- - Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Taylor Heinicke movie is moving to a new location — Atlanta.

The Washington Commanders fan icon has signed a two-year, deal with the Falcons, worth $14 million with $6.3 million guaranteed. But with incentives, Heinicke can make as much as $20 million.

Pretty good money for a backup quarterback.

Right now the Falcons are still planning to start Desmond Ridder at quarterback, their third-round pick from last year who started the final four games for Atlanta.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Maybe this is the end of the movie, where Heinicke’s triumph is coming back from being on his sister’s couch three years ago — washed out of the NFL, with a stint as a backup QB in the second edition of the XFL — to cash in with a multi-million contract that will keep a refrigerator in his kitchen filled with Bud Light forever. 

But there may be more.

Heinicke has this aura about him — something that people like from near and far. His teammates worshipped him in Washington, and the fans chanted his name when the villain in this story, Commanders coach Ron Rivera, benched him last year in favor of his handpicked $28 million calamity, Carson Wentz.

Give me the list of players whose names fans at Ghost Town Field chanted in recent years. No, you’re not allowed to use opposing players.

Is Taylor Heinicke a starting NFL quarterback? Probably not. He’s limited in one particularly important area — arm strength. His decision-making ability is questionable often.

But he managed to use the qualities that people fell in love with here to win 12 games in 25 starts in Washington, a place that also has an aura about it — the aura of self-destruction — often making it difficult to win here.

While Heinicke was here, he was Washington’s best option to win. That speaks to the limitations of Rivera, who wouldn’t recognize a quarterback if Johnny Unitas was standing next to him on the sideline. 

Yet Rivera was willing to sacrifice his team’s chance at a playoff position by starting Wentz — who everyone in the league knew was done after he played his way out of Indianapolis last season, the second team in two years to deport him — in a key loss to the Browns 24-10 on New Year’s Day.

It was clear the team felt betrayed, as the defense turned in its worst performance of the season against a 6-9 Browns team.

By the way, Rivera apparently had no clue that a loss would eliminate his team from playoff contention.

“We could be eliminated? “ Rivera responded when the issue came up in the postgame press conference. He followed that up the next day in a press conference with this fireable statement: “I made a little bit of a gaffe yesterday, not realizing we could get knocked out of the playoffs. But to be honest with you, I never thought we would lose.”

Rivera has lost 27 games as Washington’s coach. The prospect of losing should hardly be a surprise.

But as I said, the coach is limited. After the season, he inexplicably designated Sam Howell — a passer with all of 11 NFL pass completions and a quarterback that Rivera had to be talked into starting in the final game against Dallas — as the team’s “QB1.”

What does that make Jacoby Brissett, who the Commanders signed Wednesday? QB2? QB1A? The starter by Week 5?

There may be no limit to how limited Rivera is. 

After backstabbing Heinicke, he actually thought that the quarterback would come back here. According to reports, Heinicke was their preferred playmate to QB1. His agent may have said all the right things, but if he had any option at all, Heinicke wasn’t coming back to play for Rivera.

He said all the right things, including when he was on the Pat McAfee show and said he would love to be back in Washington. But he also revealed how he felt he was dealt marked cards by Rivera when he said, “I’m not going to say I felt disrespected. It was kind of the communication of how it all went down I wasn’t very happy about.”

That’s as far as Heinicke would go. His close friend and former Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder went further on the Al Galdi podcast last week. “There is a sense of loyalty from Taylor to the Commanders, but that bothered him,” Wilder said. “That hurt him.” He later added, “That’s a hard pill to swallow. I’ll leave it at this — what happened at the workplace was not done in a professional manner.”

Here’s what Heinicke heard publicly from his coach during the season:

“One thing that I’ve always done is whoever the starter is, I’m going to commit to them fully because I don’t want them looking over the shoulder.”

And this: “He (Heinicke) doesn’t need to play well. He just needs to play. We need to continue doing the things that we’re doing. I’m not looking to pull anybody. I’m not looking to yank anybody.”

But the first chance Rivera got to try and salvage the embarrassment of the Wentz trade, he reneged on that commitment and yanked Heinicke in a desperate (and unsuccessful) bid to save his own ego. 

Every movie needs a villain.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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