With the first three rounds finished, the Commanders roster is substantially complete, with 77 total players under contract, with 5 draft picks in hand for Saturday’s final 4 rounds. By the end of the day, barring any trades, the team should have 82 players, leaving 8 available openings for undrafted college free agents or veteran free agents who are still unsigned.
Of course, having a contract right now does not guarantee that a player will be coming to training camp; we could see roster moves in the coming days and weeks. The low-profile roster moves will involve the annual churn of the ‘camp bodies’ — end of roster players whose best outcome for the 2023 season is a spot on an NFL practice squad. The high-profile roster moves are usually made, at this time of year, because of salary cap issues or lingering injury, and can involve players being released or traded.
There are a number of players who could be subject to the annual roster ‘churn’, but only a small number of high profile players who would seem to be at risk of losing a roster spot due to salary cap issues, injury concerns, or both.
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 Commanders currently have 77 players under contract: 38 on offense, 36 on defense, and 3 specialists.
Interior Offensive Line
With the drafting of Ricky Stromberg in the 3rd round, Washington appears to have 4 centers, though Nick Gates has played guard in the NFL and Stromberg has done so in the SEC. The coaches are likely to use the next few months to figure out if either of them should move to left guard to compete with Chris Paul. I find it hard to believe that Andrew Norwell will survive to the end of training camp, though the team could have released him before the start of free agency, and didn’t, so maybe he’ll get the chance to compete as well.
Drafting Stromberg likely puts one of two players at risk of losing his roster spot. If the rookie is seen to be an immediate starter, then Chase Roullier, whose release could save $4.3m in cap space ($8.3m post-June 1) and who is recovering from his 2nd major lower leg injury in two years, could be released or traded. On the other hand, if coaches think Stromberg needs a year of strength, conditioning and coaching to be ready, then Roullier may be safe for now, but Tyler Larsen could find himself looking for work at the end of August.
Some people look at the $8.5m in cap savings that the Commanders would get by trading or releasing Kendall Fuller, and then look at Cameron Dantzler and Emmanuel Forbes on the depth chart and feel like the front office will make a move. I don’t believe that for a moment. Ron Rivera said it himself yesterday, “It’ll create some competition for guys to get on the field and play. That’s the way it’s gonna be. We’re looking at trying to create as much competition across the board because we know that one thing for sure is when guys are competing, guys are getting better.”
I feel confident that the decision-makers will want to stick with the talent that they have at CB and safety for this year, and reassess when the ‘23 season comes to an end.
I saw a number of people describing Quan Martin as a ‘luxury pick’. It was anything but that. The biggest hole on the Commanders’ roster pre-draft was the nickel corner position.
It’s clear that Mayhew and Rivera targeted Martin as one of ‘their guys’ going into the draft. Along with Brian Branch, who was selected at pick #45 by the Lions, Martin has exactly the set of skills the staff were looking for. Here’s what Ron Rivera had to say about the team’s 2nd round pick yesterday:
[With the] Buffalo package or our sub-page...you can do it a couple of ways. You can do it using three safeties. You can do it using three corners. What Quan gives us is an opportunity to use it really with kind of a hybrid guy. I mean, that’s really what it is. We listed him as a safety slash nickel and he’s a guy that has that kind of ability and flexibility for you. We played sub last year, I think it was almost 60% of the time, but it was a different type of subpackage, whether it be sub with three safeties or sub with three corners. So we have a lot of flexibility right now to do things.
I’ve put Martin as the primary slot defender on the depth chart above; I think that he’s the guy that Rivera and Jack Del Rio have been looking for.
Other opportunities for releases, restructures or renegotiations
As players are drafted on Day 3, the likelihood that any of them is a threat to bump a top player off of the roster is slim; these guys are more likely to be backups or special teams players — if they make the roster at all — in 2023.
But the Commanders need cap space before the start of the season, and there are only really three ways to get it: releases or trades, restructures, or renegotiation.
Release or trade
Whether a player is released or traded, the salary cap impact is the same. There are only a limited number of players who offer cap savings and play at a position where the team has sufficient roster depth to move on from him. I mentioned Chase Roullier and Kendall Fuller earlier. A few other possibilities include:
Some might argue that Curtis Samuel and Charles Leno belong on this list. If the Commanders had drafted an OT in the first round, I might’ve been convinced to include Leno here, but that didn’t happen. I find it hard to imagine a situation where Rivera cuts Curtis Samuel this offseason, taking away one of Eric Bieniemy’s potential playmakers.
Renegotiation is simply asking a player to take a pay cut. For a guy whose only other option is to be released, the pay cut may be the more attractive option if he doesn’t believe he will have a robust market as a free agent. The team has to have a lot more leverage than the player to make this work. The only players that I think might fall into this category (with a high enough salary to make it worthwhile) are Chase Roullier and Logan Thomas.
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.
Unlike a renegotiation, restructures are used with players who have high-dollar cap hits, multiple years left on the current contract (or a simultaneous extension), and the expectation of remaining on the roster well beyond this season.
The list of players who meet all these criteria is again, fairly limited, and could include Chase Roullier or Charles Leno, but the one player who makes the most sense for a restructure is Jonathan Allen.
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.
Washington probably only needs between $5m and $10m in cap space. They could achieve this and keep the roster intact through the simple expedient of restructuring Jon Allen’s contract, or they could make a series of smaller moves to get there. Even a combination of two simple moves (say, cutting Norwell and Dantzler) could create the space needed to get through the ‘23 season.
The front office will certainly do something between now and the start of the regular season, but Rivera and Mayhew don’t appear to be in any hurry. They may be waiting for the sale to be finalized before making any big long-term financial decisions.
Day 3 of the draft
It will be exciting to add 5 more names to the depth chart. Linebacker, offensive line, tight end, quarterback, and even defensive end are all positions that could use some support. Of course, in later rounds, the team might target a player for his special teams ability or simply because he is the best player available at the time.
Washington’s depth chart is littered with its own Day 3 picks, including Sam Howell, Cole Turner, Chase Roullier, Saahdiq Charles, Chris Paul, James Smith-Williams, William Bradley-King, Khaleke Hudson, Christian Holmes, Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest, Troy Apke, and Percy Butler, not to mention a bunch of undrafted players.
Some key players will be drafted by the Commanders today, so strap in and enjoy the show!