Having just extended Daron Payne on a four-year deal yesterday, Washington had positioned itself pretty well going into first day of “unofficial” free agency today.
Looking across the roster, there were a few notable holes, but - in reality - the gaps that needed to be closed in free agency in the lead up to the draft were few and far between.
As I outlined over the weekend, there were two urgent needs on the offense, one urgent need on the defense, one slightly less pressing need on the defense, and opportunities across the roster to “raise the floor” with some free agents who could supplant players who constitute deep depth or are pure special teamers.
The urgent needs on offense, were left guard and right tackle. Both positions were filled very early in the day.
Nick Gates, C/G
Good story here: Former #Giants OL Nick Gates, who broke his left fibula and tibia in a game against Washington in 2021 and battled his way back from seven surgeries, is headed to … Washington.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 13, 2023
Gates has agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the #Commanders, source says. pic.twitter.com/TPHfUcu62i
Gates suffered a severe leg injury against Washington in 2021, but came back and played in 10 games for the Giants in 2022 - starting in 8 - and ended up finishing 5th in the Comeback Player of the Year voting.
Giants fans, by and large, appear to love the guy and seem a bit disappointed that he’s leaving the Big Apple. Is he fully recovered from his leg injury and ready to compete for a starting role in DC? It appears Washington’s front office thinks so. At a minimum, he seems to be assuming Wes Schweitzer’s role henceforth.
Andrew Wylie, RT
Source: Former #Chiefs RT Andrew Wylie plans to sign a 3-year, $24M deal with the Washington Commanders, reuniting him with OC Eric Bieniemy. Wylie started 59 games in five years for KC and had the game of his life in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia. Now a nice payday.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) March 13, 2023
Right tackle was the most notable vacancy on Washington’s roster, and Ron and the Martii filled it courtesy one of Eric Bieniemy’s pupils. Andrew Wylie started out his career as a guard and then ended up as the Chiefs’ right tackle, eventually winning a Super Bowl championship with them last year.
The highest paid of Washington’s free agent signings on Monday, Wylie gives the team sufficient cover that they can draft a developmental OT this year and give him a bit of time understudy before being thrust into a starting role.
New Commanders OL Andrew Wylie finished 9th last year among all tackles in ESPN’s pass block win rate pic.twitter.com/YuD8mXEaoz— Matt Valdovinos (@MVScouting) March 13, 2023
Two primary deficiencies on defense existed yesterday, and they - potentially - remain today: Linebacker and third cornerback.
Cody Barton, LB/ST
Cody Barton showed off his range last season, accumulating 23 hustle stops (tied for 2nd-most in the NFL).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 13, 2023
Barton recorded an 8.2% defensive stop rate in 2022, which was higher than any linebacker on the Commanders.#HTTC https://t.co/QCilYYBuJg pic.twitter.com/Qs1rnIKevV
It’s possible that Cody Barton was signed in an attempt to fill the LB2 role, but I’m skeptical that’s that case. I think it’s more likely that he was signed as linebacking depth, to either displace David Mayo, or take the role vacated by Jon Bostic. Based on his profile, I think he’d probably be an improvement over either of those players.
My expectation, though, is that Washington either re-signs Cole Holcomb to fill this role, if he can stomach their contract terms, or they seek out an alternative free agent option at LB2.
Danny Johnson, CB
Danny Johnson contract details: 2 year $5M deal with $2.75M gtd, $1.75M signing bonus. Significant playing time bonuses could bring another $1M— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) March 14, 2023
Does the team intend for Danny Johnson to step into the CB3 role this year? I can’t be sure, but it looks like they’re going to give him the opportunity to compete. I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington sought a next tier cornerback in free agency this offseason, but I also have a strong suspicion that they are planning on targeting a starting-caliber CB in either the first or second round of the draft.
Cameron Dantzler, CB
We have claimed CB Cam Dantzler Sr. off waivers from Minnesota pic.twitter.com/k8TMETypTj— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) March 13, 2023
At this point, Dantzler is nothing more than an end-of-roster shot in the dark, but he has a decent draft pedigree, and was thought of fairly highly coming out of Mississippi State in 2020.
From Dane Brugler of The Athletic:
A two-year starter at Mississippi State, Dantzler was the field cornerback in former defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s 4-2-5 scheme. Primarily a quarterback in high school, he only played cornerback “a few times” in high school and credits former Bulldogs cornerbacks coach and 14-year NFL veteran Terrell Buckley for developing his coverage skills. Dantzler is quick-footed with slick hips to turn and run on command without losing balance, staying attached to receivers. He doesn’t shy from run support, but his thin frame and lack of body armor are concerns vs. NFL competition. Overall, Dantzler needs to better find the football and limit his contact downfield, but his reactive athleticism, length and competitive mentality are the baseline traits for starting press-man work in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Dantzler, one of his pro comps was William Jackson III. Here’s hoping things work out better for this young man who is probably competing with Christian Holmes and Rachad Wildgoose for a spot at the back end of Washington’s roster.
Other spots on the roster where there remains a potential for free agents to upgrade including QB2, LB4, and CB5 or CB6, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see several of those roles occupied by draft picks.
Less than one day in, Washington’s moves in free agency so far set the team up beautifully for the draft.
How would you grade the first day of free agency for Washington?