Ranking the Commanders’ positions of need ahead of NFL free agency

Ranking Washington’s positions of need before free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington


What might be the best non-game week of the NFL calendar commences on Monday, as the sport’s free agency tampering period will open then before the new league year hits on Wednesday.

Though the Commanders have already generated plenty of news in the past 48 hours or so thanks to trading for Carson Wentz and moving on from Landon Collins, Washington will still be involved, at least to a certain extent, on the open market.

So, before additional movement occurs, here’s a ranking of the squad’s positions based on need, starting with the ones that probably won’t get much major attention in the coming days and ending with the places that could soon be strengthened.

11) Quarterback

With Wentz eating up $28 million worth of the Commanders’ cap space and Taylor Heinicke also on the depth chart, Ron Rivera’s next acquisition here won’t be coming in March.

Though it’s still possible — and maybe even more sensible — that the organization drafts a passer next month, there’s no real reason for another veteran to arrive. There shouldn’t be anything of significance happening here.

10) Offensive tackle

Charles Leno Jr. inked a three-year extension with the franchise in January and Sam Cosmi is heading into his second pro campaign, meaning both left and right tackle are spoken for. If backup Cornelius Lucas signs elsewhere, then Washington will have to replace him, but that won’t be that pricey of a transaction.

9) Defensive tackle

Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis will be the interior defensive line’s top trio once more in 2022, and hopefully, those three will perform as strongly on the field as they do on paper (and with fewer punches).

Beyond Allen, Payne and Ioannidis, Tim Settle is likely to seek work elsewhere, meaning the Commanders may be searching for one last rotational tackle. Settle’s 20% snap share in 2021, however, indicates that he won’t be missed all that much.

8) Defensive end

We’re now entering the part of these rankings where signings feel a bit more logical.

Montez Sweat and Chase Young are obviously the defense’s go-to duo on the edge, but after trying to back those first-rounders up with unheralded depth, it might be wise for Rivera to seek out more reputable rushers. That doesn’t mean Von Miller is about to head to the NFC East, but someone like Justin Houston is intriguing.

Plus, with Young coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered last November, there’s uncertainly about when exactly he’ll be ready to suit up and handle a full workload. That only reinforces the point that scooping up a more dangerous defensive end would be prudent.

7) Cornerback

In 2022, William Jackson and Kendall Fuller carry the second-and fourth-highest cap hit of anyone on the Commanders’ roster. Because of that, signing a third expensive corner is probably out of the question.

Even so, this portion of the secondary is on the thinner side, and it could lose veterans such as Danny Johnson and Darryl Roberts. Those two are by no means difference-makers, but they did chip in at corner a year ago.

The hope is that Benjamin St-Juste will keep developing, and Rivera could opt to wait until the draft to supplement this position, but corners of all types and costs will be available next week. He’s not desperate for a star, though he could use more minor contributors.

6) Tight end

Logan Thomas is the No. 1 threat at tight end for Washington and John Bates quietly assembled a solid rookie season after being selected on Day 3 of the 2021 draft. But with Ricky Seals-Jones unsigned and Sammis Reyes still so inexperienced, Washington’s offense and specifically Wentz would benefit from another potential target.

One of Wentz’s buddies from Philadelphia, Zach Ertz, is going to be hunting for a new home, and Mo Alie-Cox, who was on the Colts with the quarterback last season, will be as well. Snagging one of those two, or a similar kind of asset, should be on Rivera’s mind.

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5) Running back

If JD McKissic is re-signed, then running back will tumble down the list and give way to more needy spots. But as long as he’s not under contract, the backfield requires fortifying.

Antonio Gibson is currently entrenched as the offense’s primary running back. After him? Well, it’s second-year pro Jaret Patterson and a bunch of uninspiring names.

Again, getting McKissic back is a simple solution to the scarce talent at running back. There have been no developments there yet, unfortunately, so there’s more than a bit of concern here.

4) Interior offensive line

Brandon Scherff is all but certainly gone, and his departure will be felt by Washington, even if it is completely understandable from the team’s perspective.

Wes Schweitzer is an in-house guard who could backfill for Scherff, but if Rivera wants someone with a more premium skillset, interior linemen like Austin Corbett (a Rams free agent) or James Daniel (a Bears free agent) are closer to Scherff’s level.

Also, say the Commanders want to roll with Schweitzer. Well, then they’ll be down their top swing guard and could feel obligated to rectify that with an outside hire.

Guard signings are rarely sexy, but Wentz is a quarterback who’s especially dependent on protection, so at least one could be coming shortly.

3) Safety

Welcome to the section of the story where Washington’s remaining cap space might really be necessary.

With Collins no longer a part of the defense’s plans, the back end of the unit is missing a starting-caliber player. Bobby McCain might be back for another year with Rivera and Co., yet this group was at its best when it was rotating Collins, McCain and Kam Curl, so if McCain does come back, there’s still a hole to address.

Kansas City’s Tyrann Mathieu is the type of respected and versatile pro that Rivera (and any other head coach) covets, while Seattle’s Quandre Diggs would provide lots of deep coverage tools.

2) Wide receiver

Everyone’s aware of Terry McLaurin’s plight and how crucial it is to nab other receivers to lessen his load. Can the Commanders pay any of the free agents to accomplish that?

Curtis Samuel will have the third-biggest cap hit in 2022, but aside from him, every wideout under contract (including McLaurin) is either cheap or really cheap. So one would think there is an opening for more pass-catching prowess.

Anyone from Arizona’s Christian Kirk to Atlanta’s Russell Gage to Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster to New York’s familiar Jamison Crowder can all be had for relatively average salaries. Dallas’ Michael Gallup and Chicago’s Allen Robinson, meanwhile, might just be too expensive — but if there’s a position to overpay and over-bolster, it’s this one.

1) Linebacker

Sources familiar with the situation say that this very website was close to publishing an informative piece about how ex-Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner represents a London Fletcher-like option for Washington — and then the Wentz trade broke.

Just like so many of the other positions above, Wentz’s contract muddles how aggressive Rivera can be ahead of his third year in charge, meaning the draft might be where the most-impactful acquisitions are located.

That said, Wager would be an excellent pickup at middle linebacker and, in turn, allow Jamin Davis to be more comfortable on the outside. Dallas’ Leighton Vander Esch is similarly interesting.

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