Going into the 2022 season, it appeared that Washington’s offensive line, even with the loss of Ereck Flowers and Brandon Scherff, had the capacity to be respectable. Charles Leno had been extended, Chase Roullier was coming back healthy, and there was an expectation that Sam Cosmi was going to continue to grow into his spot at right tackle.
The guard room looked fairly average, but deep, with Wes Schweitzer, Andrew Norwell, Trai Turner, and Saahdiq Charles entering his third season. Chris Paul, added in the draft, was discussed with excitement as well. Rounding out the group were solid depth pieces, center Tyler Larsen and swing tackle Cornelius Lucas.
Unfortunately, a number of factors, among them injury and poor QB play, as well as the regression of Cosmi, led to Washington’s offensive line being its weakest unit in 2022.
How, exactly, Washington would handle the offensive line going into 2023 was up in the air, based largely on how the team would approach the quarterback situation this offseason. Earlier today, we received some clarification on both points.
Another thing I’m hearing is that the Commanders top priority this off-season is going to be improving their offensive line.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) January 14, 2023
Expect them to spend assets and time bolstering their front as part of the plan that could result in Sam Howell starting next season.
If we can assume that both reports are true, that the team won’t be spending big money or top draft picks on quarterbacks over the next several months, that opens up a world of possibility for improving this offensive line.
In the following, I’ll outline a series of position-by-position recommendations for what I’d like to see Washington do along its offensive front.
Charles Leno - Leno is signed for two more years, at a price of around $13M per year. He had some notable blown plays this year, but by several metrics, he’s - at worst - an average NFL tackle. Even though there are potential cap savings (around $8M) if he were cut this offseason, I would keep him around, with the expectation that his play will improve significantly once the left guard situation is shored up.
It’s a very small sample size, but with rookie Chris Paul on his right shoulder against the Cowboys, Leno was Washington’s third highest rated offensive player against in Week 18.
Cutting Leno can certainly be revisited in the 2024 offseason, when doing so would save $12M, but I would want the team to have a better option lined up before creating an unnecessary weakness.
Chris Paul - This one is a bit presumptuous, though Paul certainly acquitted himself relatively well against the Cowboys, particularly in terms of pass-blocking. I have sufficient confidence in line coach John Matsko to be comfortable knowing whether Paul will be able to take on a full time role in 2023, but his dress rehearsal looked very solid.
If Washington added another starting caliber guard in the draft or in free agency, I wouldn’t hate the move, but short of a guy like Philadelphia’s Isaac Seumalo - whose value Spotrac estimates around $12M AAV - I don’t see a ton of opportunities for major upgrade on the open market this offseason.
Chase Roullier - When healthy, Chase has been one of the top centers in the league. However, in both of the last two years, he’s experienced severe leg injuries, and the team has cycled through four different centers each season. Washington has gotten a very painful lesson in just how critical it is to have good center play, something we had taken for granted during the first four years of Roullier’s career, during which he had been remarkably healthy.
If it turns out that Roullier’s 2022 injury is career-threatening, center immediately becomes an incredibly high need in the 2023 draft. That could end up being filled by someone like Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, Arkansas’ Ricky Stromberg, or Notre Dame’s Jarrett Patterson. Under this scenario, cutting Roullier for cap savings ($4.3M) also needs to be a serious consideration.
Even if Roullier looks to be healthy this offseason, I would take a center no later than Day 2.
Sam Cosmi: “To be completely honest, couldn’t tell you why” the team had him rotate at guard and tackle. “It was definitely a roller coaster… It was a lot of learning this year for sure”— Pete Hailey (@PeteHaileyNBCS) January 9, 2023
Sam Cosmi - I imagine that 2022 is a season that Cosmi would just as soon forget. His play at right tackle regressed badly enough that he was replaced by swing tackle Cornelius Lucas, and when we was deployed at right guard later in the season, he didn’t look entirely comfortable there either. The yanking back and forth probably didn’t do the athletic lineman any short-term favors either.
Mid-season, I advocated for moving Cosmi to right guard for the foreseeable future, and I continue to stand by that recommendation. A number of factors point to Cosmi eventually having a higher upside at guard, and nurturing him at that position, with the possibility that - perhaps - he plays tackle again at some point in the future, seems like the most prudent course of action. Give Cosmi the full 2023 offseason at guard, and let’s see how things work out.
Highly drafted rookie/Free agent - Right tackle is the one position on Washington’s offensive line where I believe we absolutely need a new face as starter in 2023. Whether that be a Day 1 or 2 draft pick like Ohio State’s Dawand Jones, or a free agent like San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey - who Spotrac estimates will get a contract somewhere in the $11M AAV range - an upgrade at this position is badly needed, and I don’t believe there’s anyone currently on the roster who can fill it.
I would have absolutely no issue with a trade back from #16 to pick up some more picks to use a first rounder on this spot. In fact, I’d highly encourage it.
Cornelius Lucas, Wes Schweitzer, Andrew Norwell - Lucas and Norwell are both already signed through 2023, costing the team $2.8M and $2.3M respectively (subtracting out dead cap hit). My current estimate to re-sign Schweitzer is around $3.5-4M per year. Having those three as depth for around $9M in 2023 strikes me as pretty good value, and while I don’t want any of them starting, I don’t have serious issues with any of them having to play 3 or 4 games each next season if the starter goes down with injury.
That said, as mentioned above, I strongly believe Washington needs to draft solid center depth - at least - this year, and should probably take another late round flier on a developmental guard.
It also feels like it’s time to fish or cut bait on Saahdiq Charles this offseason. He’s had more than enough time to develop - if that’s ever going to happen - and he’s shown very little to date.
Washington’s offensive line play in 2022 left quite a bit to be desired. The good news is, really depending on Chase Roullier’s ability to bounce back, the re-configured line could end up being quite functional in 2023 if Washington’s front office invests significant draft and/or salary capital into it this offseason, and if the young guards continue to develop well.
What is your highest priority on the offensive line?
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How would you prefer that position be filled?
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Someone already on the roster