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Daily Slop - 8 Feb 24: Kamren Curl tops list of pending free agents that Commanders may want to re-sign

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Arizona Cardinals v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

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The Athletic (paywall)

Ranking Commanders’ top free agents: Will Kam Curl, Curtis Samuel be re-signed?

There’s a reason the Washington Commanders enter the offseason with a league-high $73.6 million in salary-cap space.

Besides Daron Payne’s hefty extension, the team curtailed adding payroll for the 2023 season — and beyond — amid the franchise sale. Nothing changed after the Josh Harris ownership group took over other than trading pending free-agent defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young. That approach created a significant opportunity for the Harris regime to shape the roster as desired.

Beyond the cap space, Washington has nine selections in the 2024 NFL Draft, including the No. 2 pick and six in the top 102. No doubt some of those assets are earmarked for immediate help, but don’t sleep on some of the team’s 20-plus free agents returning.

1. Kamren Curl, S

Curl, one of the team’s 2020 seventh-round picks, provided the erratic secondary with a steady presence over the past four seasons. The versatile defender played several spots before finding a home at free safety, and he’s a factor against the run and in coverage.

This would be the player if Washington uses the franchise tag this offseason: a $17.2 million annual salary, per Over the Cap’s projections.

2. James Smith-Williams, DE

This ranking is high for a player with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss in four seasons. Don’t view Smith-Williams, the other 2020 seventh-round choice on this list, as the Sweat-Young replacement. Instead, remember that with an injured Young out for most of the 2022 season, Smith-Williams started 14 games and was stout against the run.

3. Curtis Samuel, WR

It’s a tricky one here. Samuel became a valued offensive chess piece in the past two seasons with 126 receptions and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. There will always be a fear of this sports car version of a receiver needing maintenance, but he has missed only one game since his injury-plagued 2021 campaign. Samuel’s speed and quickness would be dangerous in Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme that Quinn says will “stretch the field horizontally and vertically.”


Burgundy & Gold Report

The Quinn Hire Bodes Well for Curl | Washington Commanders

Although Washington’s defense is a work in progress, Commander’s free agent strong safety Kamren Curl seems to fit the mold that Quinn covets

During his introductory press conference, Quinn was asked what he looks for when building a defense and had the following to say.

“The competitive dog that’s not gonna back down.”

Curl is not only the unquestioned leader of Washington’s defensive backfield, on multiple occasions he wore the green dot which is usually reserved for the MIKE linebacker.

Franchise tagging Curl seems like a...feasible scenario if they can’t immediately agree to terms. The move would keep him off the market and hopefully a LTD could get inked before the start of the season

The new defensive scheme is expected to be predicated on aggressiveness and forcing turnovers. It remains to be seen if Quinn and his staff can build anything resembling the Legion of Boom, but bringing back Curl would be a great start.


Commanders.com

Five things to know about Commanders defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr.

1. His cornerbacks know how to force turnovers.

The Commanders have stressed the importance of creating turnovers for the past three seasons. For all the attention paid to getting more takeaways, the team hasn’t done much of it outside of the 2020 season. They’ve ranked near the bottom since 2021, and the 18 they forced in 2023 was tied for the sixth fewest in the NFL.

Having Whitt on the staff should help fix that, because there haven’t been many teams better than the Cowboys at taking the ball away.

In the time that Whitt was on the Cowboys’ staff, their defense forced 93 turnovers and led the league in the category in 2021 and 2022. Much of that has come from interceptions; Whitt’s secondary has been in the top 10 in each of the last three seasons.

Also, a Cowboys cornerback led the NFL in interceptions in two of the past three years. Trevon Diggs was the first to do it in 2021, leading the NFL with 11 interceptions and tied a franchise record while also earning his first Pro Bowl honors. Diggs was also named First Team All Pro as voted on by the Associated Press.

In 2023, DaRon Bland took on a bigger role in the secondary, starting in 15 of 17 games and grabbing nine interceptions, five of which were returned for touchdowns, setting an NFL single-season record.

Conversely, Washington has struggled to grab interceptions since the 2022 season, getting just 17 in 34 games. Perhaps Whitt has the key to figure out Washington’s struggles.


Last Word on Sports

The Washington Commanders tight end room needs an upgrade. Here are four players for new GM Adam Peters to target this offseason.

The entire Commanders tight end room combined for 85 catches, 767 yards, and four touchdowns in 2023. For reference, Lions rookie Sam LaPorta produced 86 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season on his own. 32-year-old Logan Thomas led the group in every statistical category but carries a steep $8.3 million cap hit in 2024. And with only $1.75 million in dead cap, it’s hard to imagine Thomas returning for a fifth season in D.C.

The remainder of the depth chart is inexpensive and worth the investment for next season.

Four Commanders Tight End Targets

Noah Fant, Free Agent

The Denver Broncos drafted Noah Fant with the 20th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. After three seasons with the Broncos, including two with over 60 receptions and 670 yards, Denver traded Fant to the Seattle Seahawks as part of the hefty package for Russell Wilson. Unfortunately, Seattle is probably the least favorable tight end destination in the league. The Pete Carroll regime infamously utilized at least two tight ends on the field at the same time, limiting any individual player’s upside.

The hyper-athletic Fant is still only 26 years old and is coming off of his least productive statistical season, which could allow the Commanders to secure him at a discount. Fellow first-round tight ends Evan Engram, David Njoku, and T.J. Hockenson have come alive after signing their second contracts. Fant could be next in line.

Ja’Tavion Sanders, Draft

Texas Longhorns junior Ja’Tavion Sanders currently projects as a second-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Washington will likely miss out on the top tight end in the country, Brock Bowers, but holds two second-round picks and two third-rounders. The team is likely to target an offensive weapon with one of those four picks. Sanders was a five-star recruit out of high school and produced two seasons with at least 45 receptions and 600 yards. He ran a 4.56 40-yard dash in high school and combines game-breaking speed with phenomenal ball skills.

At 6’4″ 256 lbs, Sanders has adequate size but won’t be a bruiser in the run game. That won’t be a problem, as he could defer that role to John Bates and focus on the receiving game to start his career. Assuming the Commanders draft a rookie quarterback with the #2 pick, Sanders could be the perfect complement to grow with.


Commanders.com

Commanders 2023 season review | Quarterback

Questions to answer

— What to do with the No. 2 overall pick? It’s the biggest question the Commanders need to answer this offseason. Howell showed some promise as the starter in his second season, but with the team in position to possibly get a franchise player with second pick in the draft, resetting at quarterback is an option it must consider. Caleb Williams is considered the best prospect, although he’s expected to be taken by the Chicago Bears, assuming they don’t trade out of the No. 1 overall pick. However, this is also considered a deep class with players like Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels and Bo Nix all projected to be first-round picks. If Peters and Quinn do decide to take a quarterback, they’ll spend the next few months weighing the advantages that each signal-caller presents.

— Do the Commanders keep Jacoby Brissett? Brissett didn’t start in a game last season but did prove that he can still be a quality player, helping the Commanders nearly pull off comebacks against the Rams and Jets. Brissett’s best value is the mentorship he provided to Howell as he navigated his first season as a starter in the NFL. Perhaps it would make sense to keep Brissett on the roster, especially if the Commanders decide to draft a quarterback, to help guide the position.


Riggo’s Rag

Adam Schefter skeptical about Commanders drafting Caleb Williams

Williams would likely jump at the chance to lead his boyhood team back to prominence. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the consensus around the NFL centers on the Bears taking the Heisman Trophy winner based on comments via Yahoo Sports.

“There are a few issues with this. Number one, are the Bears going to be willing to move on from taking Caleb Williams, which I believe seems to be the widespread consensus around the league: that Caleb Williams will be the No. 1 pick. And if they are willing to move on from him, then [the Bears] have to like either Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels enough — or Justin Fields. But again, the feeling around the league seems to be that they’ll wind up trading Justin. Whether or not they do, we’ll see, but that seems to be the feeling.”

- Adam Schefter via Yahoo Sports

If the Ben Johnson saga taught us anything, it’s that nobody is more connected than Schefter. He was on his own in stating that the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator going to the Commanders wasn’t the done deal many envisaged. As it turned out, he was spot-on in his assessment of the situation.

Schefter pouring cold water on anyone but the Bears getting a chance to draft Williams holds a ton of weight. Of course, nothing is set in stone just yet. It’s a fast-moving situation with many layers attached. There are plenty of twists and turns to come thanks to upcoming pre-draft assessment events such as the NFL Scouting Combine.


Commanders Wire

Cowboys deny Commanders permission to interview TE coach Lunda Wells

On Wednesday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network revealed that the Commanders requested permission to speak to Cowboys tight ends coach Lunda Wells. However, Dallas denied the request.

As Rapoport noted, Wells, 40, would be interviewing to be Washington’s offensive line coach. Wells has been with Dallas since 2020 and helped develop tight ends Dalton Schultz and Jake Ferguson. Before coming to Dallas, Wells spent eight seasons with the Giants, beginning as an offensive assistant, then moving to assistant offensive line coach, before finishing his time in New York as the Giants’ tight ends coach.

Dallas blocking Washington’s request means Wells is under contract for at least one more season. If the Commanders want Wells badly enough, they would need to offer him a promotion, such as attaching an assistant head coach/associate head coach title to the offer.

Wells is the first known candidate [requested for] interview for Washington’s offensive line coaching position.

Blogging the Boys

Cowboys block Commanders from interviewing Lunda Wells

Cowboys deny division rival interview with TE coach

While there are rules in place to prevent teams from blocking interviews for assistants in search of coordinator jobs, there are no restrictions in blocking them for interviewing as position coaches. Because this was not a coordinator position, the Cowboys blocked Washington’s request to speak with Wells.

The tight end position has flourished since Wells arrived with the Cowboys in 2020. Jake Ferguson is a budding star at the position and set a career-high with 71 receptions, 761 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. The team also drafted Luke Schoonmaker in the second round of last year’s draft, and keeping a consistent voice in his ear to expedite his development is paramount. Let’s not forget how quickly undrafted free agent John Stephens transitioned from college wide receiver to NFL tight end. Stephens was making progress and might have made the team if not for an injury over the summer. The Cowboys keeping Wells in the Metroplex speaks volumes of what they think of him and how vital he is to the growth of the tight ends on the team.


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Bleeding Green Nation

New Eagles coordinators put new pressure on Nick Sirianni

No excuses, just execution

The 2024 coaching cycle is essentially complete. The Commanders got last choice of head coaches, the Seahawks are going through last choice of offensive coordinators, and the Cowboys are going through last choice of defensive coordinators. The Eagles and Nick Sirianni, their Chief Executive Football Coaching Officer, filled their C-suite positions relatively early. Kellen Moore is the new offensive coordinator, and Vic Fangio returns to the Eagles as the defensive coordinator. Whoever made the final decision to hire them, they are as good of a hire as the Eagles could make.

Nick Sirianni should enter the 2024 season under pressure. It’s only fair. There are absolutely no excuses this year from a coaching standpoint. Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio have more experience in their current jobs than Sirianni does in his. Moore and Fangio are as strong a hire as the team could make. There will be early season bumps as the coaches learn their players, as there is for every new coach on every team. But there won’t be any learning on the job. If this team fails to have a successful season, which at the very least has to be making the second round of the playoffs, changes are going to come.

The same goes for the players. The Eagles roster is pretty locked in for 2024, but 2025 has a lot of moving parts.

Another disappointing season and everything should be on the table.


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Front Office Sports

Welcome to the Great Rebundling

Streaming has arguably never looked more like the traditional cable bundle, thanks to a landmark deal between three media titans.

Disney-owned ESPN, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox Corp.—normally fierce competitors across the media landscape—are teaming up on a shared, multisport streaming service that will bring together content from 14 linear networks owned by the three companies, as well as ESPN+, and feature live sports involving nearly every major North American pro and college sports property, and international competitions such as the World Cup, golf and tennis majors, and Formula One.

The move represents one of the most dramatic steps to date in response to cord cutting that continues to batter the industry, with fewer than half of U.S. households now subscribing to traditional cable TV, and subscription fatigue increasingly afflicting streaming. It’s also a further recognition of how important live sports are to the entire media business. Just as live sports dominate linear television, other streaming networks such as Netflix are increasingly leaning into sports to attract and retain consumers, and a Netflix-ESPN+ bundle was recently suggested by an activist Disney investor.

Disney CEO Bob Iger called the effort with WBD and Fox no less than “a major win for sports fans, and an important step forward for the media business.”

But the step still leaves many more questions than answers, most notably: Why now, particularly given both Disney and WBD are potentially nearing major equity transactions that would fundamentally reshape their sports operations?

“There is no product serving sports fans that are not within the cable TV bundle,” said Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch early Wednesday during a company earnings call, referencing “cord-nevers” that are a fundamental target of the new venture. “There’s tens of millions of them. This is a very large market and a large opportunity that we can address without undermining the traditional bundle.”


Front Office Sports

Loophole Located: NFL Always Finding New Spots on the Calendar

After the 2023 season featured the establishment of Black Friday as a new day on the league calendar, a bulked-up Christmas lineup to great ratings success, and even an unintentional shift of a playoff game to the afternoon of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the opening week of the ’24 season will include the NFL’s first regular-season game in Brazil on Friday, Sept. 6, involving the Philadelphia Eagles (as the designated team).

The league’s intent to play in Brazil had been previously announced, and the South American trip represents another step in the NFL’s growing international ambitions. But the inclusion of the Eagles and specific placement of the game on a Friday—a day after the season-opening game involving the Super Bowl LVIII winner—is new.

“It’s an unusual approach, and different than we’ve ever done,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during his Super Bowl state-of-the-league press conference. “We think this is giving us an ability to access more fans not just in [the U.S.], but on a global basis.”

The NFL has traditionally avoided playing on Fridays and Saturdays during the high school and college football regular seasons, in keeping with terms of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. That long-standing rule explains why Saturday NFL games do not appear on the schedule until mid-December each year, and the Black Friday game also worked around the statute by starting at 3 p.m., ahead of a prohibition of airing “all or a substantial part” of pro football games on Fridays after 6 p.m.

The applicable window of that federal act, however, begins with the second Friday of September each year, extending to the second Saturday in December. The Brazil game is situated in front of that, and now it sets up a blockbuster opening week of the upcoming NFL season that will include prime-time games on Sept. 5, 6, 8, and 9. Aiding the effort is the early placement of Labor Day, falling on Sept. 2 this year, which means the NFL’s opening week and the first Friday of September will coincide for the first time since 2019.