The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Commanders 2021 Recap
So the Washington…uhm…Commanders (really, Commanders?) struggled for much of the 2021 season. Things got off to a disastrous start as Ryan Fitzpatrick injured his hip in Washington’s opening game. The injury would eventually knock him out for the year. That left the team staring down the barrel of 16 games with Taylor Heinicke. The supposed good news for Washington was that they were always meant to be a defensive team. With a nasty front-seven, they were going to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and win low-scoring affairs. In a surprising plot twist, even that strategy failed them. The defense was unable to stymie opposing offenses as they did in 2020 and things would go from bad to worse because of injuries. They would end the season as one of the easiest teams to pass the ball against. All things considered, it was a frustrating and disappointing season for life-long Commanders fans.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 19.7 (23rd)
- Dropback EPA: -.02 (23rd)
- Passing yards per game: 202 (21st)
- Rush EPA: -.06 (15th)
- Rushing yards per game: 121 (12th)
After Heinicke wowed Washington coaches in his Wild Card spot-start two seasons ago, the team gave him a two-year, $4.8 million contract. He was even bandied about as a potential starter in the offseason, culminating in a faux camp battle that Fitzpatrick ultimately won. Proving to be more of a backup, albeit a solid one, Heinicke failed to muster much of a passing attack for Washington. He finished 20th in touchdown rate and 21st in yards per attempt while making plenty of mistakes. Heinicke fell two interceptions short of leading the league and also landed at eighth in sacks taken. The running game took half a season to get into gear, earning -.1 EPA per rush attempt through Week 10. Antonio Gibson, dealing with multiple injuries, ran at 3.8 yards per carry in this span. A week after his first game off the bye, Gibson looked like himself again and closed out the year averaging 4.3 yards per carry in his final seven games. Their EPA on carries rose to -.02 in this final stretch of games.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 25.5 (25th)
- Dropback EPA: .18 (28th)
- Passing yards per game: 255 (29th)
- Rush EPA: -.1 (12th)
- Rushing yards per game: 104 (8th)
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Commander’s defense went wrong. Chase Young had 1.5 sacks and left Week 10 with a torn ACL. Montez Sweat, also on a down year, missed seven games because of a jaw fracture and a family tragedy. The team’s only first-round pick from the past three years to play more than 10 games was 2021 selection Jamin Davis. He struggled and was limited to a rotational role, earning just eight starts. The team also dealt with a brutal COVID situation late in the year, losing numerous starters, mostly linebackers and lineman on the defensive side, between Weeks 14 and 15. Unable to rely on the pass-rush that carried them to an elite 2020 outing, Washington’s came apart at the seams in 2021.
Commanders 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RG Brandon Scherff, RB J.D. McKissic, WR Adam Humphries, RT Cornelius Lucas, MLB Jon Bostic, FS Bobby McCain
LG Ereck Flowers ($10 million in savings), S Landon Collins ($6.9 million), DT Matt Ioannidis ($6.9 million), OG Wes Schweitzer ($4.8 million)
Notes: Washington's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
The Commanders sent two third-round picks, one of which can become a second-rounder, for the right to pay Carson Wentz $28 million dollars this year. They also traded back in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. This brought them to a below-average team by draft value and cap dollars. Much like the Colts did a year ago, Washington is gambling on their ability to fix a once-great quarterback.
After refusing to give Scherff a long-term deal last offseason, he will almost certainly walk this time around. Even if the team holds onto Flowers for another year, he will be a free agent at the end of the upcoming season. Expect Washington to use the draft and free agency to address this need.
Washington could be losing Adam Humphries, DeAndre Carter, and Cam Sims to free agency. Carter is the only strong candidate to be re-signed as he can return both kicks and punts. He also scored in three straight games in the middle of the season. That leaves plenty of targets unaccounted for and Tery McLaurin is more than deserving of a counterpart to draw some coverage away from him.
With Kyler Fuller ranking as PFF’s No. 3 corner, this position isn’t of desperate need. However, the Commanders have talent at most positions and one elite corner isn’t enough to cut it in this pass-heavy era of football. Eliminating the strategy of “throw at anyone but Fuller” as a viable option for opponents will drastically improve the defense.
Immediately after the season ended, Ron Rivera noted in a press conference that he didn’t anticipate making any changes to his staff. Many thought Jack Del Rio, the team’s defensive coordinator, would be on the chopping block but he led the team to an elite campaign on defense as recently as 2021, affording him another season.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Scott Turner doesn’t have a stellar season to fall back on. He has spent two years in the role and has little to show for his work. Turner’s offenses were 25th and 23rd in points. To his defense, Turner’s quarterbacks have been middling to unwatchable. He has given them the benefit of play-action an at exceptional rate while also throwing on early downs to give the offense better odds at converting on later in the drive. If the defense can stay healthy and the quarterback situation is figured out, there’s no reason this coaching staff can’t stick around for many years to come.
The Commanders have top-tier defenders in the trenches and plenty of cap space to work with. They can patch the few holes their defense has with little effort and then turn all of their focus to the other side of the ball. Adding another receiver to McLaurin and a hopeful-healthy Curtis Samuel will be a big boost to the passing attack. However, any changes made will fall on deaf ears if Wentz doesn't pan out.
Reunited with Frank Reich in 2021, Wentz cut his interception rate by two percent while also greatly reducing his sack rate. However, he finished 20th in yards per attempt and 21st in PFF passing grade. Wentz cut back on his mistakes but didn't show the ceiling that made him a household name in Philly. Turner and Rivera's biggest task this season will be to unearth that player from the mess that is present-day Wentz.