* With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents that the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. Next up: Defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Bilal Nichols.
Heading into this offseason, the defensive line hardly seems like a pressing need for the Commanders. After all, this is the team whose front seven is loaded with first-round picks, including all four of its projected starters up front.
While no one is trying to replace Chase Young or Montez Sweat, the Commanders could have several openings between them depending on moves they make in the next few weeks. Defensive tackle Tim Settle is already headed for free agency and Matt Ioannidis could join him if Washington decides to shed his $8.3 million cap hit. Settle and Ioannidis each played in 16 games last season and the Commanders would have significant holes to fill if one or both were to end up elsewhere this offseason.
It’s also impossible to talk about the Commanders’ offseason plans without discussing the quarterback position. Head coach Ron Rivera said at the NFL Combine on Tuesday that he’s not worrying about the price tag for top quarterbacks on the trade market as long as the Commanders can get some security at the position. If Washington is going to swing a trade for players such as Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson or Jimmy Garoppolo, its best trade assets are its young pass rushers.
Given the salary crunch that the Commanders are going to face when the rookie contracts for Young and Sweat expire, defensive tackle Daron Payne may be the odd man out — especially considering the team has already invested in fellow tackle Jonathan Allen. Trading Payne could mean Ioannidis then becomes more crucial to Washington’s plans for 2022, but there are certainly multiple paths to the team having to address the defensive tackle position in free agency.
So with that in mind, here are three free-agent defensive tackles that could be fits for the Commanders.
He’s no longer the Pro Bowl edge rusher he was for the New York Jets early in his career, but Shelden Richardson has been a durable defensive lineman capable of fitting into multiple positions despite playing for five teams in six years. Richardson would bring a veteran presence to a relatively young defensive front while fitting into the same role Settle had in 2021.
Richardson played a lot of defensive end last year for the Minnesota Vikings following the season-ending injury to Everson Griffin, finishing the year with six tackles for loss and two and a half sacks in 17 games. He could be some insurance for Washington at that spot as well should Young not be ready for the start of next season after he tore his ACL in Week 10.
However, Richardson’s main assignment would still be lining up as defensive tackle in the Commanders’ 4-3 defense, a formation he has plenty of experience with throughout his career. The 32-year-old is projected by Pro Football Focus to sign for just $3 million, a price tag that should be attractive for a Washington team with a long list of roster holes to address this offseason.
Should the Commanders decide to target more of a long-term piece for their roster, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Bilal Nichols could be a fit. Only 25 years old, Nichols has risen from fifth-round pick to an integral piece of the Bears’ defense. While he’s not a superstar, Washington isn’t looking for one anyway.
Nichols appeared in all 17 games for Chicago last season, racking up five tackles for loss and three sacks. He’s another versatile player capable of playing all over the defensive line, but unlike Richardson he spent most of 2021 on the interior. Nichols also still has the potential to break out and take his game to another level, which likely means he’ll be looking for a starting job in free agency.
As the Commanders’ roster currently stands, that opportunity wouldn’t be available. But as mentioned, a Payne trade could open up a window for Washington to lure a player like Nichols. PFF estimates he’ll sign for three years and $24 million, but keep an eye on the Commanders as potential fits should his market not shape up as he hopes.
Other Free Agent Targets:
WRs Chris Godwin, Michael Gallup
2 guards to replace Brandon Scherff