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Taylor Heinicke’s Journey From the XFL to Commanders Leader

After leading Washington to an upset win over the Eagles, the QB continues to leave his mark. Boardroom explores how he got here and how much he’s earning himself with recent play.

Washington has used three different team names since its last put the NFL on notice, starting 14 different quarterbacks since Robert Griffin III tore his ACL, LCL, and meniscus in the 2012 NFC Wild Card round.

There were some decent days with Kirk Cousins and Alex Smith, but nothing worth getting overly excited about. It’s been a mess ever since and it’s somehow landed into Taylor Heinicke’s lap. And thanks to the play of Heinicke the last couple of weeks, there’s just one loss separating the Commanders from a potential playoff spot.

There hasn’t been much to feel good about as a Washington fan in recent years. It certainly doesn’t help that owner Dan Snyder has turned the organization into one of the biggest disgraces off the field with his own issues.

Snyder potentially selling the team was probably the best news fans could get. A Monday Night Football victory in Philadelphia, against the previously unbeaten Eagles, was the cherry on top of an ironically good week for Commanders fans.

At the forefront of it all is Heinicke, who reclaimed temporary respectability for Washington. Like it or not, he’s the guy right now. He’s won three of four games since taking over for Carson Wentz and the lifeless 2-4 (at the time) Commanders. Now, they’re 5-5 with winnable games against the Texans and Falcons in the coming weeks.

Heinicke, who’s 10-9 all-time as a Washington starter, has stepped up more than less when his number’s been called. He’s been through just about everything there is for a 29-year-old QB to endure in the NFL.

Through 10 weeks, he’s brought a pulse to that same lifeless Washington team. At this point, for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005, what is there to lose?

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Taylor Heinicke’s Journey

Coming out of Old Dominion, Heinicke went undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. Eventually, however, he signed with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent, competing against the likes of Mike Kafka, Teddy Bridgewater, and Shaun Hill. The Vikings waived him in 2017 and the Patriots then added him to their practice squad for a grand total of 16 days. Months later on Christmas day, Heinicke made his first NFL appearance and suffered a concussion on his first completion.

He was waived three months later.

In 2018, Heinicke was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers, appearing in six games in place of the ailing Cam Newton. However, he injured his shoulder in his first and only start of the season. He was waived right before the 2019 season and subsequently signed with the XFL’s St. Louis BattleHawks only for the 2020 season to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this time, Heinicke went back to school to earn his degree from ODU, but that process was interrupted when Washington signed him to its practice squad in December 2020. After playing in Week 16, he then started the team’s Wild Card game against the Buccaneers in place of injured Alex Smith. Washington would lose, 31-23, but Heinicke threw for 306 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another.

He joined Tom Brady as the only QBs selected in the sixth round or later to throw for 250+ pass yards and score a rushing TD in their first career playoff start.

It was enough for him to land a two-year, $4.25 million contract with the team — a huge step for the undrafted underdog who made a living off being a backup. Like his stats, the numbers don’t pop off the page, but his incentive bonuses are quite interesting. Not to mention, he’s probably carved out a career in whatever capacity it may be — whether it’s as a backup or a fringe starter — versus having to fight to stay in the league.

It’s been enough to get Washington back on the map.

Taylor Heinicke Salary & Incentives

All contract numbers/figures via Spotrac.

YEARS: 2
2022 SALARY: $1.5 million
GUARANTEED: $1.5 million
TOTAL VALUE: $
4.75 million

INCENTIVES: 
  • If he plays in any game, he earns an extra $44,177.
  • If wins the game, he earns an additional $125,000.
  • Through Week 10, he’s earned a cool $375,000.

Perspective

We’re often numb to the ideas of stats, numbers, and salary figures. He threw zero touchdowns in Monday’s win against Philadelphia, but he controlled the tempo of the game. Washington had more than double the time of possession (40:24) than the Eagles (19:36). 

He’s 29 years old, which can be considered his prime. And believe it or not, $375,000 is a big deal for someone like Heinicke, earning $7.375 million for his career that was seemingly over when he was trying to regain some footing in the XFL less than three years back.

If you can’t root for the Commanders, you can root for someone like Taylor Heinicke. They will continue their pursuit of a future quarterback the way they tried with Dwayne Haskins, but this is the leader for the time being. Again: What do they have to lose?

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