At noon on Monday 14 March, the “legal tampering” period for NFL veteran free agency begins. Teams are allowed to negotiate with the agents of respective free agents. This begins 12 PM ET on March 14 and ends at 3:59 PM ET on March 16. Contracts can be signed starting at 4:00 PM New York time on Wednesday.
The highly developed informal information reporting system that is primarily communicated via Twitter will communicate rumors and reports to anxious NFL fans throughout the 52-hour legal tampering period and onward through the first several days of free agency often referred to as “free agent frenzy”. Of course, Hogs Haven will be here to keep you informed about the details of any moves affecting the Commanders as they develop.
Of course, the highest profile players (synonymous with the highest dollar contracts) will mostly be signed in the minutes or hours after free agency begins, though they will mostly have been reported already by the Ian Rappaports of the NFL media world prior to the start of the new league year at 4pm Wednesday.
Washington may or may not be players in the veteran free agent market. The Commanders made their big splash earlier this week by negotiating a trade to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz from the Colts. That trade won’t become official before the start of the new league year on Wednesday. With his $28m cap hit in 2022, Wentz eats up most of the estimated $33m in available cap space that the Commanders had last week. The $5.8m or so remaining will cover the cost of the Commanders’ 6 draft picks, estimated to cost $4.4m in cap space, but that leaves no contingency for regular season injuries and no money for the veteran free agency period.
That may change quickly, however. This week, there were multiple reports that Washington plans to cut veteran safety/linebacker Landon Collins, though there has been no official announcement to that effect by the team. Cutting him immediately would add $6.48m to the team’s available cap space. Designating Collins as a post-June 1st cut would free up $11.88m, but the Commanders wouldn’t be able to book that cap savings until June 1st if they go that route. If they need the money immediately, then that may not be possible.
The team does, however, have other opportunities to create cap space by extending, trading or releasing certain players. Some of the players with significant cap hits that have been discussed by fans and media include LG Ereck Flowers, DL Matt Ioannidis, RG Wes Schweitzuer, and DT Daron Payne. There has been nothing said by team officials to indicate that any of these moves are under consideration.
One simple move that the team can take as soon as the trade for Carson Wentz has been completed is to convert most of his 2022 base salary into signing bonus. A recent article here on Hogs Haven gave an example of this that showed a $13m increase in available cap space that would be immediately available to the team, but if the team converted the maximum amount possible, it would create over $18m in cap space for 2022. This, along with cap savings from the expected release of Deshazor Everett ($2.25m) and the reported coming release of Landon Collins could give the Commanders more than $30m in cap space to work with as free agency begins.
This is important because the front office probably needs to be active in free agency to build a competitive roster for 2022.
The areas of greatest need seem to be at free safety and middle linebacker on defense, and wide receiver on offense. All three positions need starter-quality players, and with no 3rd or 5th round picks in April’s draft, one or two of those players probably need to be signed in March.
The offensive line depth needs to be addressed. It seems likely that the team will sign a couple of veterans and perhaps draft a player with a 4th, 6th or 7th round pick.
Running back needs to be addressed, though there are a number of possibilities for upgrading the overall RB group.
The team probably needs to sign another competent cornerback, as well as a capable tight end in case starter Logan Thomas isn’t fully recovered from his knee injury by September.
And the team needs another quarterback. At the moment, the only signal caller under contract with the team is backup Taylor Heinicke, who had to start 15 games last year after the 2021 starter Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury in the second quarter of the season opener against the Chargers. Of course, Carson Wentz will become part of the team on Wednesday, but it has already been widely reported that last year’s 3rd quarterback, Kyle Allen, who will be a restricted free agent, will not be tendered by the Commanders front office. The deadline for RFA and ERFA tenders is Wednesday, before 4PM.
The team has a total of 8 players who are restricted free agents (RFAs) or exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs), with the most prominent, aside from Kyle Allen, being kicker Joey Slye and DL Daniel Wise.
All in all, there are more questions than answers with regard to the team’s approach to the roster with the unofficial start to free agency just hours away. Depending on the approach taken by the front office, the Commanders could be very active in pursuit of some high profile free agents and active as sellers in the trade market ahead of the draft, or it could be a very quiet free agency period with Washington mostly on the sidelines, which tends to frustrate fans as they read and hear about other teams signing talented players that the fans wanted to see in burgundy & gold.
I’m not sure what to expect, so I’ll just say: be ready for anything.