No post-draft UDFAs on this depth chart
This depth chart update includes all the Commanders draft picks, but none of the reported UDFA signings. The reports on post-draft signings are often fluid and occasionally unreliable, so I will wait until the team announces its post-draft player signings later in the week to add them to the depth chart.
The roster building will continue
Roster building does not stop when the draft is over. Immediately after the draft, teams start signing undrafted college players, and many teams go back to the veteran free agent market to take care of roster holes that didn’t get filled in the draft.
Here’s what the general manager and head coach had to say immediately following the end of the draft on Saturday:
I think we filled a lot of needs in free agency and today. I think we keep looking, we keep trying to get better. The draft is not a finish line. We’re not done. It’s April; there’s a lot of time before the season starts and we’re gonna keep trying to make our roster better.
We felt we got really good value today with the players that we ended up getting and we’re not done yet. We’re working right now and there’ll be more signings between now and tomorrow.
We still aren’t done as Martin said. Everything we do right now is to continue to make our roster better. We’re going to continue to look at the development of our players on our roster, development of these young guys that we have and what’s still out there. I mean, there’s still a lot to come and we want to put the best group out there we can come September. And so we’re not done by any means thinking about, you know, the possibility and then going out and doing things.
We had a plan coming out of the season [that] we mapped out with the current ownership. We stuck to that plan, [and went] into free agency and came out of it with the depth and potential starters that we really like. I mean, if you go through it and you look at what we did on the offensive line, we took a starter off a Super Bowl team; we took a starter off a play a playoff team; we took another starter on defense off a playoff team and inserted them into our offense and our defense and feel really good about it. We got a backup quarterback coming off of one of his best years as a player. And you feel really good about that, I should say backup, but a guy that’s gonna compete to play for us,
You look at those different things that we’ve done and you feel positive; then you turn around and you feel like you got the positions you wanted to, especially early on in the draft. The first four picks were exactly what we talked about doing. Adding some more guys in on the offensive line, trying to see if we can add in into secondary, and we did.
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 81 players under contract: 40 on offense, 38 on defense, and 3 specialists. Look for the team to add 9 free agents this week.
Center & Left Guard
We got a little clarity about the center and left guard position on Saturday. It appears as if Nick Gates will NOT be competing for the guard spot, and Braeden Daniels will start out at the tackle position; working him at guard will not be a priority.
Asked if Nick Gates might compete at guard, Rivera shook his head no. If there’s a competition for center, it’ll be between Gates, Stromberg and the others.— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) April 29, 2023
Ron Rivera put the focus squarely on 2nd-year guard Chris Paul and 4th-year player Saahdiq Charles.
Both Chris [Paul] and Saahdiq [Charles] are gonna get a great opportunity to show us what they’re capable of. Would Braden have an opportunity? Yeah, but you know, we’re gonna see where he fits as far as tackle is concerned. And then we’ll take a look at the guard stuff, but tackle is something that we really like. A lot of athleticism there. Very raw talent.
We still don’t have clarity on the status of last year’s Week 1 starters at LG and Center, Andrew Norwell and Chase Roullier. Norwell did not play well in 2023; Roullier suffered a season-ending injury for the second consecutive season. Moving on from one or both players would provide the team with some needed cap space.
Rivera’s reluctance to speak Norwell’s name this offseason seems to indicate that he does not figure in the team’s long-term plans, but the Commanders did not release him ahead of the March free agency, so it’s possible that he’ll be given the chance to compete this offseason.
Roullier’s injury, high cap hit and potential cap savings make his situation complicated, but the fact that the head coach says that Gates is locked in as a center, and that the team just drafted another center with its 3rd round pick seem like strong signals that Roullier’s job could be in jeopardy despite his high level of play and leadership.
More on Braeden Daniels
Braeden Daniels is a four-year starter at three different positions, most recently starting 14 games at left tackle in 2022 inside Utah’s zone-based run scheme with an approximately 55-45 run-pass split. Daniels has an athletic, lean build with adequate length and is a twitched-up mover with very good initial quickness and burst.
Commanders adding another OL at pick 118, selecting Utah’s Braeden Daniels.— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) April 29, 2023
14 starts at LT in 2022
1st team All PAC 12
Started at left guard before OT
Allowed just 5 sacks in over 1400 college snaps
Ron Rivera mentioned the opinion of Travelle Wharton, the guy who Ron said, on Thursday, will be the new OL coach, pending approval from the new owner.
Listening to Travelle, one of the things Travelle felt is that [Daniels] is a young man, if we can get his footwork straight, we think he has a chance to be a contributor.
Don’t look for Daniels to be a starter, but expect him to make the 53 as one of 3 or 4 offensive tackles along with Charles Leno, Andrew Wylie and, possibly, Cornelius Lucas. Expect Sam Cosmi to slide in to the right guard position, based on comments made by Ron Rivera after Wylie was signed as a free agent in March.
The team added two Defensive Ends in the draft
Washington traded up 13 spots in the 5th round to select KJ Henry from Clemson. Henry was a redshirt freshman who played 5 seasons in Death Valley. The 24-year-old is 6’4”, 255 pounds, and Daniel Jeremiah had him ranked #77 overall (Washington picked him at No. 137). It was clear from a video later released by the team that the Commanders had considered drafting him in the 4th round, but decided to go with the offensive lineman (Daniels) and then execute a trade up to ensure that they could secure Henry for the defensive side of the ball.
Inside the war room. Take Braeden Daniels and then try to move up for KJ Henry.pic.twitter.com/3f3kNZJhOI— COMMANDERS FOOTBALL (@HogsHaven) April 29, 2023
Henry was clearly a player that the team coveted, and they managed to get him.
The more you read about Henry, the more he impresses you...— Pete Hailey (@PeteHaileyNBCS) April 29, 2023
-Apparently used money from an NIL deal to help his dad pay for expenses from a kidney transplant
-Earned a bachelor's and master's degree
-Not only a sick hooper but also a certified ref https://t.co/qqchTihrJh
The final pick of the Commanders 2023 draft was spent on the former Ragin’ Cajun, Andre Jones, who suffered a thigh injury at the Combine (not expected to affect him long-term) and wasn’t on many people’s radar.
Ron Rivera spoke highly of the 6’5”, 258 pound mid-7th round pick:
Andre Jones is just an explosive player. We’ve gotta find a role for him and, and in talking with Jack [Del Rio] and seeing how positive our defensive coaches were about his potential as a play maker, this is gonna be about a role and a fit as far as how we use him.
The role that Ron Rivera is talking about is rushing the passer. The simplest way to describe his role in the defense is that he will replace Shaka Toney (who was recently suspended by the commissioner for gambling on NFL football) as the team’s only situational pass rusher.
With a redshirt sophomore season and extended eligibility due to COVID rules, Jones played 6 seasons at Louisiana, and he, like KJ Henry, is already 24 years old. Martin Mayhew discussed that on Saturday night:
Yeah, well for me, the age comes into play obviously, but for a lot of these guys, it is really how much football they’ve played. This guy has a lot of upside, a lot of developmental potential despite his age. So we’re looking forward to working with him. I mean, he’s got a lot of athleticism. He’s got a great first step, he’s got a lot of traits that you want. And he has some tools, and our coaches can develop those tools.
The Commanders’ 6th round pick was used to draft running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. out of Kentucky. It was reported almost immediately after the draft ended that the team had a 3rd-round grade on Rodrigez.
Every team always says things like this, but given Washington's current group of RBs, this could be legit. Didn't really need a guy with Rodriguez's skillset, but perhaps they thought the value was too good in the 6th https://t.co/EEX3A5dlXz— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) April 29, 2023
Apparently, Eric Bieniemy was instrumental in the decision to draft the 5’11”, 224 pound 22-year-old running back. Martin Mayhew and Ron Rivera, speaking at the end of the draft on Saturday night spoke about the new offensive coordinator’s role in drafting Rodriguez:
[We] feel very good about what we have with AG [Antonio Gibson] and we continue see the growth and development with B-Rob [Brian Robinson]. I mean, those are two young guys that we like a lot.
Adding a physical player in Christopher is a guy that, talking to Eric and what Eric wants to do and how he wants to use him, in Eric’s mind, this is a guy that will fit what he wants. And so we’re pretty excited about being able to pick him. We had a higher grade on him too as well. So we thought we got a lot of value here.
With the running back, [EB] came in, and he was emphatic about it. He said, ‘Hey, here’s a guy that we all had good grades on. He’s sticking out like a sore thumb’. That’s an opportunity and maybe some people only view him as a first and second down back — and initially that’s kind of how we talked about it — but when you listen to [EB] talk about coaching him up to become a potential third down guy, you get excited.
In an article published yesterday, Adam Luckett outlined how Rodriguez fits the new offensive scheme that Washington will be running:
The Commanders will likely run a version of the West Coast offense that uses a heavy amount of motion and a pass-first approach. Washington is going to want to get the ball into hands of its wideouts so Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson can make plays in space. Operating primarily out of the shotgun, Biemiemy will use a downhill run attack with inside zone, power, and some counter concepts.
This is a 100 percent a scheme fit for Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Playing for offensive coordinator Eddie Gran from 2019-20, Rodriguez thrived in an inside zone offense operated primarily out of the shotgun. From 2021-22, Rodriguez was put in a pro-style offense and was at his best as a tight zone runner under Liam Coen and a gap scheme rusher under Rich Scangarello.
Rodriguez is a physical downhill runner that avoids negative plays and breaks tackles with efficiency, but owns limited extra-base pop. The best pro fit for the Kentucky product will be as a short-yardage option that can also serve as a fill-in starter. Rodriguez will have to earn that role in Washington, but he’ll be playing in an offense that fits his skill set.
Luckett adds that Rodriguez will face an uphill battle to make the roster in a running back room that has two established players plus Jonathan Williams and Jaret Patterson, both of whom have contributed to the Washington offense in previous seasons, adding that a start on the practice squad could be in Rodriguez’s future, but he has a good chance to stick “as long as Washington does not shift its offensive philosophy overnight”.
Salary cap considerations
Other opportunities for releases, restructures or renegotiations
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. Here is a list of the main players who fit the bill:
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.
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.