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March 25, 2023

NFC East 2023 free agency grades: Washington Commanders edition

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032523SamHowell Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

Sam Howell will compete with Jacoby Brissett for the starting quarterback job.

The 2022 Washington Commanders started out 1-4, and then won six of their next seven games (including an upset road win in Philly), and were in a strong position to make the playoffs at 7-5. However, they went 0-3-1 over their next four games, including a bad Week 17 home loss to the craptastic Browns that sealed their fate.

In the grand scope of the franchise, the player personnel moves the Commanders make this offseason don't really matter, at least relative to the expected sale of the team. But alas, we'll go through the motions.

Players gained

• QB Jacoby Brissett: Brissett is a quality backup who will be competing for a staring job in Washington against second-year quarterback Sam Howell, assuming the Commanders are unable to add any other more compelling quarterbacks in the draft. 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.

Since Daniel 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... Brissett.

I'll take a few guesses on who the Commanders' uncompelling starting quarterback will be in 2024 after they go 7-10 in 2023:

  1. Ryan Tannehill
  2. Sam Darnold
  3. Baker Mayfield
  4. Jameis Winston

OT Andrew Wylie: Wylie was the weak link on the Chiefs' offensive line in 2022, as PFF had him down for nine sacks allowed on the season. He signed a three-year deal worth $24 million, and will presumably start at RT, with Sam Cosmi moving inside to RG.

• iOL Nick Gates: Gates suffered a gruesome leg injury 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. He signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with Washington. Ultimately, I think the following is the correct #analysis: 

LB Cody Barton: Barton signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. He is a former third-round pick who had 136 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 INTs for Seattle in 2022, his first as a full-time starter. He'll likely replace the outgoing Cole Holcomb.

CB Cameron Dantzler: Dantzler was the CB2 last season with the Vikings, who had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last season. Quarterbacks had a 111.1 passer rating when targeting Dantzler last season, per ProFootballReference.

OT Trenton Scott: Scott signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018. He has bounced around a little with the Panthers and Steelers, and is now with the Commanders. 20 career starts.

iDL Abdullah Anderson: Anderson is now on his eighth team after entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2018. He got a chance to play extensively in 2022 with the Falcons in 2022, making 40 tackles with 1 sack in 16 games (8 starts).

Players retained

DT Daron Payne: The Commanders originally placed the franchise tag on Payne, but later signed him to a four-year deal worth $90 million. Payne had 64 tackles (18 for loss), 11.5 sacks, 5 batted passes, 20 QB hits, and a safety (against the Eagles, actually) in a season that he made the Pro Bowl. Payne and Jonathan Allen form one of the best interior defensive line tandems in the NFL (maybe the best?), so it's easy to see why the Commanders would want to keep that in place.

S Jeremy Reaves: Reaves went to the Pro Bowl as a special teams standout in 2022, and he was the subject of a rare heartwarming moment out of Washington:

• CB Danny Johnson: Johnson is a lesser-known corner who produced in 2022, making 29 tackles and an impressive 9 pass breakups in limited action. Two years, $5 million, reportedly.

• DE Efe Obada: Obada is a somewhat intriguing rotational pass rusher with great size (6'6, 265) who had 4 sacks last season.

• LB David Mayo: Career backup linebacker who had 35 tackles in 2022.

LB Khaleke Hudson: Backup linebacker and core special teamer in 2022.

CB Rachad Wildgoose: Backup CB who started three games in 2022.

• C Tyler Larsen: Backup-level center.

RB Jonathan Williams: Fringe roster guy who has been on seven NFL teams in eight seasons, including three stints with Washington. 37 carries for 152 yards and 0 TDs for the Commanders last season.

LB Milo Eifler: I'll be honest. I've never heard of this guy.

LB Nate Gerry: Congrats to Nate Gerry for somehow still being in the NFL.

Players lost

QB Carson Wentz: The Carson Wentz era in Washington went pretty much exactly as expected.

QB Taylor Heinicke: Heinicke was small-ish, he had a weak arm, and while he could escape pressure at times he wasn't a big threat to make plays with his legs. And yet, when he started for the Commanders over the last two seasons he had a winning record (12-11-1), while other quarterbacks had a combined record of 7-10 during that span. He signed a two-year deal worth $14 million with the Falcons.

• LB Cole Holcomb: Holcomb has probably been the Commanders' best linebacker over the last four seasons, as he has racked up 388 tackles since being selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. He signed with the Steelers on a three-year deal. 

S Bobby McCain: McCain is an 8-year vet. Solid but unspectacular. 76 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 0 INTs in 2021. 87 career starts. He signed with the Giants.

OL Wes Schweitzer: Schweitzer started 24 games in three seasons with the Commanders. He has some guard/center versatility, but was a below average starter.

WR Cam Sims: Sims was a 6'5 receiver who was one of the longest tenured players on the team, despite meager production. He signed with the Raiders.

The tale of the tape

Players gained Players retained Players lost 
QB Jacoby Brissett iDL Daron Payne QB Carson Wentz 
RT Andrew Wylie S Jeremy Reaves QB Taylor Heinicke 
iOL Nick Gates CB Danny Johnson LB Cole Holcomb 
LB Cody Barton DE Efe Obada S Bobby McCain 
CB Cameron Dantzler A half dozen or so backups OL Wes Schweitzer 
OL Trenton Scott  WR Cam Sims 
iDL Abdullah Anderson   


The Commanders rearranged some deck chairs on the Titanic this offseason at quarterback, linebacker, the secondary, and the offensive line, but the result will likely be the same as it has been over the last three years in the Ron Rivera era. They'll have no hope of doing anything special, and yet they'll still be good enough to win 7 or 8 games, making it difficult for them to find a long-term answer at quarterback the following offseason.

Yes, the pending sale of the team adds a level of difficulty in executing a smart offseason plan, but the Commanders' moves the first couple weeks of free agency feel familiar and uninspired.

Grade: C-

Other NFC East free agency grades

Cowboys: A-

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