For most teams, the offseason doesn’t begin for a few weeks. However, for the Washington Commanders, the offseason is underway. After nearly two years, the Washington Football Team, the franchise changed their name to Commanders on February 2. While fans have split opinions on the new name, they can agree on one thing: this team can make some noise next year. After going 7-10 last season, the Commanders have too many talented players to finish below .500 again in 2022. With a massive hole at the quarterback position, Washington has a critical offseason ahead of them.
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Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, the Commanders have a projected $31.9 million in cap space. They also have 32 players scheduled to hit the open market next month. However, most of them are bottom of the roster players and likely won’t get offered a new deal. Of the 32 upcoming free agents, there are a few critical players. The list includes four players that played over 50 percent of the snaps last season. Washington hasn’t been overly aggressive in re-signing their players the past few years, but get deals done when they make sense. In early January, the Commanders sign upcoming free agent Charles Leno to a three-year deal extension worth $37.5 million, locking up their left tackle for the next few years.
For the past two seasons, Scherff has played under the franchise tag. Over those two years, the veteran guard has made over $33 million. However, he has also missed 22 games over the past four years because of injuries. Scherff will turn 31 years old during the 2022 season. After spending the past two years on the franchise tag, it’s hard to believe he and the team will agree to a long-term deal. As great of a player Scherff has been when on the field, the Commanders will likely move on from the veteran next month.
When Washington signed McCain in May, many wondered if he would make the final roster. Instead, the safety played 1,031 defensive snaps last season, the most on the team. Not only was he the best safety for Washington, but McCain led the team in several categories, including interceptions (four) and defensive touchdowns (one). His ability to play multiple positions in the secondary provided extra value for Washington. After having a career year, McCain should be one of the top priorities for the Commanders this offseason.
After back-to-back productive years with the Miami Dolphins, Washington signed Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal. The plan was for Fitzpatrick to be their bridge gap quarterback after moving on from Dwayne Haskins. However, he suffered a hip injury 16 plays into the season and missed the rest of the year. While the Commanders could re-sign Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal, the team will likely let the veteran hit the open market, assuming he doesn’t retire. However, Washington has to address the position this offseason as Taylor Heinicke is nothing more than a borderline stop-gap option.
Potential Cap Casualties
With just under $32 million in projected cap space this offseason, the Commanders don’t need to make any unnecessary cuts. However, they have a few players who will likely get cut in the coming weeks. Most of Washington’s core players are on team-friendly deals or still playing under their rookie contracts. Moreover, according to Over the Cap, Washington has only four players with a cap hit over $10 for next season.
Ereck Flowers ($10 Million Saved)
Right before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Commanders traded for Flowers. After a year away from the team, Flowers was back with Washington. However, he is entering the final year of his deal with no guaranteed money left. Therefore, Washington can cut Flowers without taking on any dead money. While he started 16 games at left guard this season, the Commanders could release Flowers and find a cheaper option at left guard while using the $10 million saved somewhere else.
Matt Ioannidis ($6.9 Million Saved)
The Commanders are unlikely to release Ioannidis unless they need the cap space to swing a massive deal for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. However, they could decide to trade him this offseason. By moving on, the Commands would save nearly $7 million in cap space while taking on only $1.5 million in dead money. With Da’Ron Payne heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Washington might decide to move on from Ioannidis and use the money saved towards a long-term contract with Payne.
Landon Collins ($6.5 Million Saved)
When Collins suffered a torn Achilles in 2020, many believed he wouldn’t return to the team. However, he played in 13 games last season and had played a critical role for the defense. While he had an excellent bounce-back season, Collins has a team-high $16.1 million cap hit for 2022. The Commanders can open up $6.5 million cap space by cutting the veteran. However, if they release him with a post-June 1 designation, Washington will open up almost $12 million in cap space. If the Commanders make a blockbuster trade for a quarterback, they will release Collins for the needed cap space.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Washington has a solid roster already, with several core players on rookie deals. However, they need to address two things this offseason: the quarterback position and overall depth. Unfortunately for the Commanders, the free agent quarterback market lacks franchise-caliber quarterbacks. Instead, expect Washington to focus on adding depth in free agency and address their quarterback position through a trade or in the draft.
Desmond King, Houston Texans
Last year, the Commanders signed Williams Jackson to a three-year deal worth $40.5 million. While his first year with Washington had some good and bad moments, the Commanders still need some help in the secondary. King has bounced around the league lately, playing for three teams over the past two years. However, he had a career year in 2021, totaling three interceptions and 93 tackles with the Texans. Furthermore, his three interceptions matched his career-high and were his first interceptions since 2018. King’s ability to play multiple spots in the secondary will be critical in Washington, especially if McCain isn’t re-signed.
Kemoko Turay, Indianapolis Colts
The Commanders have an exciting pair of young pass rushers in Chase Young and Montez Sweat. However, both dealt with injuries last season, missing a combined 15 games. With both missing time, the lack of depth behind them got exposed. Jonathan Allen, Sweat, and Payne combined for 18.5 sacks last season, accounting for 50 percent of the team’s total. In Indianapolis, the former second-round pick struggled to stay healthy. Turay missed 47.9 percent of the games over the first three years of his career. However, he played in 13 games last year and registered a career-high 5.5 sacks. His 5.5 sacks would have finished second for Washington last year. Pairing Turay with Young and Sweat would give Washington three young and coming pass rushers.
Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears
While fans are hopeful Washington will trade for Rodgers or Wilson, that is unlikely to happen. Instead, the team is more likely to sign a veteran quarterback to compete with Heinicke and address the quarterback position in the draft. While Dalton had a rocky year in Chicago, he is a proven veteran. He is also an excellent locker room presence and spent last year mentoring Justin Fields. If Washington drafts a quarterback, Dalton is an excellent veteran presence. He can also start till the rookie is ready.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
After years of trading away draft picks, Washington will have most of their 2022 NFL Draft selections. However, their fifth-round pick belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles due to a draft day trade from last year. With all of their picks on the first and second day of the draft, the Commanders could trade down and add more selections. Regardless of where they pick and how many selections they make, Washington has a few needs they must address in the draft.
Round 1, Pick 11: Offensive Line
While quarterback is Washington’s biggest need, the draft class lacks an elite prospect. Furthermore, the two teams picking ahead of Washington, the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos, also have a need at the quarterback position. There are also several teams behind the Commanders who could trade into the top-10 for a quarterback. Instead of reaching for a quarterback, Washington would be wise to take advantage of the talented offensive line class. A potential option with the 11th pick is Kenyon Green. He can play multiple spots on the offensive line. With both Flowers and Scherff likely playing elsewhere next year, Green would step in as a starter on day one at guard.
Round 2, Pick 42: Quarterback
If they don’t use their first-round pick on a quarterback, they will likely address the position in the second round. Reportedly, the Commanders don’t believe Heinicke is the long-term answer at quarterback and will be aggressive in upgrading the position this offseason. While the Commanders will miss out on first-round prospects like Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis, they likely could land either Desmond Ridder or Carson Strong with the 42nd pick.
Round 3, Pick 73: Linebacker
Last year Washington spent their first-round pick on Jamin Davis. While his rookie year came with mixed results, the team remains confident in the former Kentucky Wildcat. However, the linebacker position needs work. The veteran Cole Holcomb is entering a contract year and had a career-high 142 tackles last season, finishing 10th in the NFL. His 142 tackles were 43 more than any other player on the team and 66 more than any linebacker. While Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd highlight the linebacker draft class, there are several mid-round prospects with upside this year. Potential day two options include Chad Muma and Christian Harris. If the Commanders can pair one of them with Davis and Holcomb, they will have an exciting young linebacker core.
Early 2022 Expectations
The Commanders enter a critical offseason. They are a few pieces and an upgrade at quarterback away from winning the NFC East division. Furthermore, they are borderline Super Bowl contenders if they land a superstar quarterback like Rodgers or Wilson this offseason. Depending on the moves the Commanders make this offseason, they could return to the playoffs or end up with a top-10 pick next year. Most important of all is the quarterback position. If Heinicke is the starter again next year, fans should expect a long and frustrating season.
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