Veteran free agency is right around the corner. The “legal tampering period” begins on Monday, 13 March, and free agency officially opens for business at 4pm EST on Wednesday, 15 March — the start of the 2023 league year.
Washington Commanders free agency options will be a short series — likely four articles, each of which will profile 4 or 5 veteran free agents at positions of perceived need for the Commanders.
To make this a little bit different, and hopefully a little bit of fun, KyleSmithforGM and Bill-in-Bangkok have agreed on the positions and the players. Each of us will write our own player profiles, meaning that you’ll get TWO profiles on each player. With any luck, that will lead to a more well-rounded view of the profiled players.
Obviously, we’re not trying to provide a comprehensive list of every free agent available; rather, this is an effort to ‘prime the pump’ a little bit, and encourage discussion ahead of the upcoming free agency period.
We encourage you to not only comment on the players we’ve chosen to highlight, but to add your own thoughts or links to profiles of players you find intriguing. To keep things tidy, we encourage you to focus your thoughts on the position group of the day.
We started with the offensive tackles earlier today, and move to the interior offensive line positions in this article. We will feature a different position group in each article of the series, which will run daily this week.
It feels as if Ron Rivera owes something to Washington fans — at least an explanation and maybe an apology — for what happened at the offensive guard position between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. In ‘21, the unit featured first-team All Pro and 5-time Pro Bowl player Brandon Scherff, who was Washington’s 1st round pick (5th overall) in the 2015 draft, at right guard, and a huge mauler, Ereck Flowers, at left guard.
Prior to the ‘22 season, Scherff left in free agency and Flowers was cut — apparently in an effort to shed cap dollars to pay for Rivera’s Folly, the trade for the washed up former Colts and Eagles QB Carson Wentz. The two were replaced by a pair of guards, Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner, who had once, in the previous decade, been considered among the NFL’s best, but who eventually proved themselves to be out-of-shape and inadequate as NFL players in 2022. Their only clear attribute, apparently, was to be willing to play for Ron Rivera on low-cost, short-term contracts.
The result was a disastrous drop off in offensive line play that seemed to be the primary reason why Washington’s offense was unable to muster more than 18.9 points per game despite being loaded with offensive skill players. Brian Robinson was his own blocker, as he and Antonio Gibson both were among the backs with the lowest yards before contact in the league, and the Commanders rotation of quarterbacks routinely found themselves on the run due to a lack of pass protection.
None of this was helped by a second-straight season in which Washington had to go into games starting their 4th-string center.
What was immediately obvious last season was that center Chase Roullier was probably the only starter on Washington’s offensive line who was capable of playing at the required level, and his season-ending injury in Week 2 was a key factor in a season of truly bad offensive line play that was often painful to watch.
Ron Rivera has spent the offseason so far committing to fixing the offensive line every time a microphone has been near him. The team will likely use a first or second round pick on an offensive lineman, but that won’t be enough. The Commanders need to use veteran free agency, which begins at 4 pm on March 15th, to repair the damage done a year ago.
The team currently has limited cap space, but there are opportunities to release, restructure or renegotiate in order to create more cap space, and I expect all three avenues to be used over the coming days, so we will consider a range of salary cap options for interior offensive linemen in this article. The possibility also exists that Sam Cosmi could slide inside to RG and that the team could sign a free agent right tackle to replace him.
Commanders’ key interior offensive linemen under contract:
- C Chase Roullier - $12.4m cap hit ($4.3m savings if released)
- LG Andrew Norwell - $5m cap hit ($2.28m savings if released)
- G/T Saahdiq Charles
- G Chris Paul
Key pending veteran free agents:
- C Tyler Larsen
- G/C Wes Schweitzer
- RG Trai Turner
- G Wes Martin
CLICK HERE to see the Commanders current 63-man depth chart
C/G Evan Brown, 26, Lions
Weight: 302 pounds
NFL entry: UDFA (Giants)
2022 cap hit: $2.01m
Evan Brown was a UDFA in 2019. He caught on with the Detroit Lions in 2020 and has spent the past three seasons with the team. In 2021, he ended up starting most of the season at center because of an injury to Frank Ragnow.
He did fine overall but did not do enough to get a commitment to start. Still, after playing both guard and center over the first four weeks of 2022, he eventually situated himself into the right guard role for the remainder of the season, and the Lions went 6-3 after he took over as the full-time starter at pretty much the same time that the Commanders were struggling in games after the season-ending injury to backup center Tyler Larsen.
In 2021-22, Evan Brown started 24 games, playing 12 at center and 12 at guard. Last season, Brown took over for Ragnow when he got dinged up in the Week 2 game against the Commanders, but from Week 3 on (minus an injury suffered in Week 11 against the New York Giants that caused him to miss the next three games)—Brown started at right guard between Ragnow and Penei Sewell.
Like 2021, Brown’s play in 2022 was adequate. Lions coaches tried third-year guard Logan Stenberg at right guard a handful of times, before pulling him in favor of Brown during the Lions’ Week 5 loss to the New England Patriots.
In Washington, the 26-year-old Brown would provide a solid replacement for the 32-year-old Tyler Larsen, who is a pending free agent, and Brown has proven capable of stepping in and starting at center or guard, possibly helping to offset the potential loss of 30-year-old Wes Schweitzer.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brown graded out as the 33rd best guard, out of 78 qualified players at the position, with an overall mark of 64.8. He also received a top-10 pass-blocking grade from the analytics site. Not too shabby for a former undrafted free agent who made a base salary of just $1.2 million in 2022, but not eye-popping performance that gets a huge reward in free agency either.
Per Spotrac, Brown’s present market value is a little under $10.9M per season. I think that’s a bit generous. $10m is Chase Roullier money.
Mason Cole and Brian Allen are about the same age as Brown. Cole’s PFF grade for 2022 was 67.1, and Brian Allen’s was 63.8, making them, on the surface, appear to be reasonable proxies for Brown’s market value, which looks to be in the $6m neighborhood. With the rising cap, I could understand a contract worth $6.5-$7m per year for Brown.
I see Brown as part of the quality depth that every offensive line needs rather than a high-level starter, but his age and experience factor in his favor. I wouldn’t be unhappy to see him get a 3 or 4 year contract that would help provide stability to the interior offensive line for 2023 and beyond, but he is not the quality replacement that would be needed if the Commanders wanted to move on from Chase Roullier.
In many respects, I see Evan Brown as a younger version of Wes Schweitzer, a very solid interior offensive lineman, capable of holding down both the center and guard positions for several games if the starter goes down. He could probably also be pressed into service as an average starter - likely at center - if there was a desire to do so. Given his estimated next contract amount, which I would expect to exceed $5M/yr, I expect that he’ll be considered for a starting role, rather than a relatively expensive swing back-up.
For the past several years, Brown has sat, and learned, behind one of the better centers in the league, two-time Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow. He’s also been the beneficiary - as a guard - of lining up between two very stout linemen, Ragnow and fellow Pro Bowl right tackle Penei Sewell.
Three years ago, Washington signed Schweitzer to a 3-year deal worth $4.5M per year in what turned out to a be pretty reasonable contract for both parties. I’d like to see Wes resigned, but if the team can’t - or doesn’t want to - sign him, an inflation-adjusted contract for Brown in the range of $5.5-6M/yr for a couple of years could likely replicate his versatile production as competent depth.
Will Hernandez, 27, Cardinals
Weight: 330 pounds
NFL entry: 2nd round, 2018, #34 overall
2022 cap hit: $1.04m
In the lead up to the 2018 draft, analysts were pretty high on Hernandez, who had been a beast in his four years at UTEP. Comped to Richie Incognito, it was estimated that he could eventually become a Pro Bowl caliber guard.
Unfortunately for Hernandez, he underwhelmed sufficiently for the Giants - the team who drafted him - that he was allowed to walk at the end of his rookie deal, managing only a $1M, 1-year deal with the Cardinals for 2022. To his credit, he had the best season of his career in Arizona.
In assessing what went wrong in a player’s career, it can sometime be illuminating to look back at what was said about them coming out of college:
“He’s exactly what you are looking for in terms of his work ethic and how much he loves the game. He will clique instantly in the offensive line room and he will be one of the strongest and toughest guys on the team as soon as he makes the roster. The only thing that scares me are those short arms.” - NFC area scout
This comment stood out to me given recent discussions of Peter Skoronski’s arm length (Hernandez’s 32” arms are virtually the same length as Skor’s, 32.25”). In any case, at his current, depressed value, Hernandez strikes me as a potential diamond in the rough, and it appears that the folks at PFF agree. They’ve named him one of their “buy low candidates” this offseason:
“Hernandez is currently projected to earn a three-year, $4 million contract this offseason, and while it’s unlikely that he’ll be a top-five guard in football anytime soon, he does have PFF pass-blocking grades of 72.0 or higher in three of his five NFL seasons. In the right scheme, and for the right price, he can be a solid starter.” - Gordon McGuinness
At that price, I would definitely be in on Hernandez, who appears to be ascending, and who - at 27 - could be a stalwart on Washington’s line for several years to come.
Because Hernandez was a high-profile (2nd round) pick of the NY Giants in 2018, and a key element of their move to re-build the offensive line, most Commanders fans probably know a lot about him. He flamed out in New York before signing with Arizona, but if he could resurrect his career in Washington, he wouldn’t be the first former Giant offensive lineman to find success in the burgundy & gold after failing with Big Blue.
Statistically, Hernandez improved in 2022. He earned PFF grades of 58.4, 58.1, and 55.9 in his final three seasons in New York; that grade jumped to 65.4 with the Cardinals a year ago.
Per SIS, after compiling blown block rates of 2.7% and 3.0% in 2020 and 2021 with the Giants, that number was cut by more than half to just 1.3% with Arizona last season.
Hernandez has always been a solid pass blocker; he was credited with giving up no sacks for two consecutive seasons in 2019 & 2020, and was charged with 2 sacks last season. His run blocking seems to have improved in Arizona as well, as his blown block percentage dropped from 3.6% in 2021 to 1.5% in 2022.
I looked up Hernandez’ RAS, expecting it to be elite across the board, and was surprised to see that his scores, while good, were not as outstanding as I had thought they were. In my memory, Hernandez was more of a physical specimen.
I’m finding it hard to get excited about Will Hernandez.
Looking at this comparison of Hernandez in 2022 versus Washington’s top three guards in 2022, it looks like Hernandez is an upgrade. I wonder, though, if he is enough of an upgrade.
As with Evan Brown, Hernandez looks like a high end backup or adequate starter, but not the kind of guy that is going to lead a turnaround in OL performance that will return Washington to a top-10 position. As part of a depth-building effort, I would be happy to see the 27-year-old Hernandez displace the two aging ex-Panthers that the Commanders relied on last year, but I would hope that the front office and coaches have set their sights higher when searching for the starting guards for 2023.
Ben Powers, 26, Ravens
Weight: 313 pounds
NFL entry: 4th round, 2019, #123 overall
2022 cap hit: $2.7m (rookie contract)
Powers could be the left guard that the Commanders are looking for. Here’s what the Ravens GM Eric DeCosta had to say about him:
Ben has probably improved as much as anybody on our team,” DeCosta said. “He had a phenomenal season this year – started every game. I don’t even know if he missed a snap. And Ben is a guy who we’d love to keep. My feeling is Ben is probably going to be sought after in free agency, based on the way he played this year. We would never close the door on a player like Ben. We would always want to keep as many good players as we can. We’ll have discussions at some point with Ben.
Powers started 13 games at LG in 2021; he started all 17 in 2022, playing 1,163 offensive snaps (plus another 78 on special teams).
PFF gave him a 62.3 overall grade, with a very impressive 86.7 pass blocking grade. His 1.2% blown block percentage, and 2 sacks surrendered back up the PFF grades. The fact that he was penalized just one time (a holding call) in over 1,200 total snaps is also impressive.
ESPN ranks Powers as the 39th best veteran free agent in 2023; CBS Sports ranks him at #44. Powers appears to be a better pass blocker than run blocker, but the Ravens had the #2 ranked rushing offense in the NFL last year, so he mustn’t be too bad.
In Baltimore, a cinder block is awarded each week by Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris to the week’s top performing offensive lineman. The lineman who wins the most cinder blocks throughout the season is given the honor of keeping it.
Powers won the cinder block eight times this year, so it’s going home with him.
Ben Powers is taking home the best O-lineman cinderblock awarded by O-Line Coach Joe D’Allessandris.— Kyle Phoenix Barber (@KylePBarber) January 16, 2023
Player who received the award the most takes it at the end of the season. pic.twitter.com/CJJExLXFJG
If Washington wants to upgrade the offensive line in 2023 (they really do) then a guy like Ben Powers is the type of player that they probably should be looking for.
Most of the guys on this list are older than Powers; Connor Williams, who is the same age, is actually a center. But Laken Tomlinson, who is now 31, compared favorably with Powers when he reached the end of his rookie contract, while Andrus Peat has probably never been quite as good as Powers is now. A contract in the $13m - $14m per year range wouldn’t shock me, though Spotrac, for once, thinks I’m overshooting the mark; they project his value to be $9.4m per year, with comps to Alex Cappa, Austin Corbett, Matt Pryor, and Patrick Mekari
I would be happy to see a 4-5 year deal that sees Powers drive 45 minutes south on I-95 as part of the Commanders OL rebuild.
Powers, who is likely to be one of the best guards hitting the free agent market this offseason, would be an interesting choice for Washington. Signing him, for somewhere in the $10-14M per year range, would essentially be writing off the development of Chris Paul as a starter, particularly if the plan is to move Sam Cosmi to right guard permanently.
Another important factor to consider with Powers is, just like Brown above, Powers played between two absolute studs: former All Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and 2022 first round pick Tyler Linderbaum. To what extent might that overinflate the apparent caliber of his play. Could we expect similar performance with Powers situated between Charles Leno and Chase Roullier?
Given the circumstances, my expectation is that if Powers leaves the Ravens, he’s likely to be overpaid relative to his eventual production, if only because he’s almost certain to go to a worse situation unless the Eagles happen to grab him to replace Isaac Seumalo. For that reason, primarily, I would hope Washington passes on “buying high” on Powers this offseason.
Garrett Bradbury, 28, Vikings
Weight: 300 pounds
NFL entry: 1st round, 2019, #18 overall
2022 cap hit: $4m (rookie contract)
Coming out of NC State, Bradbury was an elite athlete who was projected to become a long time starter in the league.
With the 18th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Vikings select Garrett Bradbury, OC, North Carolina State.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 26, 2019
Garrett Bradbury posted a Elite #RAS with Good size, Elite speed, Good explosiveness, Great agility at the OC position. pic.twitter.com/UHyaRlT7nq
But Bradbury struggled during his first couple of seasons and became a bit of a cautionary tale in Vikings circles as it pertains to sound tenets of drafting:
It was a selection that was aimed at filling an immediate need and finding a player to fit a specific scheme. The need-based approach resulted in the Vikings reaching on a player at a position of minimal value. The scheme-based approach resulted in the Vikings overvaluing athleticism and selecting a player who has been unable to pass protect at even a mediocre level through two seasons.
Now, however, if Washington were set on replacing Chase Roullier in-kind, I’m not sure there’s a better comp out there than Garrett Bradbury. In fact, Roullier is one of four current centers used in Spotrac’s calculation for his next contract, which they estimate will be in the range of $11.9M per year. Roullier’s contract, signed three years ago, netted him about $10.1M per year. Over the first four years of their careers, the two players performed pretty similarly, with Roullier posting an “approximate value (AV)” of 22 and Bradbury scoring a 25.
Unfortunately, as we know, Roullier has been injured for much of the last two years. In his first four seasons, Bradbury has missed nine games, including five games last year after tweaking a back injury in a December car accident.
Apparently, the Vikings have interest in trying to re-sign Bradbury at the right price, but if they don’t I’d prefer for Washington to avoid him as well, unless it looks like Chase Roullier will be unable to start the 2023 season healthy.
Sporting News has Bradbury rated as the 4th-best center available in free agency (behind Kelce, Pocic, and Connor McGovern), and NFL Trade Rumors has him rated as the 59th best overall free agent. CBS Sports has him rated as #71 overall and makes the comment that Bradbury is “a smallish center who can have trouble with big players on his nose. He has to be in the right system.” Chase Roullier is an inch taller and 12 pound heavier, so “smallish” seems to be a relative observation.
Bradbury moves well for an interior lineman, but he needs to be flanked by powerful guards. Mike Zimmer’s old-school philosophy seemed ill-suited to a player like Bradbury.
That is why it is not surprising that 2022 was the best year of Garrett Bradbury’s career. Kevin O’Connell seems to understand how to use his skill set much more effectively, and 2022 looked like more than just a player playing his best ball in in a contract year; it looked like a player benefiting from better coaching.
I get the feeling that Bradbury is the kind of center that Mike Shanahan might’ve signed for his offensive system. In Kansas City, Eric Bieniemy seemed to prefer big bruisers; his center in ‘21 & ‘22 was Creed Humphrey, a 6’5” bruiser that is one of the best in the NFL.
Bradbury earned solid grades from PFF in 2022 after getting miserable pass blocking grades in his first three years. I’ve put his 2022 grades in the chart below in comparison to Chase Roullier’s 2020 grades and Tyler Larsen’s 2022 season.
There’s nothing in these numbers that would make me want to sign Bradbury to replace Roullier. All things considered, I don’t see any situation where the former 1st round pick would be anxious to sign with Washington to be Roullier’s backup, but nothing makes me believe he would be an upgrade either. Even if there were doubts about Roullier’s health, I’m not sure I’d see Bradbury as an acceptable alternative to play in Eric Bieniemy’s offense.
While there may be a home for Bradbury outside of Minnesota, I don’t think it’s with the Washington Commanders in 2023.
Dalton Risner, 28, Broncos
Weight: 308 pounds
NFL entry: 2nd round, 2019, #41 overall
2022 cap hit: $3.59m (rookie contract)
Risner has been a starter for the Broncos since entering the league as a second round pick in 2019, but, overall, he’s been a disappointment to the Broncos faithful who look back at the draft pick with some regret. The SB Nation website, Mile High Report, says that there are 25 players who have made the Pro Bowl from that 2019 draft, and that ten of the 25 were taken after Risner. They further point out that nine draftees from that class have made the Pro Bowl multiple times, and that, of those nine, three were taken after Risner.
As a converted tackle, Risner is better in pass pro than he is as a run blocker, but his overall game is consistently below the level that one would expect from a 4-year starter.
With players like Eagles left guard Isaac Seumalo and Titans right guard Nate Davis potentially coming available this offseason, I don’t know why the Commanders would target a mid-level guard like Risner who has never lived up to his draft status, unless it was because the front office was trying to save cap dollars. They did that in 2022 and it didn’t work; the 2023 approach needs to be different.
I’d pass on Risner.
With an estimated market value of around $9.5M AAV, per Spotrac, Risner would be around the 8th highest paid left guard in the game, if paid that amount. In 2022, Broncos GM George Paton decided not to pick up the former first round picks’ 5th year option, and in retrospect, that looks to have been a wise decision. Risner underwhelmed last season, and it appears highly likely that Denver will let him leave in free agency this offseason.
Despite average play, Risner has been highly reliable over his four years in the league, starting 62 of 66 possible games, making him one of the most consistently healthy guards on the market this offseason. That said, I believe his estimated value is artificially inflated by his draft position. At $5-6M/year, I might be a buyer on Risner, but for much more than that, I’d be looking elsewhere for better guard play that he’s likely to provide.
Considering everything, including cap hit, which profiled player do you think is the best choice for the Washington Commanders to pursue this offseason?
This poll is closed
Evan Brown, 26, Lions
Will Hernandez, 27, Cardinals
Ben Powers, 26, Ravens
Garrett Bradbury, 28, Vikings
Dalton Risner, 28, Broncos
I don’t like none of ‘em!