Washington Commanders Free Agency Guide


Washington’s commanders are used to turnovers. In 2020, the team overhauled almost the entire coaching staff. A year later, he reconfigured the front office. Quarterbacks have cycled in and out, the secondary has changed multiple times and the system has undergone tweaks.

As Washington continues to look to improve, it may face its biggest transition yet with not only a new offensive scheme, but also a new ownership prospect. The changes will have long-term implications, but the Chiefs’ immediate future still rests with Ron Rivera and his staff, who will lead the team through free agency.

The NFL’s opt-out period, when free agents can agree to deals with new teams, begins March 13 at noon ET. Players can sign these agreements on March 15 at 4:00 p.m.

Washington released quarterback Carson Wentz and safety Bobby McCain last month to free up salary cap space, but the heavy lifting is still ahead. Here’s what to expect.

Will potential sales affect costs?

Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew say it’s business as usual. Rivera, who went through a similar situation in 2018 after Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson put the team up for sale, remembers the attitude.

“I’ve had a lot of support for what I want to do from the property,” Rivera said at the combine. “… We put our plan together; i met [ownership], I told them exactly what we were doing, and they were very supportive and said, “Go out and do what you have to do.” »

How many pay rooms are there in Washington?

Washington has about $16 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com and Spotrac.com. (Only a team’s top 51 contracts count against the offseason cap.) The team gained a lot of cap space by releasing Wentz ($26.2 million), but spent some of it on franchise defensive end Daron Payne ($18.9 million).

What positions might commanders target?

Washington has needs all over the roster, but adding its core and offensive line may be the focus. Injuries have caused problems at both positions, and the market for veterans is deep.

Washington could follow a recent history of securing second-tier talent — players unlikely to command top dollar but capable of providing value and depth and possibly starting. They could target a swing tackle or linebacker to rotate with Jamin Davis.

At the NFL Combine, offensive linemen were closely watched by the offensive linemen

“[Free agent linebackers are] a market that’s always going to burn,” said Joel Corry, a former agent and current CBS Sports salary analyst. “There are married guys who get paid, and there are a few guys who overestimate themselves and go to peanuts. … There won’t be guys over $5 million or $6 million [a year]. Of course, [Tremaine] Edmunds wins this one. I think TJ Edwards will too. It’s not a seller’s market.”

Will Washington try to re-sign Cole Holcomb?

Yes, at the right price. Knee and foot injuries that limited Holcomb to seven games last season could hurt his market.

Holcomb’s agent could work out a one-year deal in the hope that he stays healthy and plays well, which would increase his value again in free agency in 2024. Or he could prioritize security with a two- or three-year deal at a lower average cost. per year (APY) but guaranteed money. Most recently, these deals have been around $3 million to $5 million.

What other free agents make sense for the Commanders?

They are interested in being linked with one of the best players at linebacker or offensive line, like Orlando Brown Jr. from Kansas City. But at more than $20 million a year, Brown may be out of Washington’s price range.

At the secondary level, Washington could target linemen who fit Bieniemy’s mold in Kansas City: centers who are around 6-foot-3 and weigh around 300 pounds, and 6-5 or taller guards and guns who weigh 305 to 305 and above. 320 lbs.

There are starting-caliber options at center (Garrett Bradbury, Bradley Boseman), guard (Dalton Risner, Nate Davis, Connor McGovern) and tackle (Caleb McGary, Jermaine Eluemunor, Andrew Wiley). Wiley was with Bienimi in Kansas City. Another guard, Will Hernandez, checks a few boxes besides height (6-2).

At the NFL Combine, offensive linemen were closely watched by the offensive linemen

Linebacker is a deep group. In the mid-levels, commanders might splurge a bit on players like Bobby Okereke, Bobby Wagner or Leighton Vander Esch. But given the team’s history, it looks like he could end up with a Holcomb-level deal like Alex Singleton, Kizir White or Aziz Al-Shair.

What type of veteran do they want?

The Chiefs said Sam Howell has every chance to be the starter. He should find him in camp, but the plan is to surround him with a veteran backup and, if not Jake Fromm, another rookie. Plans can always change, but the thinking is that by keeping the quarterback position relatively cheap, commanders can spend elsewhere.

Keeping Taylor Heinicke, who has said he’s ready for a backup role, would make more sense. But the Commanders may not be inclined to pay high reserve money, so Heinicke’s return could depend on his options on the open market.

Sam Howell is the Commanders top QB so far

“I would say $5 million to $7 million [a year] on a one or two year agreement and you [add incentives] where, if it’s outside, it can go up to $10 [million]$11 [million], $12 million,” Corry said of the potential deal for Heinicke. “Ideally, you want someone like him to come back.”

If Heinicke isn’t available, the Chiefs may consider a quarterback like Andy Dalton, a veteran who has a proven willingness to mentor and support a young player.

Can they make a surprise cut to create cap room?

Washington is unlikely to cut the vets who offer the most savings: cornerback Kendall Fuller ($8.5 million), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. ($8 million) and receiver Curtis Samuel ($5.8 million). In the offseason, Logan Thomas ($5.2 million) looked like a shortstop candidate, but since Bieniemy’s hiring, team officials have repeatedly expressed confidence in Thomas’ ability to return to form.

If Washington cuts another veteran, the most likely options are center Chase Roullier ($4.3 million), backup tight end Cornelius Lucas ($3.5 million) and guard Andrew Norvell ($2.3 million).

Commanders can also restructure contracts by turning base salary into bonuses and spreading the cap hit. This creates a short-term benefit instead of a long-term commitment.

Which free agents from last year’s roster are likely to return?

In addition to Holcomb and Heinicke, there is also Payne. The team has placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him, but hopes to sign him to a long-term deal by July 15.

Washington has nine other unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents (players with fewer than four seasons). Among the restricted free agents is special teamer Jeremy Reaves, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Chiefs tried to re-sign him to a new deal.

NFL owners discuss sale of Commanders in committee meeting, Daniel Snyder

What would the long-term deal look like for Payne?

According to Corry, the floor is $20 million a year. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s deal for a while now is worth $22.5 million. DeForest Buckner and Leonard Williams ($21 million) came in below.

But in June, the Los Angeles Rams raised the ceiling dramatically by giving Donald a contract extension that lowered his APY to $31.7 million. Joel Segal, the agent who negotiated Buckner’s deal, represents Payne.

“I would imagine Joel Segal would be the first to do it [is] he will take care of it [Buckner] deal for marginal inflation,” Corry said. “That will run you close to $24 million [a year]. Payne won’t get $24 million, but I don’t see anything at $22 million at $22.5 million.”

Will such a hefty loss on the D-line hurt the team long-term?

As Corry said, “If you don’t pay the quarterback, you can do a lot of different things. You pay your good players. You figure out how to do it.” Howell’s contract is worth $960,400 in 2023 and about $1.1 million in 2024 and $1.2 million in 2025 — peanuts compared to most rookies.

But is it possible to devote most of the remaining resources to one position group and still build a balanced team?

“We’ll figure it out,” Mayhew said at the combine. “That would be great, wouldn’t it?” But there’s a salary cap, so we have to figure that out.”

How about a fifth-year version of Chase Young?

The Chiefs have until May 1 to pick up Young’s fifth-year option ($17.452 million), and Rivera said it’s not a lock to get him. Young recently met with his surgeon, James Andrews, and is highly rated to recover from a knee injury in 2021, according to a person familiar with the matter. But Washington needs to take a long-term view.

Picking up the option now avoids the situation the New York Giants faced with Daniel Jones this offseason. Instead of paying him $22.384 million under his fifth-year option in 2023, they will pay him an average of $40 million per year under his new contract.

“The Chiefs have to figure out who Chase Young is,” Corry said. “If he’s the guy who wins [defensive] Rookie of the Year, you pick the option. If he’s a 2nd grade guy who couldn’t get a sack to save his life before tearing up his knee, then you don’t take the option. I get it for one reason: I can replace it if I need to.”

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