I’m gonna try not to be too wordy with this update, so let’s jump right in.
Current cap space
There’s been a lot of estimating of cap space since roster news started being announced last week. With a pause in the free agency action, Over the Cap has managed to get up-to-date with the Commanders cap space now with the inclusion of starting LG Andrew Norwell’s contract, so they have a cap space estimate posted that doesn’t need any adjustments.
Per the good folks at OTC, Washington’s current 2022 cap space is estimated to be $12.88m.
To get to that point, Washington’s front office has undertaken an unusual (for Washington) practice of structuring all of the new veteran free agent contracts for maximum current-year cap space. This had not previously been the practice for most of the past decade.
Here’s what I mean:
In each of these three free agent contracts, the front office has paid less than half the value of the contract in the form of base salary.
Also, in all three contracts, the Commanders have added 3 void years (the most possible on a 2-year contract) to shift between 21% and 22% of the contact cost into 2024 — one season after all three contracts terminate. In other words, Washington already plans to take a $5.7m dead cap hit on these three contracts in 2024 in an effort to create cap space right now.
There must be a reason for that. The front office seems to be paving the way for something. It seems reasonable to think that they either plan to make a splashy (read: expensive) free agent signing, or they plan to need money for a big-dollar extension that will eat up current cap space. The former seems more likely since most extensions can easily be structured with low first-year cap hits. Last year’s extension of Jon Allen, for example, actually lowered his 2021 cap hit, even though the overall value gave him a substantial pay increase over the life of the contract.
Reading the tea leaves, it looks like the front office is either planning or hoping to still be significantly active in this year’s free agent market.
The cost of Washington’s drafted rookies
Washington’s draft picks will cost the team an estimated $4.4m to sign.
This will not come out of Washington’s cap space until they actually sign the contracts, so the timing of the cap hits can be managed a bit.
Former SS/LB Landon Collins has already been cut and is free to sign with any team immediately.
For accounting purposes, however, the front office took advantage of a provision in the CBA that allows him to be designated as a post-June 1 cut. The effect of that designation is that his dead cap hit can be spread over 2 years (2022 and 2023) instead of hitting the books all in ‘22. This means that, although the team has to carry his $15.7m cap number on the books until the end of May, in June, he will be removed from the cap calculation, creating $11.88m in cap space for the Commanders to use.
The team has very few players with high-dollar contracts that can be restructured to increase 2022 cap space, but they do have one: that of Carson Wentz.
The team can ‘create’ up to $18m in 2022 cap space by converting salary to signing bonus, which would have the effect of deferring cap hits to 2023 & 2024. It’s a low-risk move that simply ‘borrows’ cap space from the next season or two to be used in 2022 to build the current roster — just as the team has already done with the void years on the contracts of McKissic, McCain and Norwell, and by designating Landon Collins a post-June 1 cut.
A note on void-year contracts
In April last year I wrote an article to explain how void year contracts work. I have to say, I’m not a fan of using them liberally, though I do think there’s a place for them in specific situations.
As far as I know, from 2012 to 2020, Washington only used a void-year contract one time, and that was to sign WR DeSean Jackson when he was unexpectedly released late in the offseason by Chip Kelly from the Eagles’ roster. Washington had very little cap space available, and used a void-year contract to ‘shoehorn’ Jackson’s 3-year contract into the team’s limited available cap. I thought that was a great use of a void-year contract.
Last year, with the impact of COVID on 2021 cap dollars, teams across the league increased their use of void-year contracts to defer cap dollars from the cap-strapped ‘21 season to future years. Washington joined in, signing both William Jackson III and Curtis Samuel to 3-year deals with 2 void years attached to each contract. I understood the need to defer cap space last year, so I was provisionally on board with the decision.
The decision to sign 3 veterans to void-year contracts last week, deferring over 20% of their cap hits to the 2024 season (the same season that Samuel ($4.8m) and Jackson ($6m) will hit), concerns me. Collectively, these 5 players already account for $16.5m of the 2024 salary cap in a year when none of them is currently under contract with the Commanders.
Hopefully, the team has a clear plan for what to do with the cap space it is ‘creating’ by deferring cap hits to later years. This represents a dramatic shift in cap management from when Eric Schaffer was the cap guru in DC.
I’ve been keeping the depth chart updated with every announced move through free agency. Over the Cap and I agree on who is on the roster. Here’s what I’ve got.
Please note that assigned positions and color coding are my own personal opinions. They do not necessarily represent the thinking of Washington’s coaches or front office, nor are they necessarily consistent with fan consensus. This chart represents my interpretation, and may not reflect the thoughts of other writers on Hogs Haven. Finally, when it comes to backup players, I don’t put much effort into making sure that they are on the right or left or behind the specific player that they backup. I mostly just try to fit everyone on the chart efficiently.
With Landon Collins gone, the team currently has 65 players under contract. With 6 picks in April’s draft, that leaves 19 openings for free agents to be signed to reach the 90-man limit. You can probably expect a large group of undrafted free agents this season, after the team brought only one UDFA to camp last season (Jaret Patterson).
The most obvious hole is at middle linebacker.
Offensive line depth is thin, but that can likely be addressed with a couple of budget free agent signings similar to what we’ve seen from Rivera’s front office over the past two seasons.
The team needs at least one more quarterback, and many people expect that Washington could look for that player in the draft, though few expect them to do so with the #11 pick in the first round.
The wide receiver group probably needs another ‘weapon’. Given the cost of talented receivers in free agency, I expect the team to use an early draft pick to get a guy.
Beyond that, another capable running back and some DB depth would be welcome.
While the cupboard doesn’t look bare at TE, with Logan Thomas recovering from a mid-season knee injury, the team probably needs a reliable veteran at the tight end position as well.
2023 compensatory draft picks
The Commanders lost All Pro RG Brandon Scherff to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a big-dollar contract. They also saw backup DT Tim Settle signed by the whiny front office of the Buffalo Bills.
Washington, meanwhile, has not signed any qualifying compensatory free agents (Andrew Norwell doesn’t count because he didn’t complete his contract with his previous team, the Jaguars).
Note: In effect, the two teams swapped guards, with Washington saving around $11.5m per season and grabbing an extra draft pick along the way.
Per Over the Cap, Washington currently qualifies for a 3rd round comp pick for Scherff, and a 7th round comp pick for Settle.
Adding two additional draft picks to next year’s offseason would help offset the lost draft pick traded to acquire QB Carson Wentz from the Colts.
Comp picks, however, are fragile things. A simple change in circumstance can see current projected draft picks disappear. I believe that part of what is driving the front office strategy this offseason is a desire to protect that 3rd round pick generated by the loss of Brandon Scherff.
There are a few ways to protect the two current projected picks.
Between now and early May, any veteran free agents that the team signs should be:
- Players who finished the 2021 season on the Washington roster (eg. Bobby McCain, JD McKissic)
- Players who were cut by their previous team (eg. Bobby Wagner)
- Players with contracts valued at less than $2.75m per season (which are unlikely to ‘qualify’ for the comp pick calculation)
A few days after the draft is over (it was May 3rd last year), any free agents signed by teams no longer count towards the compensatory pick calculations, regardless of other circumstances. I believe the relevant deadline will be 4pm on May 2nd this year, though I haven’t confirmed it yet.
Look for Washington’s front office to make use of all these types of signings in an effort to protect next year’s anticipated comp picks, which may mean a continued quiet free agency and some late (post-May 2) free agent signings.
2022 draft picks
Washington currently has 6 selections in the 87th annual draft, which will be held 28-30 April, 2022 in Las Vegas.
- Round 1 = Pick 11
- Round 2 - Pick 47
- Round 4 - Pick 113
- Round 6 - Pick 189
- Round 7 - Pick 230
- Round 7 - Pick 240
The ideal strategy would seem to involve trading back (if a trade partner can be found) from the 11th overall selection in an effort to secure another pick in the 2nd or 3rd round, and possibly a high pick in the 2023 draft. The Commanders need several high quality players, and without picks in the 3rd and 5th rounds, they seem to lack the ammunition needed to fill out the roster adequately.
It seems likely that top targets for the first & second rounds would include wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back, or offensive line.