Man, the 2022 season went by fast! Or maybe it just felt that way because the transition from likely playoff team to eliminated was so abrupt.
Anyway, for any non-playoff franchise that isn’t in the process of being sold, the current priority is to turn to offseason planning for 2023. It may not, however, be that straightforward for the Commanders. Changes to the coaching staff are likely to be minimal in the face of uncertainty with respect to ownership – though for anyone who still doubts that Dan Snyder is in the process of selling, I’ll point out that he didn’t attend the Week 18 home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Not definitive proof, I realize, but there seems to be plenty of smoke lately, and where there’s smoke...
While I know a lot of people would like to see Ron Rivera gone, it’s hard to imagine Dan Snyder pulling that particular trigger. If Dan doesn’t sell the team, he still needs Rivera to lend the organization an air of respectability. If he does sell the team, it’s hard to see Danny firing Rivera on his way out the door. Better to leave things much as they are for the incoming owner.
Likewise, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise and its head coach may make it difficult to attract a high-quality coordinator to join the staff for the 2023 season, meaning that Scott Turner may get a bit more job security than he normally would given the ongoing offensive struggles of the team under its 8 or 10 starting quarterbacks.
Regardless of what happens with the coaching staff, the NFL waits for no man, and the offseason schedule is pretty relentless. We have a February Combine, March free agency, April/May draft, June minicamp, and July/August training camp. There are plenty of challenges ahead for whoever is coaching, and whoever the owner turns out to be.
While most fans find it pretty easy to keep up with the roster and injuries during the season, it can be hard to keep track of the larger picture during the offseason. It’s easy to forget about players who spent a long time on injured reserve. Also, the end of some players’ contracts can kind of sneak up on you. Some players will be at risk of losing a roster spot because of salary cap considerations, and others may be too expensive to cut if they have a lot of guaranteed money or multiple void years.
For a few years now, I have made it an offseason project to try to keep up with the roster, which will expand to 90 players between now and the start of training camp. It’s a lumpy process, with some players re-signed between now and the start of free agency, and others released. The team will add veterans in March, and maybe the beginning of April. Rookies will be added at the end of April with the annual draft, and some undrafted college free agents will be signed, and marginal players will be released. It’s not really a smooth process, but I’ll endeavor to supply regular updates between now and the and of August, so you’ll always have a grip on what’s happening with the roster.
For this depth chart series, the offseason begins today, with this article.
This week, Washington, along with all the other non-playoff teams, signed a number of players to future contracts. Most of the players signed will have ended the 2022 season on the Commanders’ practice squad, but not all of them. Many of the players who sign future contracts will never make it to training camp; they will be pushed off the roster by draft picks or college free agents.
The Commanders signed nine players to reserve/future contracts:— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 9, 2023
CB Troy Apke
DE William Bradley-King
WR Alex Erickson
CB DaMarcus Fields
QB Jake Fromm
G Nolan Laufenberg
WR Kyric McGowan
T Aaron Monteiro
G Keaton Sutherland
What’s a Reserve/Future Contract?
It’s exactly the same as a regular active-roster contract, with the regular rules for minimum veteran salaries, cap charges, signing bonuses, etc. The only difference is that it doesn’t take effect until the start of the next League Year (this year, that’s March 15 at 4 p.m).
Teams can sign players to future contracts as soon as the previous regular season is over, but the contract won’t count against the salary cap or 53-man limit. Instead, it’ll count against the salary cap and 90-man camp limit of the following season. In the meantime, the player goes on the reserve/futures list and can’t be signed by any other team.
Who’s eligible for a Reserve/Futures Contract?
Any player who wasn’t on an active roster at the end of the outgoing regular season can be signed to a futures contract, meaning that if a player was an unrestricted free agent or on any team’s practice squad after Week 18 then he is eligible.
For the most part, future contracts are used on players who weren’t quite good enough to justify an active roster spot this season, but who teams think just might be worth an active roster spot next season. In many cases, this means teams are locking up players currently on their own practice squad or poaching them from the practice squad of other teams.
The goal is to identify talented young guys on the cusp of breaking out. Traditionally, like most NFL teams, Washington has not had any great success in using futures contracts to lock up future roster successes; however Washington has had some success in signing players to future contracts in recent years, inking players like RB Jonathan Williams, FB Alex Armah and defensive lineman Daniel Wise, who have gone on to contribute to the team in the regular season.
Since practice squad players can be poached by any team willing to sign them to an active contract, a future deal signed now ensures they’ll be with the team once OTAs and training camp roll around— providing peace of mind for front offices that would rather be concentrating on keeping top talent and wooing key veterans at the start of free agency, not scrapping over players who may not make the team.
There’s no limit to how many future contracts a team can sign, as long as the team will be under the 90-man roster cap at the beginning of the league year. Obviously, this means that many of these players will be cut to make room for UFAs or newly drafted players ahead of training camp, since they represent — almost by definition — the bottom of the roster.
Remember, these are guys who couldn’t get on a regular roster at the end of a season when many roster spots have been made available due to injuries to players.
What are Reserve/Futures Contracts worth?
Typically, futures contracts are minimum-salary deals with little or no signing bonus. Most players signed to futures contracts will be fighting for a spot in camp, if they even make it that far; teams aren’t going to invest much into players who may well be cut the following autumn (or sooner).
Just as with any other free agent, teams can sign futures contracts above the veteran minimum—but rarely (if ever) do. These guys are very much the fringe of NFL rosters.
That said, all of these guys are probably excited to have a contract in hand and to have the potential opportunity to make an impression and extend their pro football careers.
All of the future contract players listed in the tweet above appear on the depth chart below, and always as the guy buried deepest on the depth chart — even behind players who were under contract in 2022 but are now set to be free agents in March. This is a judgement call, and could have been different, but that’s where I landed in my decision-making.
Today’s article is primarily intended to simply show what the depth chart looks like, including the players who are currently on track to become free agents in March. Many of those players will not be retained, but some of them will, so it seems useful to have their names appear on the chart to help visualize where the opportunities exist to retain (or not) guys who have just completed their “contract year”. With respect to the counts of players under contract in the chart, pending free agents are not counted, even though their names are listed.
The article also aims to outline in very broad terms where the team may aim to cut some players for salary or performance reasons, and where the team is likely to need to re-sign its own players, or bolster the roster through free agency or the draft. My thoughts here are very quick and not deeply considered; I may easily change my mind about them as the days and weeks of the offseason pass.
My thoughts also may not be in sync with yours. As I said, my thoughts about players today may be very different from what I think about them in a month or two. My goal today is not so much to lay out a plan as to identify some initial concerns and opportunities to simply help give some framework to the conversation that will be ongoing for the next six months.
The numbers that appear beside some players’ names are 2023 cap hits per Over the Cap.
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 personal 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.
While I will share some thoughts about the make up of the roster below, it is hard to project the futures of some players without having a clearer idea about the coaching staff and ownership situation, so take these comments with a couple of large grains of salt.
Washington may have the best safety group that it has fielded since the death of Sean Taylor. Kam Curl and Darrick Forrest are both still on their rookie contracts, and they were one of the more productive tandems in the league in 2022. We saw Percy Butler play pretty well in Kam Curl’s absence against the Cowboys in Week 18.
Jeremy Reaves is going to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player, and it’s hard to imagine him NOT re-signing with the team this offseason, but he is a pending free agent.
Bobby McCain was more of a slot defender than safety in 2022. McCain counts $5.1m against the cap in 2023, but because of the void years on his contract, the team saves only $2.3m if they cut him, meaning that he is likely to remain on the roster heading into training camp (it would be hard to replace him in free agency for $2.3m).
All in all, the safety position is not a high priority for the offseason. I think the team may want to add a late-round draft pick (as they did with Curl, Forrest and Butler) to keep the pipeline full.
The CB position is more concerning. Heading into the 2022 season, the depth looked a bit problematic, though I think Danny Johnson, who is an impending 2023 free agent, may have ended up playing much better than anyone expected he would. I would expect the current coaching staff to make him a priority re-signing as part of the CB depth.
Benjamin St-Juste is turning into a pretty good CB, but he has missed games with injury or concussion in both of his first two seasons.
The other starter, Kendall Fuller, is 27 years old and entering the final year of his contract, but continues to play well.
The Commanders probably need to use the draft to try to add a talented young CB to the roster, and it seems imperative to re-sign Danny Johnson, who won’t be a high-cost player. The team will also be hoping for this year’s 7th round pick, Christian Holmes, and 6th round pick (of the 49ers) Tariq Castro-Fields, to show development as 2nd year players in ‘23.
Washington entered the 2022 season with decent starters but problematic depth, and ended up having to rely heavily on Jon Bostic, David Mayo, and Milo Eifler in the latter half of the season.
The 2022 starting MIKE linebacker, Cole Holcomb, is an impending 2023 free agent. The former 2019 5th round pick spent more than half the season on IR, and his future with Washington is uncertain.
If they don’t re-sign Holcomb, then the Commanders will enter the 2023 league year with basically Jamin Davis (picked 19th overall in ’21) and a couple of UDFA backups.
This position should have been a priority in 2022, but the coaching staff didn’t treat it that way – it is now even more urgently in need of attention. Washington will likely need to look to both veteran free agency and the draft to shore up the middle of their defense ahead of the ’23 season.
The good news is that Washington is both talented and deep when it comes to this position group.
Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Chase Young will all be back in 2023. The Commanders’ 2nd round pick, Phil Mathis (also from Alabama) injured his knee in the opening game of his rookie season last year, so he is probably going to be rehabbing during training camp, but may be ready to play by October if not sooner.
Washington basically got a “free” 5th round pick when the Cowboys waived John Ridgeway earlier this season, probably expecting to re-sign him to their practice squad. Instead, the Commanders grabbed him off of the waiver wire and he contributed a lot, playing more than 350 defensive snaps in 15 games for Washington in 2022. He tore his pec while facing his former team, but should be ready to practice in a few months.
In 2020, Washington grabbed Casey Toohill off of the waiver wire when the Eagles cut their 7th round pick in his rookie year with the intention of re-signing him to their practice squad.
Washington’s own 7th rounder, James Smith-Williams is the primary backup to Young & Sweat.
This is, as I said already, a talented and deep group of players. What made the DL special in 2022 was the synergy between Jonathan Allen and his younger teammate Daron Payne, both formerly of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
One of the big offseason questions for the Commanders and their fans will be whether the team will try to find a way to retain Daron Payne or let him leave in free agency. With Jonathan Allen and Terry McLaurin both on big-dollar extensions, the available money needed to keep Payne in burgundy & gold may be hard to come by. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Daron Payne and would love to see the team keep him, but the salary cap management over the next season or two will require a bit of smoke and mirrors to make it possible to keep lining up Nos. 93 & 94 next to one another in 2023 and beyond.
Potential cap casualties:
- Charles Leno (cap savings = $8m)
- Chase Roullier (cap savings = $7.77m)
For all the talent and depth on the defensive line, the same cannot be said for the offensive side of the ball when it comes to the trench warriors, and the need to bolster this position group may be one argument for not spending the money required to keep Daron Payne in Washington.
Washington’s only truly talented offensive lineman, starting center Chase Roullier, missed 16 games in 2022 after missing 9 games in 2021. He has played in only one regular season game since Halloween of 2021. At $12.8m, he has the 4th highest 2023 cap hit on the roster behind Wentz, Allen and Curtis Samuel.
The rest of the offensive line is a collection of old and young players, none of whom really impressed in 2022. It is only the abysmal state of the linebacking group that keeps the offensive line from being the biggest concern on the roster.
It feels as if the team is destined to start Andrew Norwell at left guard again, and Samuel Cosmi will likely hold down either the RG or RT spot. Rookie G Chris Paul looked okay in his NFL debut against the Cowboys in Week 18, but the Commanders need to lean heavily into the draft and free agency to replenish a position group that has fallen mightily from the days when defenders were facing the likes of Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses.
It’s easy to feel good about Washington’s receivers. Terry McLaurin is a team leader whose impact goes beyond his 3 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and Jahan Dotson seems to be cut from exactly the same cloth as the Commanders’ pro bowler. Curtis Samuel has been less consistent than one might hope for, but he adds an element of explosiveness and flexibility to the roster. Dyami Brown is a solid #4 receiver.
Commanders have to use Curtis Samuel better in 2023. Two touches for -6 yards today. The 9th highest paid WR in NFL saw his production drop as year went on.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) January 9, 2023
First 9 games: 45 recs, 390yds
Last 8 games: 19 recs, 201yds
First 9 games: 18 rush, 122yds
Last 8 games: 20 rush, 65yds
Cam Sims is an impending free agent, and I’m not sure if the team will make much of an effort to retain him. He had just 8 catches for 85 yards in 2022, and has only 804 yards in his 5-year career. As much as I like Cam Sims, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Commanders select another young receiver on Day 3 of the draft rather than keep Sims in-house.
I, personally, never thought Dax Milne would make the 2022 roster, and I’m among those who thought the coaching staff made a mistake by not making the effort needed to keep DeAndre Carter in DC. Keep that in mind when you read that I believe the team needs to get a young receiver out of college who can back up Curtis Samuel in the slot and take over punt return duties, relegating Milne to the practice squad.
Washington does not need to do anything at the receiver position in free agency. Dollars can be spent elsewhere.
Potential cap casualty:
- Logan Thomas (cap savings = $5.25m)
I am a fan of Logan Thomas, but his 2022 season was not a seamless extension of the success he had in 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
The most promising receiving tight end on the roster appears to be Armani Rogers, though John Bates is a good blocker and a competent pass catcher.
Overall, this is a position group that has regressed since 2020, and probably needs an injection of talent through free agency or the draft. Adding one genuinely talented pass receiving tight end would probably be sufficient; the group has good depth.
As with wide receiver, it’s easy to feel good about the running back position. Rookie Brian Robinson became the focal point of the offense during the team’s successful mid-season winning streaks. Antonio Gibson gets better and better (though he has yet to get through a season fully healthy), and JD McKissic is a skilled 3rd down back if he can recover from his neck injury, which shut him down in both of the last two seasons.
Second-year player Jaret Patterson got more work as a rookie in 2021 than he did in ’22, but he ran well against the Cowboys on Sunday, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Jonathan Williams was ahead of Patterson on the depth chart for most of the season, and compiled 37 carries at a 4.1 average in 7 games this season. Williams is 28 years old and not under contract for 2023; I expect the team to replace him with a late-round draft pick or UDFA.
This is not a high-priority position group for the ’23 offseason – adding a late round draft pick or UDFA is likely to be enough.
Potential cap casualty:
- Carson Wentz (cap savings = $26.18m)
Carson Wentz is under contract through 2024, but let’s all acknowledge that the Washington coaching staff can’t bring him back. Also, releasing him will save the team $26m in cap space in 2023 and a further $27m in 2024. He’s done like dinner.
On my depth chart, I show his name and include him in the roster count, but in my own mind, I already count him as gone.
Taylor Heinicke is an impending free agent, and based on his comments and demeanor before and after the Cowboys game, I got the sense that he doesn’t expect to be back.
That leaves Washington with two guys – 2nd year player Sam Howell, who has played (and won) exactly one NFL regular season game, and 24-year-old Jake Fromm, who played 113 regular season snaps for the Giants (starting 2 games) in 2021.
Washington could, I suppose, go into 2023 relying on Howell as the presumed starter. The front office could also choose to bring Heinicke back and let the two of them battle it out for the starting duties.
Alternately, the team could look for a starter in the draft, although the front office may not be confident that they can get the guy they want at #16, where the Commanders will be picking, and so may be tempted to trade up if they rely on this strategy.
After repeated failures with Alex Smith, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Wentz, I suspect the fan base would undertake an armed rebellion if the front office attempted to bring in another veteran, although there may be some reasonable options available this offseason.
While the linebacker position and offensive line group need urgent help ahead of the ‘23 regular season, it is likely to be the team’s approach to the quarterback position that will get the most interest and scrutiny this offseason – as has been true nearly every offseason in this millennium.
31-year-old Team MVP and Pro Bowl Punter Tress Way is under contract for two more seasons, so there’s one position on the depth chart that won’t need attention before 2025.
Likewise, LS Camaron Cheeseman has two years left on his rookie contract after Washington traded back to select him in the 6th round and DE William Bradley-King in the 7th.
Kicker Joey Slye has just one season left on his contract. He wasn’t bad this season, hitting 25-30 field goal attempts, including 4-6 from 50 yards or longer. Unfortunately, he missed 3 of his final 10 attempts, including 2 missed in the Week 18 game against Dallas (he was a perfect 12-12 for Washington in 2021), and he also missed 4 extra points this season (including one in the final game). That may have shaken the faith of the coaching staff in a guy who had previously seemed pretty reliable, and who helped win the Eagles game in Week 10 with 4 field goals (32, 44, 55, 58 yards). Prior to Sunday, I would have thought Slye was perfectly safe this offseason, but the final game may have been shaky enough to convince the coaches to bring in some competition to training camp in July.
Salary cap can be confusing in the offseason for many reasons, including things like the Rule of 51, post-season cap adjustments, post-June 1 releases, rookie pools, and the like. Projected cap surpluses can also seemingly disappear overnight. Sometimes this can be due to factors such as players earning bonuses that were deemed “unlikely to be earned” in previous estimates (which can affect a cap number by several million dollars).
Also, cap estimates generally are based only on players currently under contract when the estimate was made. For example, Over the Cap currently has the Commanders’ 2023 available cap space estimated to be $17.45m, but that number does not include any of the 9 players just signed to future contracts. Even if we account for each of them at just $870,000 each, that can reduce the available cap space by as much as $7.8m, reducing the available cap number to less than $10m.
From that number, the team will need to account for its expected 8 draft picks. I won’t go into the details of the calculation here (the article is already overly-long) but Over the Cap estimates that the Commanders will need a further $3.5m in cap space to sign its 2023 draft picks.
After accounting for future contracts and draft picks, the current estimated $17m in cap space ends up closer to $6m, most of which will need to be reserved to sign in-season free agents as injuries occur during the 2023 season.
In other words, as things stand right now, the team likely doesn’t have any money available for veteran free agency.
If the front office wants to “create” space, that will probably need to be done by releasing one or more current players, or creatively restructuring some high-dollar contracts. The most obvious move here, of course, is the release of Carson Wentz — that single move would free up $26m, but there are other opportunities as well.
The Commanders currently have 6 picks in the upcoming draft, but they are expected to get two more when the compensatory draft picks are allocated. At least one website projects those to be 3rd & 7th round picks, but Over the Cap, which I trust more for comp pick projections, says it expects a 3rd & a 6th. Overall, here are the 8 Commanders draft picks projected by OTC:
- R1: #16
- R2: #47
- R3: #97
- R4: #117
- R5: #150
- R6: #192
- R6: #216
- R7: #235