4. An evaluation of the rookie class.
Washington’s rookie class needed time to put together more consistent results. It wasn’t until roster spots freed up, plus the team being eliminated from the playoffs, that some of them got significant playing time. They still have a lot of work to do, but multiple showed growth in the final three games and provided examples as to why they should be part of the team’s future.
Things were rough for Emmanuel Forbes Jr. to start the year. We don’t need to go over all the details again, but a lack of ability to stand up against some of the league’s top receivers, which allowed several explosive plays that gashed the defense and led to him being benched in Week 6. Things were much better for Forbes after that, allowing a combined 235 yards in his final nine appearances. He did allow two touchdowns against the 49ers and Cowboys, but both were caused by scramble drills and receivers running unscripted route through chaos in the end zone to score.
KJ Henry had a quiet training camp, leaving many to believe that he needed more time to turn into a serviceable backup, never mind a decent starter. After being inactive from Weeks 2-8, Henry showed more of what coaches hoped he would be with 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits.
Perhaps the most productive player among the Commanders’ rookies was Chris Rodriguez Jr. Though he only received 51 carries all season, Rodriguez made the most of his opportunities and rushed for 247 yards — almost five yards per carry — and scored two touchdowns. With Antonio Gibson set to hit free agency, there is a chance for him to get even more carries in his second season.
There’s also Quan Martin, whose usage increased once Del Rio was let go. Martin was praised for his versatility in college, and the team finally found a way to get the most out of that after Thanksgiving. He ended the season tying Kendall Fuller for the most interceptions on the team and recording 46 tackles with four pass breakups.
Even with the production later in the season, it’s clear that most of the Commanders’ 2023 draft class needs more time to develop. However, the fact that they improved with more snaps over time does create some encouragement for their future.
Biggest offseason priority: Revamping the front office and coaching staff is obviously the first thing on the list. New owner Josh Harris decided to move on from coach Ron Rivera’s tenure; Rivera had final say in all football decisions and hired the front office, but Harris is hiring 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters as the team’s new general manager. He bought the team in July and needs to reenergize the organization — and then settle on a quarterback. Sam Howell threw 21 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions in 2023.
Under-the-radar offseason priority: To help the quarterback, the Commanders have to address the offensive line. Washington allowed 65 sacks, a byproduct of scheme, protection and a young QB. The Commanders will possibly have at least one new tackle, center and guard. Right guard Sam Cosmi, though, was excellent. — John Keim
Latest on whether they will re-sign quarterback Jacoby Brissett: With big changes to the coaching staff and likely front office in Washington, and Brissett, 31, having shown well in a fill-in role the past two seasons in Cleveland and Washington, he could be looking for a chance to start somewhere else. — Graziano
Draft outlook: As John mentioned, the offensive line likely needs multiple new starters. The biggest offseason question surrounds Howell, though. With a new regime entering the franchise, selecting a new signal-caller early in the draft remains a possibility. Caleb Williams (USC) is likely to be selected first, but the Commanders could have a choice between Drake Maye (North Carolina) and Jayden Daniels (LSU). — Reid
How will Adam Peters go about his business?
Peters has a wealth of draft assets at his disposal this spring. The Commanders also have the league’s most available salary-cap space, which could increase further once contract restructures and early cuts arise.
One only has to look at the Houston Texans as a model of what can be achieved with correct choices across the board. This was a team destined for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft before Lovie Smith’s final-day win. One year later, they are in the playoff divisional round following a wildcard weekend demolition over the Cleveland Browns.
There’s no doubt Peters has done his homework. He knows what more is needed. He’ll know Washington’s roster strengths and weaknesses. He’ll know how to firmly establish a chain of command and put his innovative ideas into motion.
This is the home-run hire Harris wanted. Peters’ credentials are there for all to see. He’s only going to get better with full personnel control. Judging by perceptions in league circles, the Commanders could be on the up after a generation languishing among the NFL’s also-rans.
It’s a definite option Josh Harris and his team should consider...
There’s a mystical bridge one must cross to get from coordinator to head coach. It can be almost impossible to tell whether a given candidate has the right ingredients to make the journey.
I realize this is radical thinking in 2024, but maybe teams shouldn’t be looking for that genius. Maybe they should just be looking for the most competent manager they can find. That’s why, in the great rush to snap up Johnson before anyone else can, I hope the Commanders will give serious thought to both announced candidates who have served under Harbaugh in Baltimore.
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and associate head coach Anthony Weaver.
What a game-managing coach does is push the proper buttons. He makes the percentage decision most of the time and perhaps goes off-script every once in a while when he has a particular hunch. What he doesn’t do is call attention to himself.
When was the last time Harbaugh - a Super Bowl winner with a career win rate of 62 percent - made headlines? Whereas geniuses seem primarily intent on showing everyone how much smarter they are than everyone else - can you say Brandon Staley?
Game managers just do the smart thing. They prepare. They motivate. They execute. Then they do it all over again next week. They don’t have play sheets that require a team of sherpas to haul around on the sidelines. They don’t run swinging gate plays - ever.
The Washington Commanders are observers this postseason but some of those playing the games could head this way in the offseason.
HOUSTON TEXANS: DALTON SCHULTZ, TIGHT END
The Texans beat the proverbial brakes off the Browns 45-14 to punch their ticket to the Divisional Round.
Tight end Dalton Schultz signed a one-year deal with Houston for this season and in his first playoff game with the team brought in just one reception, but it was a 37-yard touchdown that expanded his team’s lead to 10 points at the time.
In the regular season, Schultz collected 59 receptions, 635 yards, and five touchdowns and is projected to earn around $11 million per year on his next contract according to Spotrac.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: ZA’DARIUS SMITH, EDGE
While the Texans ride into the Divisional Round Cleveland saw its fairytale ride with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco come to a disappointing end and will look to next year with Deshaun Watson back healthy again.
While the Commanders rebuild their roster they can’t do it with rookies across the board and a few well-placed veterans would provide a boost to the process.
Smith will be older than most, but would bring the proven ability to produce and leadership that comes with experience into the locker room.
Additionally, if Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald gets the head coaching job in Washington he and Smith have familiarity which could significantly improve the pass rusher’s ability to make an impact in 2024.
Burgundy & Gold Report
5’10” 192 lbs | CB | MICH
Draft Proj 3rd Rd
Career Stats (62 games)-108 TAK (70 solo), 10.5 TFLs, 3 SACKS, 7 INTs, 13 PD & 2 FF
‘23 Stats (15 games)- 44 TAK (26 solo), 4.0 TFLs, 1 SACK, 6 INTs, 6 PD & 2 FF
Sainristil played in all 13 games in ‘22 (623 snaps. On the season, he recorded 43 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 8 QB pressures and 2 sacks with a QB rating of 91.4 when targeted. He saw time at outside corner, nickleback and even safety.
Although Sainristil showed a lot of promise in his first full season at cornerback in ‘22, 2023 would be a breakout season for the former 4-star recruit.
The Wolverines cornerback was active in all 13 games (551 snaps) recording 19 tackles, 10 QB pressures, 2 sacks, 6 pass breakups, 6 interceptions and a QB rating of 66.6 when targeted.
Although Sainristil had a breakout ‘23 season with a career high 6 interceptions, his limited production on defense prior to 2022 will lead some to question if he’s a one hit wonder or a prospect just starting to hit his stride.
As it stands the Wolverines corner is firmly positioned with a 3rd round grade. On the next level he’ll be limited to covering the slot, despite seeing time on the outside as well.
A great week at the Senior Bowl and productive NFL Combine could lead to a a draft day rise for Sainristil.
Last Word on Sports
Jayden Daniels is officially eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft. After a Heisman winning season, what is his scouting report?
Best Team Fits: Washington Commanders, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, any team without a franchise quarterback
Bottom Line on Jayden Daniels
Daniels is lightning in a bottle with the ability to invigorate an organization overnight. His playstyle is such that the team can keep their offense above water with designed runs and read option packages, but can launch into perennial contenders if they get Daniels some weapons. After a year of hearing about how this could be a two man race at the top of the quarterback rankings, Daniels has every argument to be the most successful quarterback from this draft. If his name is called for your favorite team in April, rejoice.
The hard part is saying goodbye. Michigan just completed the greatest season in school history, going 15-0 and winning their first outright National Championship in decades. Michigan came into this season with the most experienced roster in all of college football, and now that the season is over, it’s tough seeing all these players we’ve grown accustomed to announce that they’re moving onto the NFL. The one that people are wondering about is quarterback JJ McCarthy. This upcoming draft class is rich with quarterbacks, and while there will definitely be a spot for JJ in the NFL, some people wondered whether or not he’d come back for one more round. He will not be back in Michigan next year. J.J. McCarthy is going pro, and as much of a hit as that is for Michigan’s roster next year, it’s hard not to be grateful. ￼
Michigan lucked out with JJ. McCarthy. This program was in shambles during the COVID year, and many people were just waiting for him to announce his de-commitment from Michigan. He was never going anywhere. Jim Harbaugh found the one quarterback who was hell-bent on being his quarterback. Three years later, J.J. McCarthy leaves Ann Arbor with a 27-and-1 record as a starting quarterback. His numbers in the National Championship were relatively pedestrian, though his moment came in the Rose Bowl when he was the best player on the field. He went undefeated against Ohio State as well. He is not solely responsible for Michigan’s success over the last three years, but it’s not a coincidence that this program changed the second he stepped on campus. There is an aura to greatness that extends beyond just the stat sheet.
Podcasts & videos
New Era in Washington | The Gameplan | Washington Commanders
BREAKING— The Podfather (@TheBurgundyZone) January 14, 2024
New #BurgundyZone episode “Peters Plan” featuring @CoachManella & @StreetScoresATL is out now!!
~ QBs in the Draft
~ Trade Back?
~ Free Agent Targets #HTTC @TBZmoneymike301 @mikereed2156 https://t.co/r7Byh9qaGu via @YouTube
NFC East links
The Cowboys became the first No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 7 seed on Sunday, marking their second home loss in the wild-card round in the last three years
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked about McCarthy’s future postgame but said he hadn’t even thought about what’s next for the team.
“I haven’t thought one second about it,” Jones told reporters of McCarthy’s future, via ProFootballTalk. “My whole thought process was getting ready for a playoff game here next week. I am amazed to be sitting where we are right now.”
Jones added that Sunday’s loss “seems like the most painful” playoff defeat since he purchased the team in 1989.
McCarthy, 60, has one year remaining on his contract with Dallas. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Sunday that, throughout the season, sources believed McCarthy would be judged on how Dallas’ final game of the season went.
That could spell bad news for McCarthy’s prospects of making it to Year 5 as Cowboys coach. While Dallas is 36-15 with two division titles over the last three regular seasons, two of those campaigns have now ended with a home loss in the wild-card round.
Blogging the Boys
It is unbelievable to think that the Cowboys season is over
One question that looms large is the future surrounding Dak Prescott. Prescott will likely be an MVP-finalist this season, having his best regular season of his career. However, Prescott has continued to fuel the narrative that he doesn’t have what it takes to win in the playoffs. Prescott has just one year remaining on his contract, but as it stands right now, he is set to carry a $59.5 million cap hit in 2024. It had been widely reported that the team would look to extend Prescott this offseason, alleviating his cap hit in 2024 and keeping him in Dallas for more years. With that being said, many fans will argue it is time to move on from Prescott, as he has proven he is not the guy to take the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.
After a loss of this magnitude, it’s understandable to want the team to ‘clean house’. However, the Cowboys had nine players make the AP All-Pro team and still have one of the better rosters in the NFL. The Cowboys currently have a plethora of upcoming players hitting free agency. This list includes RB Tony Pollard, CB Stephon Gilmore, C Tyler Biadsz, S Jayron Kearse, and LT Tyron Smith.
Blogging the Boys
Dallas embarrassed themselves on Sunday and we have a lot of thoughts about it
No team in the NFC had more penalties than the Cowboys this season. That’s not what you would expect from the team that held the two-seed in the conference. True to form, they were out there making mistakes. A defensive hold negated a sack on the Packers’ opening drive. A neutral zone infraction created a third-and-short near the goal line on that same drive. They got called for interference on a punt, and they couldn’t even run a two-point conversion without getting flagged for two penalties on the same play. It’s frustrating to always be subjected to this type of disadvantage.
NFL league links
Get ready to fork over some dough for NFL games, if you haven’t already
NBC decided to broadcast Saturday’s wild card matchup featuring Kansas City and Miami exclusively on their streaming channel Peacock. This was the first time an NFL playoff game was televised in such a way and, if you’re like most folks, you weren’t too thrilled about it. It sucked for millions, but you might as well get used to it. Saturday night’s game, which could only be seen on Peacock, was just the beginning of networks gouging fans for access to big games.
We’ve already been “primed” for this transition having Thursday Night Football exclusively on Amazon Prime. Regular season games are one thing, but forcing people to pay extra to watch select postseason games is greedy — especially when you’re a major network and already broadcasts games. They’re running a business, understandable, but this was a money grab.
Many streaming channels will offer a free trial of a few days up to a few weeks before you actually have to pay anything. Not this time. If you didn’t already have Peacock or know somebody (among other ways that will remain unnamed) who did you had to sign up or miss out. Don’t be surprised if next year we see multiple games only broadcast on a network’s streaming service.
This is the world we live in, and it’s only going to get worse.