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Daily Slop - 13 Feb 24: Commanders add two more veteran coaches to defensive staff

A collection of articles, podcasts & tweets from around the web to keep you in touch with the Commanders, the NFC East and the NFL in general

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Commanders hire Ken Norton Jr. as linebacker coach

Per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, the Washington Commanders are hiring former Pro Bowl linebacker and veteran NFL assistant Ken Norton Jr. as their new linebackers coach.

Norton, 57, enjoyed a 13-year playing career that ended in 2000. He spent the first six seasons of his career with the Dallas Cowboys before signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994, where he played the remainder of his career.

Norton was a part of three Super Bowl champions, was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, a one-time first-team All-Pro and a one-time second-team All-Pro selection. Norton played 191 games with 188 starts, finishing with 1,272 tackles.

Commanders hire veteran NFL assistant John Pagano as senior defensive assistant

On Monday evening, Brent Allbright of KOA 850 AM in Denver reported that veteran NFL assistant John Pagano was heading to Washington.

When someone asked Allbright what role Pagano would serve, he said “probably” senior defensive assistant.

Pagano, 56, is the brother of former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. He began his coaching career in college in 1989, with his first NFL opportunity coming in 1996.

Pagano has a wealth of experience coaching multiple positions and as a two-time defensive coordinator. Per Allbright and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Pagano had multiple opportunities but chose Washington and Quinn.


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State of the Roster: Commanders Offense

Breaking down where things stand with the Commanders offense going into the offseason under a new coaching staff.

Tight Ends

Under Contract: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner, Armani Rogers

Free Agents: N/A

Analysis: The narrative about the Kingsbury offense is that it devalues the tight end position. In college, that was certainly true and it even held some truth in his first few years in the NFL. However, Kingsbury did grow and adapt as he spent more time in the league and ended up leaning more and more into multiple tight end sets. The personnel in Washington may well dictate using more receivers than tight ends, but the personnel can change very quickly in an offseason.

After a few rough years battling injuries, Logan Thomas had a solid but unspectacular season as the team’s top tight end. As the top receiving tight end on this roster, it could make some sense to retain him but not at his current cap hit. He’s set to cost $8.2million against the cap this year, when the team could cut him at a very cost effective rate. If the team cuts Thomas, he would cost just $1.75million in dead cap space, but would free up $6.45million to spend elsewhere. Thomas is still a solid football player and by all accounts, he’s a good leader and veteran presence in the locker room, but for a team starting fresh with a new owner, general manager and head coach, it doesn’t make sense to keep Thomas at his current price. Cutting and re-signing at a later date could well be an option, but I’d be surprised if he’s retained on his current deal.

Behind Thomas, Bates had a strong year as a blocking tight end with a few flashes of catching ability, but his best role is still suited to being the second tight end that’s more of a blocker than receiver. Cole Turner rarely saw the field this season, which makes it two years running where he’s a standout in training camp and then hardly plays during the season. That’s not a great sign for his development, but there is still talent in there and on a cheap rookie contract I suspect he’ll get a chance to prove himself in this system. But having an opportunity to prove yourself and taking charge of the top tight end role are two very different things.

In my eyes, I think the Commanders will likely cut Thomas, which will create a need at the position that Bates nor Turner will be ready to fill. How they go about filling that need will be interesting. Peters’ first thought will most likely be to the draft, where he has a good history with finding tight ends. But just because he’s helped identify talent at that position doesn’t mean there will be another George Kittle for him to find in the fifth round. So I think he’ll end up having to dip into the free agent market for a tight end, possibly alongside looking to draft one.

However, the free agent tight end market isn’t necessarily the most inspiring. Dalton Schultz is probably the top tight end available but after the success he had in Houston last year with C.J. Stroud throwing him the ball, I’d be shocked if he didn’t return there. Hunter Henry and Gerald Everett are both solid tight ends that never fully reached their potential, but perhaps could do the job in Washington for a year. Mike Gesicki was once one of the best receiving tight ends in the league, but he was always more of a big slot receiver than a tight end. In theory, this offense could suit him better than most, but he is a liability as a blocker. Noah Fant is probably the most intriguing name on the free agent market. He hasn’t quite lived up to his potential coming out of college either, but at 26 he’s still young enough to improve and fulfill some of that untapped potential.

Offensive Line

Under Contract: Charles Leno, Chris Paul, Nick Gates, Sam Cosmi, Andrew Wylie, Ricky Stromberg, Trent Scott, Braedon Daniels

Free Agents: Saahdiq Charles, Tyler Larsen, Cornelius Lucas

Analysis: This is the unit that has the potential for the biggest overhaul this offseason, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the changes aren’t quite as drastic as many fans think they should be. It’s no secret that this offensive line wasn’t put in good positions last year thanks to Bieniemy looking to pass the ball so frequently. He didn’t give them much of an opportunity to lean on the run game, which they were actually good at, and rarely used play-action to help slow down the pass rush. It meant that opposing teams could simply tee off on rushing the passer without having to respect the threat of the run, which makes life so much harder on the offensive line.

I also think the group is better than most fans give them credit for. Was it a top 10 unit? Of course not. But was it some historically bad shambles of an offensive line that many fans would have you believe? No. The truth is they were probably about middle of the pack as a collective, despite the lack of help from Bieniemy. The sack number was large, for sure, but a lot of that was down to Howell failing to get rid of the ball as opposed to the offensive line being terrible. Generally speaking, they were good enough as a unit for the quarterback to deliver the ball on time and in rhythm, but they struggled to maintain blocks any longer than that. The issue came with pairing that type of a line with a young quarterback with a tendency to hold the ball like Sam Howell. We saw when Brissett played just how much smoother the entire offense ran because the ball was coming out on time. So yes, the unit needs an influx of talent and youth, but I don’t agree with the idea that they need four or five new starters.

Charles Leno is a name that fans love to hate on but he’s actually a solid left tackle. This fanbase has been blessed with going from Chris Samuel to Trent Williams, two franchise left tackles that held down the position strongly for decades. Leno is not at their level, but he’s still a solid and reliable player at the position. Now if Washington could land a top left tackle talent in the draft, you wouldn’t turn it down because Leno is on the roster, but because he’s there, they don’t necessarily need to prioritize left tackle specifically this offseason, at least in my eyes.


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Command Center: Kliff Kingsbury and Joe Whitt Jr.: WELCOME to DC | Podcast | Washington Commanders



SNIDER: When is the Commanders’ turn?


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Ex-Giants OL coach Bobby Johnson landing a job with an NFC East rival is comical

Johnson will now be facing the G-Men twice a year

Did the Commanders not watch a single NY Giants game last season? Heck, they got an up-and-close look at how bad the team’s offensive line looked twice in 2023, but that still hasn’t stopped them from making a head-scratching decision. That decision? Hiring Bobby Johnson, per Tom Pelissero.

The day after New York’s season-ending win over the Philadelphia Eagles, head man Brian Daboll didn’t waste any time in firing the veteran assistant. The move was a long time coming, as the NY O-line was a joke in 2023. Now, though, Johnson is headed to an NFC East rival.

This past campaign, Giants quarterbacks were sacked 85 times, the second-most in a single season in NFL history. While we don’t want to fully put the blame on Johnson for that, we’ll go ahead and say he was at least 85 percent at fault, maybe even more.


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Kyle Shanahan blew it by taking the ball first in overtime. Or did he?

Shanahan’s decision came down to one premise: “We just wanted the ball third,” he said. If the 49ers and Chiefs ended their possessions with the same result, the 49ers would receive the powerful advantage of winning the game with a score. Essentially, Shanahan gave the 49ers the possibility for an extra possession.

“None of us have a ton of experience of it, but we went through all the analytics and talked with those guys, and we just thought it would be better,” Shanahan said. “We got that field goal, so we knew we had to hold them to at least a field goal. And if we did, then we thought it was in our hands after that.”

On the other sideline, Coach Andy Reid had told the referee what the Chiefs would have done if they had won the toss: They would have kicked off. Reid had come to that conclusion based on the work of Kansas City statistical analysis coordinator Mike Frazier. The Chiefs believed the certainty of the second possession, knowing how many points would be required, outweighed the advantage of a theoretical third.

The analytics departments of the two best teams in the NFL had come to disparate conclusions. In a nod to how close the call is, Reid consulted Patrick Mahomes at the last minute to make sure he still approved kicking off if the Chiefs won the toss.

“It can go either way,” Reid said. “But the one thing it does, it gives you an opportunity to see what you got to do.”

In practice, “getting the ball third” does hand the opponent some advantages. Any score by the 49ers guaranteed the Chiefs would never punt and would use four downs if needed. When Mahomes is the opposing quarterback, that’s a considerable defensive challenge. The Chiefs faced fourth and one at their 34-yard line. Had they faced that down and distance on the opening possession of overtime, they might have punted. Needing a first down to stay alive, the Chiefs converted on Mahomes’s zone-read keeper.

The third possession is not guaranteed to materialize. If the 49ers had scored a touchdown, the Chiefs would have had to match for the third possession to matter. But if the Chiefs scored in that scenario, logic would have dictated attempting a two-point conversion, roughly a 50-50 chance and thus a better proposition than trying to prevent a field goal with a tired defense.

football analyst and Athletic contributor Ben Baldwin said. The more likely it is that both teams score touchdowns, the more likely it is that the team that gets the ball second will go for two and negate the third-possession edge.

“Given all this — SF’s offense is very good, Chiefs have Mahomes, both defenses might be tired — I’d probably lean towards receiving but don’t feel super strongly about it,” Baldwin said in an email. “… I don’t think there’s an obvious answer, and you definitely don’t need to do the same thing every time. Although if I were forced to make a choice, I would have taken the ball second (this is also easy to say after the fact!).”


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