2023 Washington Commanders Offseason Preview
Perennially in search of their savior at quarterback, the Commanders’ wheel landed on Carson Wentz last offseason. As has been the case in each of the past two seasons, Wentz wasn’t up to the task. He tossed six interceptions and took 23 sacks through six weeks before suffering a thumb injury. Taylor Heinicke then took over and gave the team hope with victories in five of his first six starts. Though he got some tallies in the QB Wins column, most of the credit went to the defense, who held all of Washington’s opponents to 23 or fewer points in those games. Ron Rivera would pivot back and forth between his quarterbacks throughout the second half of the season, but nothing stuck. The Commanders coasted to an 8-8-1 season via a Week 18 win with rookie Sam Howell under center.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 18.9 (24th)
- EPA per play: -0.07 (25th)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.05 (24th)
- Passing yards per game: 204.2 (21st)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.09 (23rd)
- Rush yards per game: 126.1 (12th)
The Commanders matched their lack of talent on offense with an equally large deficit in the identity column. Wentz had a quick trigger and opted for short throws, boosting Curtis Samuel‘s numbers in his starts. Taylor Heinicke and Sam Howell were both far more aggressive, registering targets depths over nine yards downfield while holding the ball substantially longer than Wentz. Terry McLaurin looked like his usual, elite self in these games. First-round rookie Jahan Dotson split his seven scores between Wentz and Heinicke. Brian Robinson took over the bulk of the between-the-tackles work once healthy, though Antonio Gibson occasionally popped up with a dozen or more touches. The team had plenty of talent at receiver and running back, but the rotation at quarterback kept everyone from getting in rhythm.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.2 (7th)
- EPA per play: -0.06 (5th)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.01 (9th)
- Passing yards per game: 191.3 (4th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.13 (3rd)
- Rush yards per game: 113.3 (11th)
Had Washington mounted an average offense, their defense would have been more than enough to carry them to a postseason berth. They were 10th in sack rate while blitzing at the 17th-highest rate in the league. San Francisco was the only other unit to rank top-five in success rate against the run and the pass. The Commanders were also the only defense with two interior defensive linemen—Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen—ranked top-10 in pressures. At corner, Kendall Fuller defended 13 passes, logged three interceptions, and took two of those to the house. Despite missing Chase Young, who was still recovering from a torn ACL, for most of the year, the defense shined in 2022.
16th, 47th, 97th, and 118th
Notable Free Agents
The Commanders already cut Wentz and defensive back Bobby McCain. The pair of moves freed up $28.5 million in cap space. Washington’s cap figure also includes their decision to place the franchise tag on Payne. Assuming they aren’t in the market for a pricey quarterback, these cuts alone give them a solid amount of money to work with.
Washington’s cornerback play was solid but primarily carried by another strong season from Kendall Fuller. The defense needs a second outside corner to pair with him.
The Commanders are losing four bigs in free agency, and all four were interior linemen. Three of them made starts at center. Wes Schweitzer could be re-signed, giving Washington more freedom with how they choose to address their offensive line.
Heinicke is a free agent and Wentz is no longer on the roster. Washington may ultimately give Howell a crack at the starting gig, but they need at least one more body in the quarterback room, likely a veteran.
Coming off the heels of yet another weak performance by the offense, Rivera axed offensive coordinator Scott Turner at the end of the season. Washington shuffled around a few other positions coaches on both sides of the ball, but their big addition was Eric Bieniemy. Kansas City’s offensive coordinator of five years, Bieniemy’s offenses ranked first in points twice and never fell below sixth. Patrick Mahomes won two MVPs and the Chiefs took home a pair of Lombardi Trophies. Andy Reid called plays in Kansas City and has a strong track record on offense dating back to his time in Philly, so it’s unclear how much of a role Bieniemy played in the team’s scoring output. Still, it’s a smart gamble from a team that has one top-10 finish on offense over the past decade.
Rolling with Howell for a year may not sound appealing, but there are worse options. If Howell overperforms expectations, the Commanders could have a cheap starter on their hands for years to come. If he bombs, Washington will be in a position to land a top-flight quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft. A fourth season at or below .500 from Rivera would all but guarantee his dismissal, allowing the Commanders to pair an eventual rookie passer with a new head coach. This outlook sounds bleak for Washington, but it gives them a clear path toward escaping the seven-win purgatory they have been stuck in for years.