At this time in 2020, Taylor Heinicke didn’t know if he’d play in the NFL again. Now, the Washington Football Team quarterback is hearing his name mentioned in the same sentence as Kurt Warner.
Normally, this is when we’d write something about it being too early to start thinking about Heinicke, the former undrafted quarterback from Old Dominion, joining Warner in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, tell that to former Washington cornerback Fred Smoot.
Smoot compared Heinicke’s journey to Warner’s
Maybe this is the portion of the NFL offseason where we’re all just desperate for football. Perhaps Smoot is spending too much time visualizing a day of fun and food on July 4 to think straight.
Whatever it is, the ex-Washington defensive back has plenty to say about Heinicke and his potential ceiling. During a recent appearance on BMitch and Finlay of 106.7 The Fan in Washington, Smoot compared the quarterback’s journey from playing in the XFL to starting a playoff game less than a year later to Warner’s road from the Arena League to Super Bowl champion.
“The Rams had all the positions. They had the wide receivers. They had Marshall Faulk. They had the linemen. They had the defense. And then out of nowhere, here comes this Kurt Warner guy, not supposed to start, gets in the game, never gives the job back.”Fred Smoot
Certainly, Smoot isn’t going to suggest Heinicke, who has thrown two touchdown passes and three interceptions in eight career regular-season games, is going to follow Warner to the Hall of Fame, right?
“Heinicke has that feel to me,” Smoot said. “He has that, ‘You know what? If I ever get that job, I will never relinquish that job.”
Smoot is going a bit too far with that comparison
Smoot is passionate about his former team, and we’ll give him credit in that regard. But with all respect to Heinicke, let’s back away from any comparisons between him and a Hall of Fame quarterback for a few minutes.
The most important difference between Heinicke and Warner is experience. When Warner took over the Rams in 1999, he’d already been a prolific Arena League passer. While he was an extremely talented quarterback at ODU, Heinicke threw 58 NFL passes from 2015-19 and didn’t even see the field in the XFL.
If Heinicke opens the 2021 season as Washington’s starting quarterback, it’ll be his first time in that role since 2014, his final season at ODU. At least Warner started for the Iowa Barnstormers in 1996 and 1997. That lack of recent experience could serve as a significant roadblock in Heinicke’s development as a potential starting quarterback.
However, Smoot’s comparison brings up an interesting and fun fact. When Warner took over the Rams in 1999, he played the entire season at 28 years old. Heinicke will be the same age throughout all of the 2021 campaign.
Heinicke is on the Washington Football Team for a reason
None of this is to say Heinicke can’t become the Warner of his generation. He’s certainly talented enough to have stuck around as a reserve quarterback this long.
Even the worst quarterbacks in the NFL are in a rare club. You don’t keep getting called to tryouts or receive contract offers by accident. Even Tim Tebow, who took advantage of a close relationship with Urban Meyer, received a contract because of his playing shape and his willingness to keep his career alive.
Heinicke had a pre-existing relationship with Washington head coach Ron Rivera and used it to earn a chance in 2020. When he got his opportunity to start, he held his own in Washington’s NFC wild-card round loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in January. With the immortal Ryan Fitzpatrick as a mentor, perhaps the former undrafted quarterback can be Washington’s savior behind center.
Warner is one of the greatest Cinderella stories in modern sports history. It’d certainly be fun to see Heinicke emerge as a reliable starting quarterback in Washington, even if his career doesn’t end with a Super Bowl ring and a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.