Commanders haven’t gotten steady production from their most expensive players

Commanders need more from their highest-paid players originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Carson Wentz said after the Commanders’ Week 2 loss in Detroit he’s “got to be better.” He said after Washington’s Week 3 loss to the Eagles he, “did not play to my standard.”

Finally, after a 25-10 loss to Dallas in Week 4—Washington’s third straight—Wentz said, “I gotta be better. I gotta be more consistent.”

Those aren’t the words you want to hear week after week from a player who carries a $28.2 million cap hit this season. But Wentz is far from the only Commander who has underwhelmed given his salary this year. 

Wentz’s struggles certainly aren’t his fault alone. Inconsistent offensive line play has hampered his ability to make reads down the field. However, at times this season, he’s held onto the ball too long, produced a few too many negative plays and leads an offense that’s scored just two touchdowns in its last two games. Still, Wentz should not be the sole subject of blame for Washington’s 1-3 start.

The second-highest paid Commanders’ player this season is William Jackson III, who carries a $13.8 million cap hit, per Jackson had a self-assessed, underwhelming first campaign in Washington last year after being brought in to stabilize the secondary as a seasoned veteran. 2022 hasn’t been much of an improvement.

Jackson did take on the toughest assignment among Washington’s corners in Dallas, as he had to cover Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb for the majority of the game. Lamb took advantage of the matchup, catching six balls for 97 yards and a touchdown in which he burned Jackson on a triple-move:

Jackson was also called for three penalties in Week 4: one defensive holding call that negated a Kam Curl interception, and two pass interference penalties that combined for 65 yards. It was a pattern for the whole team, though, as the Commanders totaled 11 penalties for 136 yards on the day, compared to just four for 20 yards for Dallas.

“I just feel like you can’t do nothing no more,” Jackson said of his three penalties. “We’re hand fighting, we’re going down the field and the guy jumps into you and they throw a flag. I mean, receivers in this league, they know how to get a flag, they know how to flop…I just gotta go in and watch film, and ask the coaches and see what I can do better.”

Washington’s fourth-biggest cap hit this year (behind Curtis Samuel, who has been a productive piece of the offense) is Kendall Fuller at $11.1 million. Entering Week 4, Fuller’s numbers didn’t stack up with his contract, either: he’d allowed 251 receiving yards across three games for two touchdowns and a 123.6 passer rating allowed. 

Beyond the upper echelon of Washington’s highest-paid players, the next salary tier does not provide much relief in terms of on-field production. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is the eighth-highest earner on the team since his three-year, $71 million contract extension doesn’t kick in until 2024. So far, McLaurin has amassed just 12 catches for 235 yards and one touchdown this season, with just 15 of those yards coming on Sunday in Dallas.

“I’m very confident we will get him and the other guys involved,” Carson Wentz said of McLaurin before his two-catch outing in Week 4.

“He’s part of what we do, but certain things happen that don’t allow you to get the ball to him,” Rivera ahead of Week 4’s loss.

“I really care about winning, too, and if that means me getting the ball X amount of times, if it helps us win the game, I’m all for that,” McLaurin said of his target share after Week 3.

McLaurin has kept a positive attitude regarding his lack of targets, but this season has shown that the offense struggles when he doesn’t see the ball. He has yet to see double-digit targets in a game this year. 

Three of Washington’s highest-paid defensive players are former first-round picks on the defensive line: Jonathan Allen ($9.5 million cap hit), Daron Payne ($8.5 million), and Montez Sweat ($3.7 million). They’ve combined for just three sacks through four weeks, with Sweat still working on his first. Washington’s sack leader thus far is in fact linebacker, Jamin Davis, who has three.

The Commanders’ biggest moneymakers simply haven’t produced enough to warrant a better start to the season than Washington’s 1-3 record. While it is a long season ahead, as Jonathan Allen noted after the Dallas loss, Washington’s highest earners will hope to bounce back ahead of a Week 5 clash against Tennessee.

“One thing we’re not gonna do is start turning on each other and start making excuses,” Allen said. “We gotta do better as a team, and that’s what we’re gonna do moving forward.”

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