To start, let me be clear - as I have been in the past - I’m not a proponent of drafting primarily for “need” (i.e., to fill a starting hole on a roster). That’s not to say “need” shouldn’t be considered in the draft, but that it should come behind other, more important factors, like positional value and player talent level - so called, “best player available.”
That said, looking at need, particularly future needs, is an important part of the draft prioritization process, as most draftees are unlikely to fill immediate needs even if you wanted them to. Many are, however, capable of developing into starters or key depth given a year or two to mature. Players like Darrick Forrest, Jamin Davis, and James Smith-Williams are just a few local examples.
So what are the team’s future needs? This offseason, Washington has done a pretty solid job of plugging its existing needs in free agency so far, adding a starting right tackle, interior offensive line depth with potential starting upside, and a potential linebacking substitute for Cole Holcomb. They’ve also added cornerback depth with low end starting potential. In the 2023 draft, I would say that OL, CB, and LB remain “needs” of a sort, and are certainly areas where the ceiling has a lot of room for improvement. But this isn’t about immediate needs.
In 2024, Washington has a number of key players coming up for free agency. I’ll do a walk through each position group, outline the potential 2024 free agents, and weigh in on the likelihood that each unit will be a position of future need.
QB (MEDIUM/DAY 3)
- Key free agent: Jacoby Brissett
With Sam Howell under contract for three more years, if he plays well in 2023 he’s almost certainly the starter in 2024. My assumption, under those circumstances, is that the coaching staff and front office will return, even under new ownership.
However, if Howell bombs, and we’re forced to see Brissett carry a limping team across the finish line, I assume the entire house will be cleaned, and that finding a QB1 becomes the overriding goal of the 2024 draft.
In the meantime, I’d say QB3 is a medium priority this year, if only to shave significant cap savings over what the team is going to be paying Brissett in 2023 ($8-10M) for next season. Brissett could also leave in free agency and generate 2025 comp pick capital for the team, assuming he still has a market next year.
RB (LOW-MEDIUM/DAY 3)
- Key free agents: Antonio Gibson, Jonathan Williams
Life in the NFL as a running back tends to be nasty, brutish, and short, and a significant reason for that is that the pipeline of replacements continually runs so full. Excellent running backs can be, and are, taken on days 2 and 3 of the draft each year, and can be kept around on modest rookie-deal salaries for four years. At the end of 2023, Gibson’s deal comes up. Antonio has been a great story in Washington. I hope he kicks ass in 2023. But, it appears that Commanders drafted their future RB1 last season, with Brian Robinson’s impressive showing.
I would like to see Washington draft a future Gibson replacement in 2023, in advance of the need opening up next year, with the rookie potentially bumping Williams or Jaret Patterson off the roster this summer.
WR (LOW/DAY 3)
- Key free agents: Curtis Samuel, Marcus Kemp
Washington’s wide receiver room - when everyone is healthy - is pretty stacked. Both Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson are locked up for several more years. Dyami Brown, the current WR4, is locked up for two more years. Curtis Samuel played well last year, and the hope is he’ll do so again in 2023. But, if his $11.5M salary could come off the books next year, with Dyami Brown stepping up into the WR3 role, that would be a big win for the team.
I would suggest that, even in 2024, WR will remain perhaps the lowest area of need for Washington, but that shouldn’t preclude rolling the dice on a day 3 WR pick, if talent happens to slip significantly.
TE (LOW-MEDIUM/DAY 3)
- Key free agents: None
Washington’s entire tight end room is locked up through, at least, 2024 at this point. That doesn’t necessarily mean the team should be complacent, however. Logan Thomas would be a relatively easy cut - if the team wanted to - after 2023, saving $6.6M in 2024. That decision will likely hinge tremendously on how Logan performs this season, and how the players behind him, John Bates, Armani Rogers, and Cole Turner perform.
That said, the 2023 draft class is stocked with quality tight ends, and there’s a very real probability solid talent could slip into day 3. I certainly think there’s room to feed Washington’s TE pipeline, and raise the eventual ceiling of the room in this year’s draft.
OL (HIGH/DAYS 1 & 2)
- Key free agents: Andrew Norwell, Cornelius Lucas, Tyler Larsen, Saahdiq Charles
Essentially all of Washington’s offensive line depth is up for free agency next year: Guards, centers, tackles, tackles who play guard. Of this group, most are getting quite long in the tooth as well. Only Charles is currently under 32 (he’s 24), and he’s been the least impressive of the bunch.
I’d love to see Charles set up this year - he’s still so young - and become a reliable starter, or at least depth, but Washington should be adding two or three offensive linemen in draft this April to both compete for roles to raise the starting ceiling of the line, as well as backfill the critical depth that will almost certainly be vacated next offseason.
DL (POTENTIALLY HIGH/DAYS 1, 2, & 3)
- Key free agents: Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Efe Obada, William Bradley-King, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, Benning Potoa’e, David Bada, Abdullah Anderson
Wow, that list even caught me off guard. Basically all of the team’s defensive ends who’ve seen any playing time, and several depth tackles are - potentially - free agents next year. As I discussed yesterday, the biggest financial decisions pertain to the contracts of Young and Sweat, whose decisions will be hitting at the same time as another big one, Kam Curl’s.
I won’t go into all their gory contract details here, but the 2023 draft should definitely be a spot where we have our eyes open for multiple future game breakers on the defensive line.
LB (HIGH/DAYS 2 & 3)
- Key free agents: Cody Barton, Khaleke Hudson, David Mayo
While Jamin Davis is still locked in for at least a couple more years, the rest of Washington’s already thin linebacking corps will be hitting the market in 2024. Barton and Hudson are both essentially on “prove it” deals, and assuming one or both actually do “prove it” perhaps they get extended by the team.
In any case, the linebacking pipeline needs to be fed in this year’s draft. The good news is that there appear to be several players in the hybrid mold that Jack Del Rio likes to use who will probably be available in the middle rounds of April’s draft.
CB (MEDIUM/DAYS 1, 2, & 3)
- Key free agents: Kendall Fuller, Cameron Dantzler, Rachad Wildgoose
Washington is potentially ok at the starting cornerback position going into this season - though there is very much room for upgrade - but next season, without draft reinforcements, things will get fairly dire unless someone like Christian Holmes or Danny Johnson makes a dramatic leap this year.
If Fuller walks next offseason, that frees up $10M in cap space. Based on CB contracts signed this offseason, that could probably be deployed for an equivalent player next year, or perhaps Fuller, who will be 29 next year, could be further extended at a slight discount.
S (LOW/DAY 3)
- Key free agents: Kam Curl, Troy Apke
To keep Kam Curl or not, that is the question. There are lots of good arguments for keeping Curl around - he’s a defensive leader, he has a great story, he’s been a model player in his time here. But, how much is Washington willing to pay a high end safety, particularly given that it looks to have a fairly deep safety room already in place, with Darrick Forrest ascending, Jeremy Reaves coming into his own, and Percy Butler presumably looking to assume a bigger role this year.
If Curl is extended this offseason - and I would have no issue offering him an $8M/yr deal, which would be the second richest safety contract this offseason - safety is a non-priority in the draft. If the team doesn’t intend to extend Curl, then a day 3 safety addition probably makes a lot of sense.
K (LOW/DAY 3)
- Key free agent: Joey Slye
I’ve been a proponent of using a late round pick on a kicker, or picking one up as an UDFA, this offseason in order to bring in competition for Joey Slye, who continues to struggle with hitting extra points. Could it wait a year? Sure. But if the right guy falls, it would be nice to knock this need out and save about $1M this year.
Does it make sense to consider 2024 needs in this year’s draft?
This poll is closed
The salary cap is a myth