The roster news often comes in very quickly in mid-March. With the “legal tampering period” opening up on Monday, and free agency officially starting at 4pm Wednesday, there are cuts, restructures, re-signings and even some UFA signings being announced by teams across the league. Washington announced a player (re)signing yesterday, and there will likely be a lot more news between now and Wednesday.
It seemed like today might be a good day to take a breath and look at where the roster stands at the moment.
Updated Depth Chart
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 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.
The team has 64 players currently under contract. They will bring 90 players to training camp in late July.
The Commanders were awarded two compensatory picks this week, meaning that they now have 8 total picks in April’s draft.
Salary cap overview
- Over the Cap estimates that the Commanders have $15.5m in available cap space right now.
- They also project that Washington will need $3.5m in cap space to sign the draft class.
- Most teams enter the season with a buffer of $5m or so in order to sign players as injuries occur.
Based on these numbers, the Commanders would have about $7m available for free agency at the moment. This can change rapidly, however, by releasing players or restructuring high-dollar contracts.
Releases or Renegotiations
Washington has already released QB Carson Wentz and FS Bobby McCain, freeing up about $28.6m in cap space to get where they are now.
Other players that could be released in an effort to free cap space include LT Charles Leno, C Chase Roullier, CB Kendall Fuller, TE Logan Thomas, LG Andrew Norwell, OT Cornelius Lucas, or RB J.D. McKissic. Here’s a look at the potential cap impacts of any of those moves, courtesy of Over the Cap. Of course, a player who is facing release could agree to a renegotiation of his contract — that is, he can agree to a pay cut. I’m not sure how keen any of the players listed above would be to do so.
The team can also free up cap space through the simple expedient of converting base salary into signing bonus, which does not need approval from the player, or by extending a contract, which does need the player’s agreement.
The most obvious opportunity is with Daron Payne. He is currently accounting for $18.9m of the team’s cap space. That could be wiped out entirely by trading him, with the added benefit of enhancing Washington’s draft capital, or he could be signed to a long-term extension, which would likely cut his 2023 salary hit about in half.
Jonathan Allen’s $21.4m cap hit could be reduced. Converting $12m of his base salary into bonus could, for example, reduce his cap hit by $8m in 2023, shifting the charges to the ‘24 & ‘25 seasons. The impact could be even greater if the team added 2 void years or extended his contract beyond 2025, depending on how aggressive they wanted to be.
Curtis Samuel is in the final year of his contract, but he has two void years embedded in his contract. He could be a candidate for an extension that could lower his ‘23 cap hit. He could also be traded to a team willing to give him $10m for one year of play, which would open up $5.8m in cap space for Washington.
Jeremy Reaves is an inspiring story of a player who fought to stay at the fringe of the roster for years, and was finally rewarded with a All Pro and Pro Bowl designations at the end of the ‘22 season. He is a Restricted Free Agent, which means he can be tendered on a one-year contract as per the following chart:
If the team wants to use the RFA tender, they must do so before the start of free agency at 4pm on Wednesday (15 March).
As I said in a late February article, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 27-year-old sign a 3-year extension with a signing bonus and slightly lower ‘23 cap hit instead. In my own mind, I was thinking about a 3-year, $9m extension. I probably wasn’t far off in that estimate:
Source: The #Saints are giving star special teamer JT Gray a 3-year deal worth $9.6M with $2.4M to sign... including an addition $500K per year in playtime. Max is $11.1M.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 10, 2023
I would expect the Commanders to give Reaves a deal that is similar to this. They could announce a contract before Wednesday, or, if the team and the player can’t agree to terms before then, Washington can tender Reaves but continue to negotiate for a longer-term deal before he signs the tender.
The other three safeties on the roster, Kam Curl, Darrick Forrest, and Percy Butler, have no questions aside from the fact that Curl, having accrued 3 NFL seasons, is now eligible for an extension. That could happen any time between now and March of next year, but there is no doubt that the team should be trying to get a deal done with the young player.
Danny Johnson’s career has been similar to Reaves in that he has always had to fight to stay on the roster as a backup and special teams player. He seemed to play well in the final month of the ‘22 season, and I imagine the team will want to bring him to camp again. I’d look for him to re-sign with the team, but of course, as a free agent, he may want to try to find a bigger payday elsewhere.
The Commanders will likely need to replace Bobby McCain, who was listed as a free safety, but averaged 35 snaps per game as a slot corner in the latter half of the ‘22 season. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the team sign a low-cost veteran free agent with experience as a nickel slot defender.
While the team’s CB depth isn’t bad, the Commanders need to upgrade the unit with a top-end talent, which they are expected to do in the draft, possibly with the #16 overall pick.
Washington’s latest drafted DB, Christian Holmes, showed development as a rookie, and he could be part of a potentially improved unit in 2023. Rachad Wildgoose also did not disgrace himself in limited duty last season. The front office signed Troy Apke to a future contract for 2023; the special teams player and occasional backup DB spent the ‘22 season on the practice squad, but was activated for 3 games late in the season.
Of course last year’s starting corners, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste headline the unit at the moment.
Last year’s offseason proved how out-of-sync the coaches and fans were. Most fans were waiting for news ‘any day now’ that the Commanders had made a significant move to improve the linebacker depth, which was paper-thin behind the starting duo of Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis. That news never came, and an early injury to Holcomb exposed the lack of depth, which hurt the Commanders in the latter part of the season.
The biggest difference between last year and this year is that Cole Holcomb will be an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday if he is not extended before that time. Speaking at the Combine, Ron Rivera indicated interest in getting something done with the veteran linebacker, but there’s been no news on that front since.
If the Commanders don’t bring Holcomb back, and even if they do, they could upgrade the unit in either free agency, the draft, or both in an effort to avoid the issues that plagued the position a season ago.
So far this offseason, the Commanders have retained Milo Eifler on an ERFA tender, and extended/re-signed David Mayo, Nathan Gerry, Scoota Harris and Drew White, not all of whom seem likely to make the regular season roster.
The defensive line is basically intact with all the players from the 2022 roster under contract aside from Efe Obada, who joined the Commanders on a one-year deal in last year’s free agency.
Carson Wentz was released; Taylor Heinicke will become a free agent on Wednesday, and based on comments his college coach made on local sports radio this past week, doesn’t appear to be on track to return to Washington for the ‘23 season.
Right now, 2nd year quarterback Sam Howell, who has thrown 14 passes in an NFL regular season game, is the man, with Jake Fromm, who has actually thrown 60 NFL passes, as the only other quarterback on the roster.
It’s possible that the team could use a mid-round draft pick on a rookie, but it seems much more likely that the Commanders will go bargain hunting in veteran free agency in search of a guy to compete with Sam Howell.
Potential free agent targets could include Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Mason Rudolph, Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum, Andy Dalton, Mike White, Nick Mullens, Drew Lock, Cooper Rush, or any of another dozen or so UFAs. I would expect to hear news on this front early in the week, as one of the Commanders’ first moves in free agency.
The identity of the team’s top-two backs is no mystery — like last season, Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson will form the 1-2 punch.
The questions surround JD McKissic, who went on IR for a neck injury and missed the final 9 games of the ‘22 season. Again, releasing McKissic would free up $1.2m in cap space.
The Commanders extended Jonathan Williams, giving him a one-year vet minimum contract for 2023. He’ll compete with 3rd year player, Jarrett Patterson, an undrafted local player who is popular with Washington fans.
I would expect the Commanders to add one or two rookie running backs with late-round draft picks or by signing undrafted college free agents. If they release McKissic, they could seek to add a low-cost veteran 3rd down back in free agency as a replacement.
Wide Receiver (and punt returner)
The Commanders return all of their receivers from 2022 except for Cam Sims, who will become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday. I like Sims and think he has always been under-utilized in the Washington offense; if he doesn’t return to Washington for the ‘23 season, I hope he can land a role with a team that gives him the opportunity to equal or exceed what he accomplished for the Football Team in 2020 when he had 32 receptions for 477 yards.
One indication that Sims, who is also a key special teams player, may not return is the signing of Marcus Kemp, which was announced a week ago. Kemp is 6’4” and 208 pounds. His offensive production has been minimal in 5 NFL seasons (4 receptions, 42 yards), but he has played 866 special teams snaps. Kemp appears to have a very good shot at making the team, since he played his last two seasons in Kansas City under Eric Bieniemy.
Of course, Terry McLaurin is the unquestioned leader of the wide receiver group, and he earned a well-deserved big-dollar extension a year ago. Last year’s first-round draft pick, Jahan Dotson, got off to a blistering start with 4 touchdowns in his first 4 NFL games before an injury caused him to miss 5 games in the middle of the season. Commanders fans will be looking for the second-year receiver to build on that solid foundation and do some special things in Eric Bieniemy’s offense this season. While a few fans have called for Curtis Samuel to be cut, traded or restructured, the bulk of fans are excited to see what the new offensive coordinator will do with the special weapon that Samuel has proven himself to be.
Look for the Commanders to possibly add a receiver who is also a talented punt returner, either through free agency or the draft. After letting return man DeAndre Carter leave in free agency a year ago, neither Dax Milne nor veteran free agent Alex Erickson really inspired as a return man.
It’s a bit hard to know what to think about the Commanders tight end group. It comprises players that collectively have missed a lot of games due to injury, and it seems, outside of Logan Thomas, to be a group defined more by potential than actual production, and for Logan Thomas, the production has been largely missing since he suffered a devastating knee injury in 2021.
While there has been rampant speculation all offseason (and even earlier) that Logan Thomas could soon become a cap casualty, Ron Rivera spoke strongly about the player at the combine last week.
Still, the 2021 production from the tight end position was...disappointing. Logan Thomas led the team’s tight ends with 323 yards and a touchdown, which pales in comparison to his career best figures (2020) of 670 yards and 6 TDs.
Behind Thomas in the box scores, John Bates had 14 catches for 108 yards and a TD; Armani Rodgers had 5 catches for 64 yards (though he looked good in limited duty), and rookie Cole Turner had 2 catches for 23 yards.
There’s every reason to expect Eric Bieniemy to run an offense that utilizes the tight ends heavily. If Logan Thomas returns to his 2020 form, he seems like an ideal fit, but will he be able to? If Armani Rodgers can stay healthy, he has a chance to shine. Curtis Hodges, a young undrafted player, looked good in preseason before he was forced onto IR.
With so many question marks, 2023 could be the ideal time for the Commanders to look to free agency for a healthy and proven pass-catching tight end that will fit the Bieniemy offensive scheme and provide Sam Howell with the kind of safety blanket that a young quarterback usually needs in the NFL.
The only things I feel confident in saying about the Commanders offensive line are that the 2023 iteration will be different from the ‘22 version, and Sam Cosmi will be on the team.
In my mind, everything else is up in the air.
Right guards Trai Turner and Wes Schweitzer will both become free agents on Wednesday if they are not extended before then.
Wes Martin, Tyler Larsen and Nick Martin will also become free agents on Wednesday if they do not receive extensions.
Despite being a high-quality player, Chase Roullier’s injury history, combined with his salary cap hit (potential $4.3m savings) could combine to cause the front office to release him.
Likewise, three other offensive linemen could be given their walking papers in an effort to upgrade the overall quality of the OL and save cap space:
- LT Charles Leno ($8m cap savings)
- LG Andrew Norwell ($2.28m cap savings)
- OT Cornelius Lucas ($3.45m cap savings)
Of the 7 remaining OL under contract, only Saahdiq Charles (2020) and Chris Paul (2022) were drafted by Washington. For that reason, they both seem likely to make the regular roster this season. Everyone else seems to be destined for the practice squad or the XFL.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see one or two free agent signings and another one or two Day 2 and 3 draft picks in an effort to fix the unit that appeared most broken in 2022.
Long Snapper Cameron Cheeseman and team-MVP Punter Tress Way are solid locks for the roster without competition.
When he was first signed late in the 2021 season, kicker Joey Slye initially seemed to be having a pretty good career with Washington, going 12-12 on field goals and 9-10 on PATs in his debut season in burgundy & gold. He was having similar success through the first 12 weeks of he ‘22 season, hitting 18 of 20 field goals and 15 of his first 16 PATs. Down the stretch, however, he hit just 8 of 11 PATs and 7 of 10 field goal attempts to close out the 2022 season.
It seems prudent to bring in a kicker to compete with Slye this offseason. The small sample size for kickers means that one bad day can skew the statistics for an entire season, so I’m not ready to call for Slye to be released, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if the Commanders brought in a second kicker to camp to find out if there’s a better option available.