Pass-rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, players the organization once viewed as potential long-term pillars, were the main topics for trade partners. Other veterans with expiring contracts were also under consideration to be dealt.
But the boss would have to weigh in before any moves occurred, and no one at Commanders Park knew exactly what that boss — a little more than three months into his tenure — was thinking. New owner Josh Harris, meeting remotely with his football brain trust, faced his first big football decision since he’d been approved as owner on July 20. Harris emphasized he was open to acquiring future draft capital on the trade market, particularly with Sweat and Young, according to front-office and team sources.
Harris didn’t “roll in as a sheriff,” as the source put it, in line with the owner’s philosophy of leaning on staff to make recommendations before major decisions are made. “He gave his opinion, everyone was heard, and we landed in a fair spot.”
But when you’re calling the shots, a suggestion can often be taken as an edict. Within league circles, the terms of the trades were viewed as favorable to the Commanders. But that didn’t mean it felt like a win for Mayhew, Hurney or Rivera.
Rivera relinquished a degree of power — and, by extension, some authority within the team — bringing in Bieniemy. Rivera wanted to shake things up after the firing of previous OC Scott Turner by giving Bieniemy influence over the team’s regular-season practice and meeting schedules, among other areas. Like the Chiefs, the Commanders have switched to a Monday off day during game weeks, instead of the customary Tuesday.
Some players, including team veterans and those with families, have not warmed to it. “It’s what Bieniemy wants,” one player grumbled.
Among the players’ other issues early in the year, per team sources, was that afternoon offensive meetings frequently ran long and got in the way if players needed treatment. Bieniemy’s initial concession was to allow players to use foam rollers on the floor of the meeting rooms to save meeting time, per a team source.
In recent weeks Bieniemy has relaxed some of the demands, including shortening Wednesday practices from two hours to closer to an hour and a half.
“He’s gotten better at respecting our time,” one player told ESPN.
But Bieniemy’s approach remains a matter of some debate. In training camp, when star receiver Terry McLaurin intervened after defensive back Benjamin St-Juste hit a teammate in what McLaurin deemed an overzealous manner, Bieniemy fired an expletive warning for him to return to the huddle. McLaurin wouldn’t back down, vowing to defend his teammate.
Multiple sources said Bieniemy and the offensive coaches work well past midnight some nights during the week, less than standard practice in an NFL that typically includes early-morning starts to the workday. One member of the staff said while the long hours are a testament to Bieniemy’s stamina, the pace is nearly impossible to maintain — even in the notoriously sleep-deprived NFL coaching profession — due to the length of the season.
Bieniemy acknowledged the demands on the staff but said they were part of establishing a winning culture.
“When you are a new staff, everybody’s getting to know each other,” Bieniemy said. “We’re establishing a culture of accountability. So in order for us to be an example of what we want our team or our offense to be, we have to set the groundwork.”
When reached by ESPN for this story, a spokesperson for Harris added that while ownership is disappointed by the team’s struggles on the field this season, optimism for the future remains strong. The spokesperson said the ownership group has taken its first season as an opportunity to fully evaluate all facets of the organization with the goal of building a team that can win sustainably over the long term.
The reference to offseason improvements in the Black Friday statement was a less-than-subtle hint about what is likely to come. In contrast to his predecessor Daniel Snyder’s impetuous and impulsive ways, Harris has taken a measured approach to his management of the organization, including giving Rivera and the front office a full season on the job. But Harris’ history as a team owner with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and Crystal Palace of the Premier League suggests he won’t hesitate to make changes after the season.
The futures of key figures inside the front office, meanwhile, are uncertain at best. Multiple sources with the team and sources close to those on the chopping block said wholesale changes from the top down are possible, if not likely.
As one source close to the team wondered from the FedEx Field sideline before the Week 5 loss to the Bears, “Do you think [Harris] paid $6 billion for the former Carolina regime?”
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Breaking down why star WR Terry McLaurin had no catches against the Dolphins
I wrote a piece last week about how the style of the offense isn’t to feed a particular receiver but rather spread the ball around to the big group of playmakers and force the defense to pick its poison. So you could certainly say Bieniemy isn’t finding ways to get McLaurin the ball often enough because that’s the style of offense he’s opted for. But having gone back and watched every snap McLaurin took in this game, there were opportunities to get him the ball.
This play happened to be the first sack of the game on Sam Howell. The Commanders are running a version of the dagger concept, with the two inside receivers running clear out routes designed to occupy the safeties and take them away from the middle of the field. On the outside, Terry McLaurin runs a deep dig route designed to break into that space vacated by the other two receivers. As the ball is snapped and the play progresses, you can see that’s precisely what McLaurin does.
Now, Howell looked to be thrown off by something on this play. You can see from the end zone angle at the snap he checks the safety rotation and locates both safeties, but then strangely he works all the way down to the cornerback on the outside to the right side of the formation. Howell doesn’t have a receiver attacking his area so he shouldn’t really need to check him. The only reason I can think of for checking that corner is if he thought he could could the inside route on the deep over, but the deep safety is in position to account for that and Howell would have already seen that when he checked both safeties post-snap.
While Howell is busy reading the wrong part of the field, the play is developing to the left side. The two inside receivers drag their respective safeties out of the middle of the field and McLaurin begins to break inside into that vacated space. Howell’s misread causes him to be slightly late working back to McLaurin, who should be his primary option on the play. With a good read and some anticipation, this ball could be thrown as McLaurin makes his break and potentially lead to a big gain. But Howell is late to get to the read and hesitates. By the time he catches up, the underneath linebacker has sunk under the throwing window and McLaurin is no longer an option. Howell is then immediately sacked.
So that was a play that was designed for McLaurin and he was open, Howell just failed to get him the ball. It was far from the only occasion that Howell was sacked on a play designed to go to McLaurin.
[ed. note: Bullock’s article breaks down 5 plays which he identifies as being designed to get the ball to #17, and where Terry was open, but a catchable ball ended up not being thrown to him]
[C]learly, McLaurin hasn’t suddenly become a bad player overnight and is still capable of challenging the best corners in the league. I would also argue that while McLaurin was technically only targeted three times with throws in his direction, Eric Bieniemy actually called more plays designed to go to him and he was open on just about all of them, Howell just failed to get the ball there either due to a missed read or more often, due to protection failing to hold up.
I think this game was just an unfortunate one for McLaurin because there were plays there to be made and on another day when Howell is in better rhythm and the offensive line protects better, he probably has four or five catches for 100+ yards and a touchdown with the game called the exact same way. Now could Bieniemy have done more to force the ball to his top receiver? For sure, if you really want the ball to go to your top guy you can always find ways to ensure he does get the ball. But that’s not the style of offense Bieniemy wants to run, for better or for worse.
The Washington Commanders announced Pro Bowl wide receiver Terry McLaurin as the team’s nominee for the 2023 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is the league’s most prestigious honor and acknowledges NFL players who excel on the field and demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact beyond the game in their communities.
“What I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to do in this community, it’s been super special,” McLaurin said after learning of his nomination. “I’m going to remember this one for sure. This is something that never leaves you. This stuff transcends time.”
Since being drafted in 2019, Terry McLaurin has grown his influence in the DMV community and found ways to be a force for good, all leading toward the launch of the Terry McLaurin Foundation last fall. He uses his platform to leverage his individual passion for serving youth into a vehicle for changing countless lives. With a mission to help underserved children become the best version of themselves, the Terry McLaurin Foundation works to provide educational and social support, health and wellness assistance, and mentorship to aid children in succeeding both in school and in society.
Rick Doc Walker visited with the “Sports Junkies” Tuesday, and he didn’t hold back in saying how he feels about this Commanders team. In fact, Walker said it is now a manhood issue for this team.
“When guys start giving up on you and they’ve given up on the program, I’m trying to find how do I motivate myself now?” Walker was referring to the fact the Commanders still have four remaining games on their schedule.
The Commanders have fallen apart, losing six of their last seven games after starting the season 2-0.
“Now, I am looking for competitors. What would I be looking for now? Who doesn’t quit? Because if you quit on me, I quit on you. I can dump the whole roster because it’s a last-place operation. I am going scorched earth if the guys don’t prove to me that they are competitors.”
Walker was asked, “Who on this team would you choose to build around?”
“It’s easy. Who do you win with? (Pause) Nobody.”
Walker then elaborated, “In other words, I am going into expansion mode if I have to. These guys are going to prove to me now if they are competitors. Clearly, you need more competitive people on this team.”
“Why would I anoint anybody anything? That is our problem. We give away too many awards before they are earned.”
“You saw the Niners, the Cowboys. Hell, the Rams are going to be ferocious. They are turning the corner. Other people (teams) aren’t giving up. So, this is a manhood issue now. Let’s find out how many competitors we have. Talk is cheap. I want to see effort.”
The Bears Reportedly Have Interest In Washington Commanders OC, Eric Bieniemy, And That Is Going To Be A NO From Me
This is nothing personal about Eric Bieniemy. I hope he does finally get a head coaching gig. He’s certainly put in his time. Unfortunatly, he should be 1000% disqualified as a potential Bears head coach.
1) I don’t want another Andy Reid disciple who made his name on being associated with Patrick Mahomes. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid can make anyone seem competent at their jobs. It’s how the Bears got bamboozled into Matt Nagy.
2) Eric Bieniemy knows that my first point is true to a degree. He seemingly hit a bit of a glass ceiling with his career in Kansas City and nobody gave him a head coaching gig. Eric Bieniemy had the good sense to realize it was time for him to move on from offensive coordinator paradise in order to prove himself and he chose....Washington. An organization with QB issues, a Head Coach on the hot seat, and an ownership group that had nothing but trouble. Not great judgement, in my opinion.
3) Bieniemy went to the store, bought lemons, and turned those lemons into...average lemons. No mold on them, but starting to look dry and dingy on the kitchen counter. The Commanders are ranked 16th offensively in the league. As average as it gets. Almost like hiring a defensive coordinator of a team that was completely average in every way two years ago.
Podcasts & videos
️Super-sized episode on the Washington Commanders' future w/ @kevinsheehanDC & @granthpaulsen. Must-haves with any coach/GM changes. Sam Howell or QB with the potential top-5 pick. Roster overview. 17, 93, 94. Free agent re-signings. TD cellies. The name. https://t.co/Wj6yL7VJ2R— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 6, 2023
Episode 713 - Jon Allen is open to being traded. Cool. Next GM should be open to trading any player on the team.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) December 5, 2023
I also talk Ron Rivera walking back "growth & development," trend of opponents clowning the #Commanders via postgame comments & #CapsCoyotes.https://t.co/GvzClbEEw7
Watch Terry McLaurin Find Out That He Is Our 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee
.@Coach_JayGruden NOT holding back on the Commanders, telling @Russellmania621 the D 'looks nothing like an NFL defense' and the O is 'a fire drill every time they drop back to pass.' https://t.co/gee54IQbf3— The Team 980 (@team980) December 5, 2023
“Especially on defense, that’s the most confusing thing,” Gruden said. “I actually thought they would struggle a little bit with the first year quarterback starting for his first time, and they have some offensive line issues, but Sam Howell is showing some toughness – but defensively, they are not good. They can’t stop the run, don’t get a pass rush, can’t cover, and are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They just don’t look like they’re in sync, they don’t look like they’re fast or tough…they look confused, and they don’t look like an NFL defense right now. It’s just weird watching them on tape.”
“I see a fire drill on every snap when Sam Howell goes back to pass. It’s not good,” Gruden said. “The protection is poor, and this poor guy just needs some help, because he’s playing his tail off. I have a lot of respect for Sam and the way he plays and competes, but from a system standpoint, he’s just not getting a lot of help. It’s just, ‘Sam, you go out there and scramble, try to find somebody open.’ I mean, if he couldn’t run, I don’t know if they would have got a completion. It’s just a weird dynamic of what’s going on this late in the season. There seems to be a lot of protection issues and a lot of miscommunication as far as receivers and backs.”
Antonio Gibson Mic’d Up vs. the Miami Dolphins | Washington Commanders | NFL
NFC East links
Tyrod Taylor "disappointed" to learn he lost Giants QB job to Tommy DeVito. https://t.co/xy4dDMPyIP— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 5, 2023
Pro Football Talk
“i recognize the challenge, and let me tell you this,” Jones said. “Instant replay puts a lot of pressure on making the call on the field right, as it should be. I like it. But the officiating is a part of the game.”
He then told a story about baseball umpires that, frankly, I didn’t quite understand. He then continued to address the point at hand.
“We know there’s judgment,” Jones said. “And we know it can be wrong. And, really, is wrong a lot. The idea of getting it ‘right,’ quote, with all that’s at stake. It can be right, if you all agree that we’re gonna go on that guy’s judgment. Now he may be half blind, but we’ve decided that we’re gonna go on his judgment. We both agreed to it coming in. And we assume that his integrity is OK and good, so it’s just a question of did he miss it or not. I think we’ve always lived with that.”
It’s one thing for the two teams involved to live with that. It’s quite another for the people who are wagering their money legally on gambling to live with it. They haven’t agreed to accept mistakes that are avoidable, even if the teams in a given game have.
The problem here isn’t the process for making the rules, which the owners undoubtedly control, or the manner in which the judgment is exercised. The problem is the reliance on outdated methods for eliminating the guesswork employed by middle-aged officials who lack pads or other protection from getting trampled by players and who are trying to discern the right answers with naked eyes operating in a blur of large, fast athletes.
The point is that the entire function needs to be torn down and rebuilt. The point is that no one in the league office has the incentive to do it. The point is that the owners need to issue a mandate to the league office to reimagine officiating, using the appropriate resources and effort to come up with a modern way to get the calls right, and to ensure that the best possible judgment is being exercised.
For the owners, it all comes back to the dollars involved. As Jones said, “That is our money.” They need to be willing to spend enough of it. They need to be willing to spend a lot of it. Perhaps starting with paying Dean Blandino to come back to the NFL and to preside over the critical process of coming up with a better way to officiate games.
The advent of legalized gambling eliminates the “shit happens and hopefully the shit evens out over time” excuse. There’s an obligation to the stewards of the game to find a way to get it right, for themselves and for everyone else.
There’s currently no incentive to spend the money necessary to get it right all the time, because the owners believe there’s no obvious upside for doing it — and that there’s no obvious downside for not doing it.
NFL league links
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sees football becoming a global sport within the next decade, with his league at the forefront of that effort.
That includes, Goodell said Tuesday, adding another international market to next year’s regular-season schedule. He wasn’t specific, but Brazil and Spain are the front-runners. An announcement is expected in the next month or two.
“We’re really excited about that,” Goodell said of entering a new market. “I don’t see that as much as expanding the number of franchises as I do expanding the opportunity for people to really just enjoy the game.”
Goodell said, according to CBS, that advertising sold out for this Super Bowl earlier than usual.
“I am convinced that this game is going to be a global sport,” Goodell said. “We could’ve sold over our two games in Germany 4.5 million tickets. They sold out in minutes. And it’s literally the same with the U.K. I think you’re going to see a very global NFL, not necessarily with franchises, but maybe like have one playing games on a global basis. And I see that happening in the next five to 10 years.”