 2021 starter only to see him go down with a hip injury in the season opener. Heinicke started 15 games in his absence and filled in again in 2022 after Carson Wentz suffered a broken finger in Week 6. Heinicke earned the starting job (albeit briefly) and propelled the team into the playoffs.

But coach Ron Rivera benched Heinicke late after a Week 16 loss, and Wentz replaced him the following week against the Cleveland Browns. That loss ended Washington’s postseason hopes and likely ended his run with Heinicke as well.

“Yeah, it sucks,” he said as he was benched. “You know, every guy in this dressing room should feel like he should start. If not, then you shouldn’t be playing in this league.”

Though Washington said it hoped to keep Heinicke as Sam Howell’s replacement, the team wasn’t ready to spend big and it was clear Heinicke would have options — earn more and roll back after a sour end.

McKissic, with whom Washington also severed ties Tuesday, was another free agent signer in 2020 who was briefly a key part of the offense. He embodied the type of player Rivera was looking for as he attempted to improve Washington’s roster in its early years: a less-heralded acquisition that proved more valuable than anticipated.

McKissic was developing into Washington’s third-down back, but the emergence of Brian Robinson Jr. from the third round pushed McKissic down the depth chart in 2022, and McKissic’s health became an issue. He suffered a concussion and a neck injury in 2021, and in November 2022 he was placed on injured reserve with the expectation that he would undergo months of rehab for his neck. He was released Tuesday with a failed physical designation.

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However, Washington offered Reaves and gave him a raise from his $965,000 salary last season. As part of the original round’s bidding, Reaves has until April 21 to solicit bids from other teams. The commanders would then have the right to adjust any offer he receives and keep him. Should they refuse to pass, they would receive no draft compensation in return.

Commanders could also try to sign Reaves on a longer-term contract. Reaves, a safety from South Alabama, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2018 draft but was cut before the season. He signed with Washington weeks later and hopped on and off the active roster for four seasons.

Reaves made an impression as a reserve safety when Washington’s secondary school was exhausted in 2020 and 2021, but he built his career on special teams, primarily as a punt protector. Last season was the first in which he was included in the first active roster. He recorded 16 special teams tackles (the second most in the NFL), earned a Pro Bowl selection as an NFC special teams player, and was selected a first-team All-Pro. Commanders move on in QB after Taylor Heinicke agreed to deal with the Falcons

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