The timing was never right for Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey to return to the Washington Commanders as an alumnus, despite the efforts of some in the organization. But in Josh Harris’ first game as the team’s new owner Sunday against the Cardinals, Bailey will highlight the alumni returning to Washington.
“Now for several reasons it feels like the perfect time to show up and become part of the franchise again,” Bailey said. “I’ve been wanting this for years. Timing is everything.”
Bailey will be honored as Washington’s Legend of Game and said he will serve as an honorary captain.
Bailey has not returned to FedEx Field since playing here as a member of the Broncos in 2009 and was critical of the organization built by former owner Dan Snyder. He won’t be the only high-profile alumnus returning, as Hall of Fame running back John Riggins will attend his first game in a while, and former quarterback Robert Griffin III also tweeted that he will attend Sunday’s game.
“Now with the ownership change you see a rejuvenated fan base,” Bailey said. “Man, this is the perfect time to get back in the fold and show people that I did great things with this organization. I have no hard feelings.”
“It signals a new era,” Washington’s alumni director Tim Hightower said.
Washington Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin will play in Sunday’s season opener vs. Arizona after battling a turf toe injury for nearly three weeks.
McLaurin injured his right toe in an Aug. 21 preseason game vs. Baltimore and was taken off the injury report Friday after being a full participant in practice for two consecutive days.
But Commanders defensive end Chase Young remains questionable for Sunday’s game vs. the Cardinals. Washington coach Ron Rivera said Young was expected to see a doctor Friday afternoon. If the doctor clears him for contact, Rivera said they’d then have a decision to make.
“It’s exciting,” Rivera said of McLaurin’s status. “From the beginning of this week to now Terry has gotten stronger and stronger. The rapport he and Sam have is real important to us.”
The Washington Commanders will have Pro Bowl wide receiver Terry McLaurin running routes for quarterback Sam Howell in their season-opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Throughout his progression this week, McLaurin went through scripted plays that Washington assigned him to do and impressed Rivera.
“He took the reps that we had listed for him and he looked good,” Rivera said Wednesday. “So, obviously the opportunity to increase them [Thursday] will both certainly occur.”
In each of McLaurin’s four season-openers to begin his career, he has had a different starting quarterback throwing passes to him, and Sunday will be no different. Howell will be Washington’s fifth opening-day signal-caller in as many seasons, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a reliable receiving target regardless.
In Week 1 in his career, McLaurin has brought in 16 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, and will look to be an outlet for Howell in just his second-career start.
In the preseason, Howell and McLaurin hooked up on all four targets for 46 yards.
DC Sports King
Why Commanders sign William Bradley-King to active roster two days after cutting him from practice squad?
The Commanders turned back to Bradley-King for a significant reason or two. Washington’s defensive line has been hit with a string of injuries, particularly at defensive end.
The Commanders are already without Efe Obada, who was placed on injured reserve to start the season. Star edge rusher Chase Young is questionable for Sunday’s season opener against the Arizona Cardinals with a stinger. Young hasn’t been cleared by doctors for contact since suffering the injury in Washington’s first preseason game nearly a month ago.
Washington also listed defensive end James Smith-Williams as questionable for Week 1 with an oblique injury.
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Q: Hello, there has been some talk about using the scheme to mask perceived deficiencies within the offensive line. What would that look like, and would that potentially limit the number of explosive plays. Thanks.
A: I think they are genuinely somewhat confident in the OL that they have. They don’t have a star on there, but the unit can perform better than the sum of its parts. That being said, they will have certain teams they need to provide schematic help. Fortunately, a lot of that plays into the type of things they want to do to help Howell. I’m expecting a bunch of quick game concepts to get the ball out of Howell’s hands early, limiting the time the OL has to block for. That will also allow the OL to play aggressively with quick sets to negate their first rush and then the ball will be out before defenders can shift to their second rush.
I’m also expecting a bunch of RPOs, where the OL can block for a run but Howell can pass based on how the defense responds. Either Howell will pull and throw immediately, or the OL will get a better look to run into.
Of course, this will somewhat limit the number of deep shots taken, but should lead to a more consistent offense. Also the playmakers they have at WR should enable them to still create explosive plays after the catch. When they do want to take their shots, I expect them to use play-action or keep TE John Bates in to help protect, using the RBs to chip etc.
DC Sports King
Earlier this week, top limited partner Mitchell Rales said the “ship has sailed” on the old name coming back. On Friday, Harris explained why he wanted to end the conversation now before the season started.
“Obviously, I grew up in D.C., and I was there during the glory years, so I understand why fans love the former name,” Harris said, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post. “But, look, there was a portion of our fan base that felt disrespected by the former name. Sports are supposed to bring people together and not be a distraction. I don’t want distractions.”
Instead, Harris wanted the focus to be on the Commanders players, winning, and the fan experience.
“I thought it was important that we end the conversation,” Harris continued.
If the Washington Commanders want to beat the Arizona Cardinals, they need two veteran contributors to make a lasting impression
Montez Sweat - Commanders DE
It seems as if Montez Sweat is set for a contract battle with Chase Young. Both are out of contract in 2024, so what better way to take advantage of a pretty nice situation in Week 1 if the former Ohio State standout cannot participate?
Sweat knows that making a statement early could have a more significant impact on how to set the tone for each game throughout the season. The Commanders’ defense has been pretty good for the last couple of seasons, and 2022 was one of their best, even without Young for the most part.
The first game of the season is always one that you want to make and put your stamp on things to set the tone. That bears more significance for players looking to get paid such as Sweat.
After seeing Daron Payne sign a new contract in the off-season, Sweat must show why he is the right choice for a new deal to stay in Washington. This is a game I expect the Commanders’ defense to fully dominate without Kyle Murray to scramble around, something this defense has had issues with.
Front Office Sports
“Out of all the leagues, the NFL is easier to step into because it’s literally impossible to f–k it badly enough to lose money,” a former sports executive told Front Office Sports. “But there are plenty of reasons why somebody may not succeed as owner.”
A look at the early reign of current Commanders owner Dan Snyder is a roadmap of what not to do as a new NFL owner.
- Almost immediately after his $800 million purchase was approved in 1999, Snyder forced out respected longtime GM Charley Casserly.
- Over the next 18 months, he fired head coach Norv Turner, installed Jeff George as QB, tossed millions at an aging Deion Sanders, and moved training camp to the team’s Northern Virginia headquarters — where he charged fans both a parking and entry fee.
- Owners were resistant to cold-weather Washington hosting the 2006 Super Bowl in an open-air stadium, but sources told FOS the bigger factor was Snyder’s forceful approach.
- In 2001, Snyder secured approval from Prince George’s County to ban pedestrians from accessing FedEx Field from outside parking lots that he didn’t own, which led to a class-action lawsuit and repeal in 2004.
Harris isn’t quite the recluse Snyder has been, but he also isn’t Jerry Jones, so it’s unlikely he’ll follow the front-and-center approach Steve Ballmer took in 2014 when he purchased the Los Angeles Clippers after the NBA exiled Donald Sterling.
“I do think that is one thing that helped,” a former NBA executive said. “You had a guy who was out there and was basically saying, ‘You can be a Clipper fan now. That guy is gone.’ That was important. If [the new Commanders ownership] doesn’t have that, it’s going to be hard to constantly remind people, ‘This is a new day.’”
And since we’re talking about a team near the nation’s capital, that means more than just interviews with sports reporters. The fact that Harris’ group will have more than a dozen limited partners, there will be options for outreach beyond Harris.
Industrial firm co-founder Mitchell Rales, former NBA great Magic Johnson, security firm exec Mark Ein, Colombian-American beer heir Alejandro Santo Domingo, rental property firm founder Mitchell Morgan, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt are the limited partners FOS has been able to confirm so far.
“Since this is D.C., you’re really going to need to do a round of media, both sports and political media,” a banker told FOS. “Then you’re going to have to do the rounds with politicians, especially in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.”
Harris is no doubt hoping one or more those three jurisdictions will be open to subsidizing a new stadium. But until it’s built, the Commanders — who will have the same name, players, and coaching staff — will have to build enthusiasm at their current home in Landover, Maryland.
Washington Post (paywall)
After simulating the Commanders’ season 1,000 times with point spreads available as of Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg projects the team’s floor as three wins and its ceiling as 11 wins. Washington, which is 24th in Mark Maske’s preseason power rankings, is most likely to win between seven and 10 games, according to the simulation. The franchise hasn’t won at least 10 games since 2012.
ESPN’s Football Power Index metric gives the Commanders a 5 percent chance to win the NFC East and an 18 percent chance to make the playoffs. Seth Walder boldly predicts that Jacoby Brissett will replace Sam Howell at quarterback by Week 7. “I’m worried about Howell’s high sack rates and sack-to-pressure rates in college and how that pairs with a weak Commanders interior offensive line,” he writes. John Keim says Washington’s ceiling is 10 wins, and its floor is five wins.
Washington Post (paywall)
0 career games called — combined
The Cardinals’ new offensive coordinator, Drew Petzing, and defensive coordinator, Nick Rallis, have called zero games throughout their careers.
Lacking tape, Washington’s coaches have dug into the coordinators’ backgrounds. Petzing came up in Minnesota and Cleveland under run-first play-callers who love wide-zone running schemes. The defense will probably resemble the scheme of head coach Jonathan Gannon, who for the past two years was the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator. Washington offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said it’s been funny to study his first opponent with the Commanders by re-watching the same tape he did before last year’s Super Bowl.
Bieniemy pointed out there’s a bit of uncertainty with Arizona’s defensive scheme. Gannon played two distinct styles in Philadelphia and in Minnesota, where he learned under former coach Mike Zimmer.
“Openers are always full of the unknown, and so there’ll be some un-scouted looks,” Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. “We’ll play fast to it; we’ll correct it on the sideline and move on.”
Podcasts & videos
"I'm still the point guard...it's just in a different arena"@MagicJohnson spent some time in-studio with the Command Center crew— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) September 8, 2023
Mina expects rough day for Cardinals’ QB vs. Commanders
Episode 652 - In-depth preview of #ARIvsWAS. Key comments from Eric Bieniemy & Jack Del Rio, Rhyming Keys for a #Commanders win & my game & season predictions.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) September 8, 2023
I also discuss Magic's shot at Dan, RGIII being back, #Nats/Strasburg, #Terps, #UVA & #Hokies.https://t.co/dM9VThOMxL
Terry McLaurin will play Sunday! https://t.co/1iCnbFI9nt— Commanders Wire (@Washington_Wire) September 9, 2023
NFC East links
Cowboys at Giants
Storyline to watch: Cowboys defenders DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons teed off on right tackle Evan Neal and the Giants’ offensive line last season, to the tune of five sacks in the two meetings. Neal altered his stance this offseason, and the Giants insist he has “improved.” Now he just needs to trust his technique in games; otherwise Lawrence and Parsons could derail New York’s chances of producing any offense. — Jordan Raanan
Bold prediction: The Cowboys’ priority in the offseason was to shore up the run defense, which led to the drafting of defensive tackle Mazi Smith in the first round. Seeing Giants running back Saquon Barkley in Week 1 will be a test. Barkley has more games with fewer than 51 yards rushing against Dallas (five) than 100-yard games (two), but he will tally more than 100 yards in this one and do so on 25-plus carries, as the Cowboys will make him work for it. — Todd Archer
Betting nugget: The Giants were 13-4 ATS last season (14-5 ATS including playoffs), the best mark in the NFL. They were 10-2 ATS as underdogs and 3-1 ATS as home underdogs (2-1-1 straight up).
Eagles at Patriots
Storyline to watch: The Eagles are coming off a season in which they totaled the third-most sacks in NFL history (70), and the Patriots’ biggest question mark is their offensive line. The Patriots’ line has managed injuries, illness and inconsistency throughout training camp to the point that the projected starting five hasn’t played a single snap together. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the Eagles’ D: “Their front is dominant, the best pass-rushing front in the league by quite a bit.” — Mike Reiss
Stat to know: New England quarterback Mac Jones’ 4.5 QBR when pressured last season was the worst among 31 qualified quarterbacks. The Eagles ranked first in pass rush win rate last season (52.7%), while the Patriots ranked 29th (32.9%).
Cardinals at Commanders
Storyline to watch: Washington’s defensive line is anchored by Pro Bowl tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne — who combined for 19 sacks last season. This group will face a Cardinals offensive line with an inexperienced center in Hjalte Froholdt, who has four career starts, and includes three new starters. If the Cardinals want any chance to win this game, they’ll have to somehow control this front — and do so with an inexperienced quarterback, regardless of whether it’s Joshua Dobbs or Clayton Tune. — John Keim
Stat to know: The Commanders haven’t lost a home game to the Cardinals since 1998, winning eight straight.
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
Cardinals at Commanders, 1 p.m. (Fox): Washington’s defense has gone an NFL record 509 regular season games without a shutout. The last was Sept. 30, 1991, when it recorded the third of three shutouts in a month, and Pro Football Reference notes there have been 226 regular season shutouts since then.
Cowboys at Giants, 8:15 p.m. (NBC): Trey Lance may or may not be waiting in the wings, but Dak Prescott has 10 consecutive victories over the Giants since losing to them twice as a rookie in 2016.