Determining how Commanders should address the offensive line
By Jonathan Eig
The Washington Commanders starting offensive line should be set for 2022. From right to left, opening day should see Samuel Cosmi, Wes Schweitzer, Chase Roullier, Ereck Flowers, and Charles Leno, Jr. blocking for whoever winds up behind center.
There is not an elite player on that line (though Cosmi may develop into one), but there is not a weak link either. Under the tutelage of line whisperer John Matsko, this is a solid group. And only Leno has turned 30.
In fact, of the 17 linemen currently listed on the Commanders roster (an 18th – Najee Toran – appears to have retired from football, though Washington still retains his rights), none are older than 30. The three who have turned 30 aside from Leno are all scheduled to hit free agency this Summer and it is quite possible none will re-sign. The Commanders have done a good job of stockpiling young talent along the offensive line.
That talent tends to fit the type of offense Scott Turner wants to employ. It was clear when they said good-bye to Morgan Moses last year. It was clear when they brought in Leno to start ahead of Cornelius Lucas. Moses and Lucas had played well in the 2020 season, but they are bigger, slower tackles, and Washington wants more athletically gifted big men who may not have the raw power, but who can move in space.
How should the Commanders address their offensive line this offseason?
Brandon Scherff, Washington’s most decorated lineman over the past five seasons, could offer both power and agility. That’s why he developed into a perennial Pro Bowler. Scherff has played two straight seasons on a franchise tag, making him among the highest paid interior linemen in the league. Though stranger things have happened, it is virtually certain that he will be moving on to a team that will pay him a great deal in 2022. His loss will hurt, but Schweitzer has proved to be a more-than-adequate replacement. He has all the power you could want from an interior lineman, though he does not move as well in space as does Scherff.
If the Washington Commanders want to seek an upgrade over Schweitzer, there are currently a lot of options on the upcoming free agent market. The Commanders may well pursue one or two of these players, but they have a bigger potential Achilles heel which needs to be addressed.
Losing Scherff will hurt. Losing Lucas could be disastrous.
Having a quality swing tackle is essential in today’s NFL. Washington has been blessed to have Lucas, and Ty Nseke before him – two experienced vets with the size and power to stand up to dynamic edge rushers when needed. Players like that are not easy to find.
If Leno and Cosmi remain healthy, this never becomes an issue. But Cosmi missed a fair amount of time as a rookie, and it’s simply a bad gamble to assume both tackles will be available throughout the long season. Almost all of Washington’s current backups are better suited to playing an interior position. Apart from Lucas and the starters, the only true tackle currently on the roster is David Steinmetz, who has not impressed in limited action.
Part of the Commanders depth concerns would disappear if 2020 draft picks Saahdiq Charles and Keith Ismael could step up over the Summer. There were high hopes for both when they were drafted but thus far, neither has shown much. Each has moved one spot in – with Ismael going from guard to center, and Charles from tackle to guard. Each also did begin to look more comfortable when injuries gave them a chance to play in late 2022. If they build of that little bit of momentum, Washington will be a fairly good shape.
But tackle remains a concern. Charles was a tackle in college but I think his future is at guard, following in the footsteps of Scherff and the other 2021 starting guard, Flowers, both of whom played tackle in college. This year’s free agent market for tackles is not great. There are good players – notably Terron Armstead and the trio of Browns (Duane, Orlando, and Trent) – who are all legitimate starters and will demand to be paid as such.
Brandon Shell, most recently of Seattle, may be available at a better price, and if so, he might be a good replacement for Lucas. Shell has been around a while, and though never a star, has experience at both tackle spot (he has mostly played on the right in the NFL but played on the left side in college.) He doesn’t move as well as Washington would like, but he can do what Lucas has done.
Then again, if he were willing to re-sign, I’d prefer to hold onto Lucas. My sense is, at 30, Lucas is looking for a final chance to prove he can start in this league. Barring injury, he won’t get that shot with the Washington Commanders.
There are plenty of intriguing, young interior linemen who could be available. Connor Williams and James Daniels will both be 25 by the start of the season and could be long-term starters if Washington doesn’t want Schweitzer in that role. Austin Corbett and Alex Cappa are slightly older options. These are all starting guards who would demand more money than Schweitzer, though not nearly as much as Scherff.
In addition to Charles, Ismael, and Steinmetz, Washington has plenty of developmental players currently under contract. Zack Bailey, Beau Benzschawel, Deion Calhoun, Nolan Laufenberg, and center Jon Toth, are all 27 or younger. There should be open competition among them to see who can contribute beyond the practice squad. Benzschawel remains the most intriguing, but any of them could emerge.
And the Washington Commanders will almost certainly draft a lineman on Day 2 or 3 of this year’s draft. That’s not much of a prediction. Most teams draft at least one lineman every year. One of the residual effects of the amateurish regimes that ran the franchise prior to 2020 is that only two linemen drafted by Washington prior to 2014 remain in the league, and neither is still in Washington. The two are Trent Williams and Tom Compton, and they just happened to be the starting tackles for the San Francisco 49ers in last week’s NFC Championship game.
As for the draft, offensive linemen are notoriously difficult to project this early in the scouting process. For instance, I had hoped local product Zion Johnson might slip behind some more highly-touted prospects into a middle or lower round, but a standout week at the Senior Bowl has him skyrocketing up draft boards. We will have a better sense of where the players stand as we move through combines and pro days over the next month or so.
Though I already know where Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele stands. At 6’8”, 387, he stands wherever he wants. If that doesn’t scream Washington Commanders, I don’t what does.