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June 28, 2023

10 reasons the Commanders will be a dumpster fire this season

The Commanders will be bad in 2023. Here's why, from Jimmy Kempski:

Eagles NFL
23105837663065.jpg Derik Hamilton/AP Photo

Josh Harris ponders whether or not he should cut the ball boy's pay by 30 percent during a Sixers-Nets contest in April.

This week, all week long, we're taking a negative look at each of the teams in the NFC East, in detail. Today we'll roast the Washington Commanders. 

To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. And yes, we'll get to the Eagles as well at the end of the series.


Cowboys | Giants

1) The head coach is a lame duck 🦆

It still amazes me that the Colts — revealed last season to be a dysfunctional mess of an organization in their own right — somehow, some way found a way to unload Carson Wentz on another team during the 2022 offseason. As a reminder, in exchange for Wentz the Commanders gave up a pair of third-round picks in 2022 and 2023, as well as a swap of 2022 second-round picks, in which the Colts moved up from pick 47 to pick 42. The Commanders also amazingly took on Wentz's $28 million salary in full. They gave up all of that despite Wentz having virtually no market, and the Colts having made clear through their words and actions that they did not want him on their roster anymore.

The Commanders struggled with Wentz at the helm to start the 2022 season, getting out to a 2-4 record, when Wentz broke a finger on his throwing hand, landing him on injured reserve. In came Taylor Heinicke, who despite significant physical limitations, led the Commanders to a 5-3-1 record in Wentz's absence.

In a blowout loss against the Niners Week 16, Ron Rivera yanked Heinicke, and Wentz mopped up, leading to a decision on who their quarterback would be for the final two games of the regular season, and perhaps beyond. They chose Wentz, which honestly, you can kind of squint and see the logic. They had zero chance of making a playoff run with Heinicke, and at least Wentz has an NFL arm. I mean, to be clear, they were screwed either way, but I can see why a team that was stupid enough to spend a couple of valuable picks and $28 million on Wentz would talk themselves into him being some kind of playoff answer.

Totally unsurprisingly, Wentz faltered in an elimination game, just like he did in 2021 with the Colts. He threw for 143 yards and 3 INTs on 28 pass attempts as Commanders fans at FedEx Field chanted for Heinicke. Beyond the picks, there were throws like this that were all too familiar.

I love the "whoa" from the play-by-play guy in that clip.

In addition to replacing a gamer with a choke artist for a must-win game, Rivera didn't even know the Commanders could be eliminated with a loss, lol.

I mean, holy s**t! Lol. Rivera is up there like, "Wait, what? Our season might be over?" 🤯

And sure enough, the Commanders were eliminated from the playoffs after a Packers win later that day. I've seen some make excuses for Rivera, saying that he was so focused on game planning for his opponent that he couldn't be bothered with playoff scenarios. And, I mean, are you kidding me?!? Of course that stuff is important. Like, if you're in a close game that could go to overtime, shouldn't you know your playoff odds in the event of a win, loss, or tie so that you can strategize appropriately? If the common fan knows the playoff scenarios and the head coach doesn't, that's a pretty big problem!

Rivera was brought in to help stabilize the culture, an impossible task when there was seemingly a new scandal involving the owner on a weekly basis. Still, in three seasons in Washington, Rivera's teams have a 22-27-1 record. He did win the NFC East in 2020 with a 7-9 record, and lost in the wildcard round. 

Rivera probably only survived this offseason because Dan Snyder wasn't going to pay out his contract before he sold the team.

2) They never have a good quarterback 

Lame duck coaches — or perhaps better stated, coaches firmly on the hot seat — tend to make decisions that a geared toward short-term results. I wonder how that might affect who ultimately starts at quarterback for the Commanders this season.

It should be Sam Howell. Put him out there, see what he can do, and be guided accordingly when considering quarterback options next offseason. And if he stinks, embrace it. Take a lot of losses, and put yourself in a position to find a long-term answer in the draft. Howell appears to be favorite to land the job, but he'll still have to beat out Jacoby Brissett, a quality backup who the Commanders signed this offseason.

Brissett is well-liked off the field, and a solid veteran player on it, but he gives the Commanders something close to a zero percent chance of winning a Super Bowl if he ends up being their best option in 2023. He also probably gives them the best chance of making the playoffs in 2023, which Rivera could theoretically view as a job-saving accomplishment. If Brissett is legitimately better than Howell in training camp, Rivera will probably go in that direction.

Whoever the Commanders' starting quarterback is, we can all agree that it's one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL, as it always is, right? Like, I almost feel like I don't even have to come up with 10 things to write about for this team, as in, we can just just end it right here.

Since Snyder bought the team in 1999, 27 different quarterbacks have started games for Washington. They are Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy, Kirk 'Kurt' Cousins, Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Garrett Gilbert, Carson Wentz, Sam Howell, and coming soon (likely whether he's the Week 1 starter or not)... Brissett.

The Commanders will have their seventh different Week 1 starting quarterback in as many seasons:

• 2017: Kirk Cousins
• 2018: Alex Smith
• 2019: Case Keenum
• 2020: Dwayne Haskins
• 2021: Ryan Fitzpatrick
• 2022: Carson Wentz
• 2023: Howell or Brissett

Here's how many Week 1 starting quarterbacks every team in the NFL has had since 2017 (including projected 2023 starters):

Week 1 starting QBs since 2017 Teams 
Commanders, Colts 
Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Texans, Bears, 49ers, Cardinals 
Patriots, Jaguars, Chargers, Eagles, Saints, Falcons, Buccaneers 
Bills, Ravens, Steelers, Bengals, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Giants, Vikings, Packers, Lions, Seahawks, Rams 

Who will be the Commanders' quarterback in 2024? Probably someone other than Howell or Brissett. Let's play Press Your Luck! Click the image in the tweet below and then again to see who you get.

3) Chase Young is nearing bust status 👤

Young's career got off to a good start when he had 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his rookie season. It has since been derailed. In his second season in 2021, Young perhaps started smelling himself a bit, choosing to skip voluntary OTAs, a move that football culture generally forgives when established veterans do it, but not so much second-year players. During the 2021 season, Young was unproductive (26 tackles, 1.5 sacks) before tearing his ACL and patellar tendons in his right knee. 

He missed the final eight games of that season, and the first 14 games of the 2022 season. 

This offseason, the Commanders surprisingly (to me, anyway) opted not to pick up Young's fifth-year option, which would have guaranteed him about $17.5 million in 2024. That signals that the Commanders are betting against Young returning to his rookie form in 2023. The Commanders have over $83 million in cap space in 2024 (based on salary cap estimates by OverTheCap), so it's not as if they can't afford him. Young is now scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, as is the Commanders' other first-round edge rusher, Montez Sweat. Can't franchise tag them both.

Now healthy and with a whole lot riding on his 2023 season, what did Young do? He skipped OTAs again! Lol. Guy, do you just not like football? Do you not want to be in Washington? The Commanders' decision not to exercise that option is starting to make more sense.

(While we're on free agents, we should probably note that Kendall Fuller and Kamren Curl are scheduled to hit the open market next offseason, too.)

4) The offensive line has three concerning spots among the starting five

The projected starting five:

Charles Leno Chris Paul Nick Gates Sam Cosmi Andrew Wylie 

Leno is fine at LT and Cosmi at RG, I guess, but the other three spots are clear concerns:

• Paul is a 2022 seventh-rounder who has played 66 career snaps.

• Gates suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2021 and faced the prospect of retirement, but he was able to return and start eight games for the Giants in 2022, and even got some votes for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Gates has some guard/center versatility, but he has had seven leg surgeries.

• Wylie was the lone below average starter on a very good Chiefs offensive line in 2022, as PFF — usually very forgiving with sack blame — had him down for nine sacks allowed during the 2022 season.

5) They always have a lot of injuries 🤕🩼

Sports injuries are often associated with bad luck, but it feels like more than that with the Commanders. In 2022, they finished out of the top 20 for injury prevention in Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Games Lost," which they have apparently done in each of the last nine (!) seasons.

Earlier this offseason, the NFLPA released "NFL Player Team Report Cards," and unsurprisingly the Commanders finished dead last overall in the NFL, with the following grades: 


As Football Outsiders points out, only three teams' training staffs received a grade worse than a B: Kansas City at D-, Washington at D, and the Los Angeles Chargers at C-. The Commanders also received an F- for their training room, as you can see above. Not noted in the NFLPA's survey is that the Commanders also play on an awful field in the worst stadium in American professional sports.

The rebuttal here might be that the new ownership will come to the rescue and fix a lot of the Commanders' infrastructure (eh, we'll see), but training staff/facility improvements likely aren't happening in 2023, and a new stadium doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon.

6) The Commanders are facing regression on 3rd down defense

JaQ Del Rio may or may not believe that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipers who kill and eat their victims to extract a life-extending chemical called adrenochrome, but the guy got his defense off the field on third downs last year.

The Commanders had 31.9 percent success rate on third down, best in the NFL. Oddly, they were second-worst in 2021 in the NFL in third down defense, at 48.8 percent. The year before that, they were seventh, at 37.8 percent, and the year before that they were dead last, at 48.9 percent. 🎢

If that up-and-down pattern holds, they're facing a down year this season. #Analytics.

7) They'll probably have two starting rookie corners 🐣🐣

With their first two picks in the 2023 Draft, the Commanders selected cornerbacks, both of whom are expected to start.

They selected Emmanuel Forbes with the 16th overall pick because of his ball hawking ability (14 INTs and six pick-sixes the last three seasons at MSU). BUT... at 6'1, 166, he is extremely skinny, so there will be concerns about his durability and physicality at the next level. It will be interesting to see how he holds up against a guy, like, oh, saaayyy, 226-pound A.J. Brown, who will outweigh Forbes literally by 60 pounds.

In the second round they picked Quan Martin, a versatile defensive back who will likely spend most of his time at slot corner as a rookie.

Those guys may very well pan out in time, but it is pretty reasonable to expect some pass defense growing pains if the Commanders start two rookie corners. 

8) The tight ends

Logan Thomas returned after tearing an ACL in 2021. He had 39 catches, 323 yards, 1 TD. John Bates had a promising rookie season in 2021. In 2022... 14 catches, 108 yards, one TD. 2022 fifth-round pick Cole Turner had two catches on nine targets as a rookie. Hard to be fired up about that group.

Can we squeeze linebacker in here, too? Not loving that group either. Jamin Davis was improved in his second season in 2022 after a bad rookie season, but he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.

9) Why the hell did Eric Bieniemy choose to become this team's offensive coordinator? 🤷‍♂️

I have this one second-to-last because I can't say that I completely endorse it as a reason the Commanders will be bad in 2023. The Commanders replaced Scott Turner with Bieniemy this offseason, which will almost certainly be an upgrade (Turner stunk), and I completely get why they would welcome Bieniemy in with open arms to be their offensive coordinator. 

What I can't figure out is why in the hell Bieniemy made a lateral move from the Super Bowl champs to the Commanders.

  1. The Commanders have perhaps the worst facilities in the NFL (as noted above), plus poor family treatment, bad food, traveling in coach, etc. etc.
  2. The new owner had absolutely nothing to do with his hiring, and therefore may not feel any loyalty to him.
  3. The head coach is a lame duck, and the Commanders went 8-8-1 last year. If they can't get to at least 0.500 in 2023 (as is expected), it will look like a failure by the coaching staff. I guess the thinking could be that if the head coach gets canned, Bieniemy could step in and be the head coach. But that logic might be flawed. If Rivera gets canned, it's likely everyone goes with him. If the Commanders surprise everyone and make the playoffs, Rivera will likely keep his job, thus no promotion for Bieniemy. I suppose an unexpectedly successful season could open a door for Bieniemy to land a head coaching job with a different team, but betting on this franchise to put him in that kind of situation is, uh, bold, to put it mildly.

I can get Bieniemy wanting to get away from the Chiefs to show that he can be successful away from Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, but to go to this team? The worst franchise in sports? With Sam Howell at quarterback? Really? 

It feels a lot like there's some information missing from this puzzle.

10) Dan Snyder is gone 🍾🥂🎉, but the new guy isn't good 😖

If you want to re-live how much of a complete P.O.S. Dan Snyder was in his reign in Washington, check out bullet No. 10 in last year's dumpster fire piece!

Snyder will soon be gone and while the sale of the team to Josh Harris isn't quite at the finish line, let's be honest — the NFL wants Snyder out in the worst way, and (spoiler) Harris' ownership group is going to be approved by the other owners, even if there are some complicated hurdles that need to be cleared that didn't exist with the recent sales of other NFL franchises.

Before we get started here, for full disclosure, I'm a Philadelphia 76ers fan, and as you're no doubt aware, Harris also owns the Sixers and the New Jersey Devils. I mean, I hate the Sixers because they choke in the second round of the playoffs every year in devastating fashion like they're the Dallas Cowboys, but, you know, they're my team. So for the rest of this section of this dumpster fire piece, Commanders fans, please know that everything said here comes from a place of unity. We're in this together.

With that said, I do not like this owner. Obviously, he is worlds better than Snyder, which is about as low a bar as humanly possible. I have friends who are Commanders fans who basically just stopped caring about football, and with Snyder all but officially ousted, they're back. The honeymoon is on, and congrats on ridding yourselves of the worst owner in modern American sports. 

But there are plenty of red flags with Harris, too. My gripes: 

• As stated above, he's going to own three teams. There are a number of Sixers fans who already don't love that Harris owned a rival team in a different sport (the Devils), and do not approve of him now also soon owning the Commanders. From a fan perspective, it's just kinda icky. But in terms of actual competitive advantages, I do think it's fair for fans of professional organizations to want the owner of the team they root for to have a sole focus on, you know, the team they root for. The Sixers seemed like legit contenders this year, and they dodged the luxury tax, which is hard for some fans to swallow when the owner is buying another franchise for $6 billion. It feels a lot like Harris is buying up franchises because, "WEEEEEEE, owning sports teams is fun!"

One thing that owners in the NFC East like Jeffrey Lurie and Jerry Jones have repeatedly demonstrated is that they will provide the necessary financial resources to make their teams as good as they can be, even if the decision-making on personnel can sometimes be criticized. Lurie and Jones are focused on the Eagles and the Cowboys. Harris' sports ownership focus will now be split among three teams.

• See that Louis Vuitton hoodie Harris is wearing in the main picture of this article? How much do you thing that retails for?

How much does Josh Harris' Louis Vuitton hoodie retail for?

Here's the answer. Whatever, he's rich and he can wear whatever he wants. But you know what's not cool? When he asked at-will employees making over $50,000 for the Sixers and Devils to take salary reductions of up to 20 percent as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Harris' butler: "What do you intend on doing with the concession stand worker's money, sir?"

Harris: "Hmm, perhaps I'll buy a few new hoodies."

(If you'll recall, Harris changed his mind shortly after Joel Embiid offered to donate $500,000 of his own money for COVID relief efforts, but holy crap that is some Snyder shit right there.)

Sadly, the Sixers are the best team that Harris owns. He has owned them since 2011, and the Devils since 2013. Both teams have had losing records during his reign, and neither has sniffed a championship. You know how you'll sometimes see a car with some combination of Cowboys-Yankees-Lakers-Duke stickers? Well, imagine driving around in this...


Oh, and he has an ownership stake in Crystal Palace, too. I'm not a soccer guy, but my understanding is that they also suck.

• The Sixers sold draft picks in 2017 (picks 39 and 46), and one in 2019 (pick 42). I'm not super well versed on NBA front office maneuvering, but as far as I can tell the only party who benefits from the sale of draft picks is the owner. There's literally no other benefit, right? I get that there are times when rosters are quite full and there might not be room for extra players, in which case they should either trade them for future picks or just draft some overseas dude who will maybe join the team down the road. I just can't fathom how any fan base could possibly accept the notion of the owner selling draft picks. 

And these weren't picks at the extreme end of the draft, by the way. Pick 39 that year was the ninth pick in the second round. Consider that the current best player in the NBA (Nikola Jokić) went 42nd overall (not that year, to be clear), stayed overseas, and then joined the team a year later.

Does Harris want to win championships? Yeah, I'm sure he'd welcome that, but ultimately it feels a lot like making money is the prioritized goal. 

•  Beyond the above financial gripes, Harris has appeared weak as an owner. Take December of 2015, for example, when the team hired Jerry Colangelo to become the "chairman of basketball operations and special advisor to the managing general partner," a move that was reportedly heavily influenced by the league's other owners as well as commissioner Adam Silver, who had seen enough of the Sixers' tanking efforts.

Four months later, Sam Hinkie — the architect of "The Process" — resigned, and Colangelo's son Bryan more or less replaced Hinkie.

While Snyder's power in league circles declined over the years after other owners simply got sick of him, there was once a time when he was influential and could throw his weight around. I can't speak for how staunchly Harris will hold his ground when faced with pressure in the NFL, but he failed Sixers fans miserably in their transition from tanking to contending when he seemed to just completely roll over to appease the league's other owners.

• And then there's just weirdness that I'm struggling to summarize, like this

• And finally, do you like Donald Trump? Because according to the New York Times (aggregated by PhillyMag here if you don't have a NYT subscription), "Harris advised the Trump Administration on matters related to infrastructure policy early in the president’s first year in office and even was at one point under consideration for a position in the White House."

If you're a MAGA guy/gal, you can take comfort in the thought of Del Rio engaging Harris at the water cooler, opining about how January 6th was no big deal and when Trump wins again they're going to set all those patriots free and start hunting down Black Lives Matter protesters. If you're not a MAGA enthusiast, well, bummer that your owner has ties to the Trump family, I guess.

Anyway, congrats on the upgrade.

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