I enjoy a good mock offseason article as much as the next guy. However, as a fan of a team that has struggled to get to the next level for nearly 30 years, no matter how many key free agents we sign and no matter how many quarterbacks of the future we draft, they always strike me as being a little off the mark.
I have finally realized that the reason is that they always seem to start from an implicit assumption that the team is just a few pieces away from contending. That is not where the Washington Commanders are now, or where the franchise has been since the early nineties. When I compare the roster to that of the playoff contenders, I see a lack of talent overall, not just a few holes to fill. Sadly, I could have said that during any offseason since Jack Kent Cooke died.
Therefore, rather than trying to find a few key pieces to bring the team to the next level, my emphasis is on adding young talent through the draft. In my first take before the Combine, I take a fairly conservative approach to that, using free agency to fill holes without squandering any draft capital and leaving the one area of strength on the team intact.
But first, there is another longstanding issue to address.
Take Back the Team
Before we get to tweaking the roster, my offseason plan starts by addressing the core issue, from which all others stem, including but not limited to poor team building. In the first move of the offseason plan, angry fans, instigated by writers of an obscure fan website, storm team headquarters, depose the Snyders, and take control of the franchise.
In its first communique, The People’s Team Liberation Front declares that the interim name Washington Football Team will be restored until a new brand is chosen through legitimate consultation with the fanbase. The PTLF Revolutionary Council further decrees that there will be no splash moves to usher in the now defunct new brand and that the council will immediately cease all meddling in football operations by ownership. Talks with the DC mayor immediately commence to move the team back to a renovated RFK Stadium precinct.
It is agreed with the NFL that, once order is restored, the team will be sold to a billionaire of the fans’ choosing, with proceeds of the sale to be divided equally amongst anyone who can show either original ’72 through ’91 Super Bowl memorabilia or a Sean Taylor 21 Redskins jersey as proof of fandom, since the team is now owned by the fans.
Now, back to the regularly scheduled mock offseason. While there is a need for more talent across the board some areas have more pressing and/or severe needs than others. In decreasing order:
Quarterback – No proven starter or even promising developmental prospect on the roster
Wide Receiver – We have one wide receiver on the roster who could start on another NFL team. The most pressing needs are a starting #2 receiver and a primary slot receiver.
Linebacker – With Jamin Davis moving outside in 2022, the team currently lacks a starting middle linebacker. It is also unclear whether Davis will stick at WLB, after failing in the middle, and depth is thin after Holcomb, Davis and Landon Collins. Collins is also very expensive, even for his excellent late-season production. We need a starting MLB and an infusion of young talent to add depth.
Deep Safety – We finally seem to have found one quality safety in Kamren Curl, but need another free or two-way safety to line up across from him. Bobby McCain played better than some fans appreciated in 2021, but is really better suited to a slot corner/nickelback role. This has been a pressing need since Ryan Clark was replaced by Adam Archuleta in 2006.
IOL – Offensive line is a need of every team, every offseason, because it makes up half of the offense and the big guys suffer more than their share of wear and tear. Interior line starting talent and depth are particular needs this offseason with Brandon Scherff’s departure and the aftermath of the 2021 injury plague.
Running Back – What? Let me explain.
Move Antonio Gibson to Wide-Back
One way to add young talent to the roster is to make optimum use of the young players with star potential that we already have. Gibson had a good 2021 season in the lead back role, racking up 1,037 rushing yards to finish sixth amongst running backs. However, despite his versatile skillset, with a backgrounds as a WR/flex weapon, he only finished 15th in total yards from scrimmage.
I think he has potential to put up production like Deebo Samuel (3rd in yards from scrimmage) if he’s used to maximize his skillset, so I am moving him to a wide-back role, where he will line up as an outside receiver, in the slot and run routes out of the backfield, in addition to taking snaps at running back.
This will address some of the need at WR, but it creates a new need for someone to take over some of the early down rushing load. Some of that will be handled by getting Jaret Patterson and fullback Alex Armah more involved.
The Commanders currently have the ninth most cap space at $31,899,739. To free up a bit more space to make some moves, I release the following players:
- Taylor Heinicke, cap savings $2.375m
- Deshazor Everett, cap savings $2m
I don’t feel great about letting either of these players go, given what we have been through with them, but it’s a business. Everett might be going to prison, so that cut is inevitable.
I would have loved to free the team from Landon Collins’ contract, but his $16m cap figure makes him practically untradable and his dead money is 50% greater than the cap savings from releasing him in 2022. We are better off keeping him this year and getting at least some of our money’s worth from him.
Last of all, while the biggest returns could be found by trading some of the excess talent at DL, I am not prepared to bust up what should be the team’s one elite unit, until we can develop strengths elsewhere. That had better happen quickly, because Payne, Ioannidis and Sweat are all only under contract through 2022. I’m having second thoughts already about not trading Payne already, particularly since I had to let Settle go to keep him. Ioannidis probably damaged his trade value in 2021, so I’m hoping he bounces back this season.
- Joey Slye, 3 years $3m
- J.D. McKissic, 2 years $7m
- Bobby McCain, 1 year $1.5m
- DeAndre Carter 1 year $2m
My approach to team building is driven by the draft. I won’t be trading draft picks away to acquire star players or trying to get to the next level by signing expensive free agents. Rather, to the extent that it’s possible, I will be seeking good value free agents to plug holes, shore up depth and ensure that we don’t go into the draft needing to find any starters; well, almost. Contract projections are mostly taken from PFF, or wherever else I could find them.
QB – OK, I didn’t get very far with plugging this hole in free agency. I am not going to set the team up for salary cap hell by pursuing any high-end, or even second tier vets in free agency or trades, not that I think any of the top vets would choose to play for the Commanders. Rather, I will be looking for a serviceable veteran to be a bridge while the team drafts and develops its next starter, either this year or next.
The free agent QB who makes the most sense as a bridge from a value perspective is Jameis Winston, whom Mark Tyler went with in his recent mock offseason. The problem I have with that scenario is that I can’t see how the Saints, with the worst cap situation in the league, can afford to let him go.
I am not feeling Teddy Bridgewater at $20m a year, which brings me to a choice between Marcus Mariota at around $8m or Mitch Trubisky who can probably be had for much less. Might as well go with the cheaper option. Trubisky actually had a great sophomore season in 2018. Perhaps he suffered from poor coaching in Chicago and can still turn it around, or maybe he’s just not very good.
I’m taking a chance here with Trubisky as my bridge QB. Even if that blows up on me, though, he is still better than Taylor Heinicke. The rookie QB I’ll be targeting in the draft will get an opportunity to compete to start in camp. If I get really lucky there, Trubisky is just a backup.
Mitch Trubisky, Buffalo, 2yr, $5m
MLB – I was tempted to pursue the Falcon’s Foyesade Oluokun, who is an ascendant player with experience calling the defense and really fits Rivera’s penchant for super athletes with a RAS of 9.3 and a 4.48 40 time. The thing that held me back is that he is tiny for a middle linebacker at 6’2” and 215 lbs. Instead, I went with a good all-around middle linebacker with average athleticism, excellent read-and-react skills and good technique to shed blocks and make plays all over the field.
Josey Jewell, Denver, 2 years, $12m
RG – this one is more of a prediction than a move I would make. Once again, Mark Tyler beat me to the best value FA at the position in Conner Williams, if you can put up with the Dallas stank. In this case, though, I don’t believe Rivera will pass up the opportunity to reunite with another of his players from Carolina.
Andrew Norwell, Jacksonville, 3 years, $21.75m
FS – Washington adds a true free safety, capable of covering the back end of the field and has a knack for intercepting balls thrown into his coverage.
Quandre Diggs, Seattle, 3 years, $24m
WR – Washington has never really replaced the production in the slot that left with its 2015 fourth-round draft pick, so time to get him back.
Jamison Crowder, Jets, 1 year, $4.5m
RB – I’m taking a gamble on Rashaad Penny to continue the form he ended the 2021 season and sign him to take over lead rushing duties from Gibson. If it doesn’t work out, it didn’t cost much and Patterson, Armah and Jonathan Williams can share the rushing load by committee.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle, 1 year $1.5m
2022 NFL Draft
Now for the main event of my offseason, well aside from the fan revolt to take over ownership of the team. Having addressed most of the team’s major needs in free agency gives me the luxury to take a best player available approach in the draft, to build the team’s talent pipeline for the future, within reason. As an exercise, ask yourself when is the best quarterback available in the first round not the best player available?
I used the The Draft Network Mock Draft Machine using the predictive board to run my mock draft.
Round 1, Pick 11
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss, 6’1”, 205 lbs
I couldn’t believe my luck. Kenny Pickett went to Denver before I was up, but Corral was still available at #11. He is actually my preferred quarterback in this draft. I think he has a higher ceiling than Pickett. What I like most about him are his intangibles. He is a natural leader, is tough, and has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice himself for his team. I also like that he worked with Lane Kiffin to reduce his turnovers between his junior and senior years, which shows something that Washington’s last two first-round QBs were lacking.
Corral will have the opportunity to compete with Trubisky for the starting job, if he’s fully recovered from his ankle injury.
Round 2, Pick 42
David Bell, WR, Purdue, 6’2” 205 lbs
I was looking to trade down from this pick, but I couldn’t pass on Bell. He is exactly the kind of big wideout who we regularly see go in the second round and outperform the receivers selected ahead of him. He has average speed, but excels as a route runner and at making acrobatic and contested catches. He would be the perfect complement to Terry McLaurin as a big X receiver.
Round 3, Pick 73
Damone Clark, LB, LSU, 6’4”, 240 lbs
For the third time in a row, one of my favorite players is on the board at my pick. So much for trading down. Clark is the kind of super athletic, rangy linebacker that Rivera seems to covet. He is still raw, but has experience and versatility to line up at middle linebacker or outside, as well as edge rushing and blitzing. Too soon after taking Jamin Davis 19th last year? You can never have enough rangy linebackers in today’s NFL, and we might think of this pick as the do-over, depending on how Davis plays in 2022. Clark might challenge Jewell or Davis for their starting spots in camp.
Round 4, Pick 111
Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati, 6’2”, 185 lbs
The team doesn’t have a pressing need at CB, but that’s not what the draft is about. The team adds another young boundary corner, with plus ball skills and toughness to contribute in the running game and on special teams. Sure we drafted a player with a similar profile last year. If they both catch on, we will be set up to eventually move on from our two ageing starters.
Round 6, Pick 187
Lecitus Smith, G, Virginia Tech, 6’3”, 320 lbs
Smith is a mauler with good functional strength and athleticism for such a big man and has a nasty disposition as a blocker. There are, however, some scouting concerns about his length. That’s not my biggest concern in a guard.
Round 7, Pick 227
Amari Carter, S, Miami, 6’2”, 200 lbs
There were a lot of options to choose from here, but Carter’s Draft Network profile had me at this “Carter is known for his physical and aggressive style of play. Once he triggers downhill, he approaches offensive players with bad intentions. He’s a violent-striking tackler that punishes ball carriers. He’s at his best in coverage dropping down as a robber or aligned as a big-dime backer.” My kind of player. He has added value on special teams.
I can hear the comments coming already. “You said you weren’t going to draft for need, but five of your six picks line up with the major needs you identified at the start.” In my defense, that’s just a reflection of how the draft unfolded. I didn’t reach for a single player in this draft. Each player I selected was within the top five (early rounds) to top 10 (later rounds) available players on the Draft Network’s board when I was picking, which is well within the limit of resolution for NFL scouts to distinguish talent levels of players at different positions.
Priority Free Agents
After the draft winds up I’m getting some kickers in for a kicking contest with Slye. If one of them stands out, but doesn’t take the job from Slye, I’ll try to stash him on the practice squad for emergencies.
Also, I’m bringing in 10-12 players at all kinds of positions after the draft, including some fullbacks/H-backs. I don’t like the way Rivera only brings in a small handful of priority free agents. It weakens the competition for the Mason-Brennan Award.
Projected Starting Roster+
QB – Winner of camp battle between Mitch Trubisky and Matt Corral
RB – Rashaad Penny
3rd Down Back – J.D. McKissic
FB – Alex Armah
Flex/Wide-Back – Antonio Gibson
WR1 – Terry McLaurin
WR2 – Winner of camp battle between David Bell and Dyami Brown
WR Slot – Jamison Crowder
LT – Charles Leno
LG – Ereck Flowers
C – Chase Roullier
RG – Winner of Andrew Norwell/Wes Schweitzer camp battle
RT – Sam Cosmi
LDE – Chase Young
LDT – Daron Payne
RDT – Jon Allen
RDE – Montez Sweat
WLB – Winner of Jamin Davis/Damone Clark camp battle
MLB – Josey Jewel
SLB – Cole Holcomb
Buffalo Nickel – Landon Collins
LCB – Kendall Fuller
RCB – William Jackson III
CB Slot – Bobby McCain
S – Quandre Diggs
S – Kamren Curl
K – Joey Slye
P – Tress Way
LS – Camaron Cheeseman
KR/PR – DeAndre Carter
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett
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A glorious victory for the proletariat!