Commanders keep it conservative in start to free agency

Commanders keep it conservative in start to free agency

Ron Rivera has said that everything changed when the Washington Commanders found out Carson Wentz was available by trade in late February.

The team, desperate for stability at quarterback, gave up a pair of draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts and accepted Wentz’s hefty contract with the hope he’d appear more like the player he was at the start of the 2017 season and less like the journeyman he has since become.

But in shifting gears once again at quarterback, Washington’s salary cap and approach to free agency shifted too, Rivera said.

“That’s kind of what’s pushed us into waiting and being a little bit more patient as we go through this,” he said at the league’s meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., Last month.

Wentz’s contract ate into the bulk of the Commanders’ projected $ 30 million-plus of projected salary cap space at the start of free agency. Based on the NFLPA’s records and’s computing, the team has less than $ 6 million in cap room after accounting for its drafted rookies, but will have closer to $ 18 million in June, when safety Landon Collins’s contract clears the books.

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Much of that could be allocated for long-term deals for receiver Terry McLaurin and possibly defensive tackle Daron Payne. But Washington is lacking in some capacity at nearly every position, and Rivera indicated early in the year a plan to be aggressive in remaking the roster.

So far, the Commanders have been among the league’s most conservative in both cash and cap spending in free agency, signing only two free agents who weren’t with the team last season. (Dallas is the only other team to sign only two so far in free agency.)

Andrew Norwell, a 30-year-old veteran, signed a two-year deal to play left guard, and Efe Obada, a backup defensive lineman, arrived on a one-year deal for depth up front. Both played for Rivera in Carolina. Both got relatively cheap contracts.

The Commanders made more headway in keeping some of their own players, but none for contracts longer than two years. Safety Bobby McCain received the largest deal of Washington’s incumbent free agents, with a $ 10 million deal identical to Norwell’s.

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On Thursday, receiver / returner DeAndre Carter, who emerged last season as one of Washington’s most productive signings, agreed to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction. Carter ranked second in the NFL last season with 904 kick return yards, but was also a key offensive piece for Washington when its receiving corps was depleted, recording 296 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Although he appeared to be a player the Commanders wanted to keep, the team did not make an offer since the end of the season, a person informed of the discussions said.

Washington also decided to move on from tight end Ricky Seals-Jones and defensive tackle Tim Settle, who signed with the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills, respectively. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis was surprisingly cut, landing with the Carolina Panthers; starting guard Brandon Scherff signed a massive deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars; and fellow guard Ereck Flowers was a cap casualty that freed up $ 10 million in space.

Collins was designated a post-June 1 cut, so the Commanders will have even more room, but not before that date.

Last month, Rivera indicated the team will continue to take a wait-and-see approach.

“We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years that we’ve done pretty good with free agency,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to study the guys that potentially can come free after the draft.”

The addition of draft picks could prompt teams to move on from some veterans. Last year, Washington signed starting left tackle Charles Leno, McCain and Seals-Jones after the draft.

But Washington still needs a starting right guard to replace Scherff (Rivera said that position will be an open competition). It needs more pass-catchers, at both receiver and tight end, needs a third quarterback, depth on both lines, a versatile safety, another cornerback (or two) and, with Carter gone, a reliable returner, too.

It also needs help at linebacker, a defensive weakness for the Commanders the past two seasons. According to one person familiar with the talks, Washington was interested in signing linebacker Jermaine Carter, but it wasn’t as aggressive as the Kansas City Chiefs, with whom Carter signed in March. A former University of Maryland standout, Carter was a 2018 fifth-round draft pick by the Panthers when Marty Hurney was their general manager and Rivera their coach.

At the league meetings, Rivera and Washington GM Martin Mayhew spoke glowingly of Cole Holcomb’s development.

“We feel like Cole Holcomb has a chance to go in there and play [middle linebacker] for us, so there’s not a tremendous urgency to go and do something right there, ”Mayhew said in Florida. “He did a good job when he was in there.”

In recent weeks, focus has shifted once more to the draft, which starts April 28. The Commanders have the 11th overall selection in the first round and a total of six picks to try to fill out their roster.

“The biggest thing is that it takes time,” Rivera of his team’s continued rebuild. “It doesn’t happen overnight. What happened in 2020, the division was down. We won the division, I get it. But then last season. I think, really was an indication that we’re not where we need to be or where we wanted to be.

“As we started to play and you saw some positive things, you saw the growth. It really was a reflection for me of what happened my first two years in Carolina. To me, this third year is big, and I’ve said that, and I believe it’s an opportunity for us to take a step. ”

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