Let’s make one thing clear right up front. Not every free agent signing by the Washington Commanders over the last 20-some years has been a complete dumpster fire. London Fletcher arrived via free agency. So did Pierre Garcon. Randy Thomas. SWAGGY! The miracle playoff run in 2020 was aided in no small part by four low-profile free agents – Ronald Darby, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Cornelius Lucas, and Wes Schweitzer.
Yes – there have been some good times sprinkled in over the years. It’s just, when you are the Washington Commanders, and your owner is Daniel Snyder, there has been so much failure, be it the result of incompetence or bad luck, that every new free agent signing carries equal parts hope and dread.
With that in mind, here is a brief history of the Washington Commanders free agent fiascos under the rule of Mr. Snyder.
A recent history of Commanders free agent signings
The Big Bang, 2000
It began with champagne and fireworks. Deion, Bruce, Mark Carrier, Jeff George. More than 100 million dollars in contracts shelled out to a bunch of veterans in Snyder’s first full year of ownership. Were it only five years earlier, those three defenders would have formed a formidable core. But by this point, they were all past their prime, getting paid for production that would never come.
Still, you could see the logic behind those signings. Genuine pedigree that could lead younger teammates and gin up fan enthusiasm. The George signing, though, was indefensible. Save for one OK season in Minnesota, he had not produced in years, and had never lived up to his supposed potential. He was a locker room cancer and he eventually took the place of a serviceable signal caller in Brad Johnson. All in all, a scary – and accurate – sign of things to come.
The Kicker Carousel, 2000
Obscured by the big-name off-season splurge in 2000 was the laughably poor handling of the kicker position in-season. Remember Chris Blewitt? He had nothing on Kris Heppner in 2000. Heppner was the third kicker employed by Washington in 2000. He was cut after missing two field goals, including a 33-yarder in the final five minutes of a 1-point loss to Arizona. Heppner had replaced the ineffective veteran Michael Husted, who was signed after starter Brett Conway went down with an injury. Heppner was eventually replaced by a pair of kickers – 44-year old Eddie Murray and journeyman Scott Bentley.
After the 2000 season, all four Conway replacements combined to kick ONE FIELD GOAL in the NFL. Talk about talent evaluation. (oh, and just to put this in context, Washington had cut a young kicker the previous year named David Akers who would go on to make six Pro Bowls as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles in the following decade.)
The Gator Gaffes, 2002
If you’re one of those fans who hammers Ron Rivera for bringing in former Carolina Panthers, your head would have exploded watching what Steve Spurrier did when he took over in 2002. At least Rivera has primarily confined himself to bringing in former Panthers as depth pieces. The Old Ball Coach signed – not one, but TWO – former players from his Florida Gator teams to play quarterback.
Shane Matthews might have been a reasonable backup. Danny Wuerffel might have been a reasonable community leader. Neither was an NFL starter. And the coach wasn’t done. He surrounded his QBs with former Gator receivers Jacquez Green, Chris Doering, and Reidel Anthony. They accounted for 23 catchers and 286 in 2002. The Florida Gator experiment would not last very long.