Too many guys
The story with the Commanders roster right now is that, with the announcement of 12 undrafted college free agents coming to terms with Washington and set to sign contracts on May 11th, the team is about to have too many players.
The offseason limit is 90. Following the release of Center Chase Roullier earlier this week, the Commanders have 80 players under contract.
That leaves room for 10 more guys, but the team has already announced that it is adding 12 undrafted rookie free agents.
By waiting until May 11th to officially sign these dozen rookies, the front office bought enough time to make roster moves.
Both salary cap and roster limit at play
The issue isn’t just the 90-man limit; the Commanders are pressing hard up against another NFL limit — the salary cap.
After making allowance for its 7 draft picks, Washington was effectively out of available cap space — near enough to zero based on Over the Cap estimates and some back-of-the-envelope calculations as to effectively be nil.
The first move — the release of Chase Roullier — was long expected and widely tipped before it was officially announced. The team has already said that his release will be Post June 1, creating about $8.3m in 2023 cap space while pushing about $4m in dead cap into 2024.
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 92 players under contract: 46 on offense, 43 on defense, and 3 specialists. Look for the team to make 2 roster moves (likely on offense) before the 12 UDFA contacts take effect on 11 May.
Two more roster moves
If the team doesn’t plan to sign any more veteran free agents this offseason, then, from a salary cap standpoint, they probably don’t really need to do anything else. If they make no more roster moves, they will likely have more than $6m in available cap space heading into the season.
Roster churn is a possibility
If that’s the case, the two pending roster cuts could be two low-cost, end-of-the-roster players — most likely a couple of players who were signed to future contracts in January. Guys like OT Aaron Montiero (the team currently has 9 offensive tackles) could be at risk of losing their jobs.
To be active in free agency, the team needs more cap space
If the team wants to clear cap space to have some additional roster flexibility this offseason, then the players to look at would be veterans with substantial contracts. A lot of the discussion this offseason has revolved around guys who offer meaningful cap savings if they are cut — players like CB Kendall Fuller and TE Logan Thomas. I don’t think either of these guys is at risk. Fuller was the best player at his position on the Commanders roster last year, and he is in the final year of his contract. With respect to Thomas, the team has only 5 tight ends on the roster (6 if you count Alex Armah). The Commanders can’t really afford to lose the top player at the tight end position.
The most likely cut
The veteran who offers cap savings, is at a fairly deep position group, and who didn’t play particularly well in 2022 is LG Andrew Norwell. Cutting him would save $4.38m in cap space, and Ron Rivera has spoken openly about Chris Paul and Saahdiq Charles competing for the LG position. When you consider the positional flexibility of centers Nick Gates and rookie 3rd round draft pick Ricky Stromberg, the team should have sufficient depth to say goodbye to Norwell.
One more potential OL cut
While a lot of fans and other observers seem to be projecting two moves to open cap space, I wouldn’t be surprised if a guy like Montiero is put on the waiver wire at the same time that Norwell gets his walking papers, though another offensive tackle whose release could open some cap space is Cornelius Lucas. Unless the front office is planning a trade or free agency signing that will require the cap space, it seems to make sense to bring Lucas to training camp. If he (or any higher-dollar veteran) is released at the end of camp but prior to the Week 1 roster, then the team will get the benefit of the cap savings anyway, and you don’t want to lose capable players at a time when injuries can still create unexpected problems with positional depth.
Of course, releasing players is not the only option. Moving a player to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) or Non-Football Related Injury (NRI) lists also removes them from the 90-man roster calculation for the time being. It’s not unusual for players to have offseason surgery or suffer training injuries that are not disclosed to the general public until the announcement is made that the player is being put onto a reserve list.
While it always feels like a surprise when these moves are made, for the front office, it’s just business as usual. If this is what the Commanders are planning, it could help explain why they didn’t announce the pending moves at the same time that Roullier was released.
Any roster moves are likely to be on the offensive side of the ball
One reason I’ve been talking about releasing players on the offensive line is that the team currently has 46 offensive players and 43 on defense. Typically, teams try to go to camp with about the same number of players on each side of the ball.
By releasing two offensive guys, the split would move to 44-43.
I don’t believe the team is going to release any of their quarterbacks (4), running backs (5), or tight ends (5). They need all those guys for training camp.
The Commanders currently have 13 wide receivers, and it’s not unusual to bring 12 to camp, but the only candidates for release are:
- Marcus Kemp - signed from KC offense, likely because Eric Bieniemy wanted him; should be important to special teams.
- Dyami Brown and Dax Milne - currently the #4 and 5 guys on the roster. Milne was last season’s punt returner. I don’t see either guy being released before camp.
- Alex Erickson - last season’s backup punt returner, seems to have a role for the moment even though he spent 2022 on the practice squad
- Kyrie McGowan - he seems the most likely to be released from the WR unit, but I question why the team wouldn’t have announced his waiver already.
That leaves Alex Armah, the team’s only fullback, and the #6 tight end, or a couple of offensive linemen.
To me, the most probable moves are either one or two players going onto PUP or NRI reserve list OR one or two players being released from the OL and WR groups, with McGowan the only receiver I believe to be on the bubble.
We should find out what’s happening by Friday.