This player is the Commanders’ most important young asset

Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) in action during the game between the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) in action during the game between the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Which Washington Commanders player’s development in the next year or two is most crucial to the team’s long-term success? The easy choice would be Sam Howell because quarterback is always the most important position.

Since the Commanders quarterback position remains unsettled, the development of anyone – be it Howell, or Heinicke, or some college underclassman on the horizon – is obviously most important. But though I remain optimistic about Howell’s chances for success, it would not be a shock to see them go a different in the near future.

So I’m going to say the player who needs to step up more than any other next season is Sam Cosmi.

Why Sam Cosmi is the Commanders’ most important young player

There are a couple of harsh realities facing the Commanders (if we exclude Cosmi for a moment):

  1. The current starting offensive line is comprised entirely of free agents.
  2. The projected starting offensive line for next season will all be 30 years of age or older.
  3. Two of those players – the two youngest, Chase Roullier and Trai Turner – have a very bad recent injury history.
  4. There is not a single offensive line draft pick over the last ten years who has been more than a marginal contributor to this team this season.
  5. Offensive line coach John Matsko has not developed a single young player into an effective contributor in his time here.

That last point is important. I wrote glowingly about how Matsko had taken a ragtag bunch of castoffs back in 2020 and molded them into the best offensive line in the NFC East. They were a key factor in allowing the Commanders to advance to the playoffs.

But this season, I had to write that as good as Matsko has been with veteran journeymen, he has largely failed with youngsters. That is a particular problem for this team because upon the arrival of the current regime, Washington was in the midst of several years of failure in the drafting of offensive linemen.

Brandon Scherff and Chase Roullier arrived via the draft in 2015 and 2017 respectively. In theory, they would form the foundation of a quality offensive line. But Scherff is gone and Roullier has suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive years.

After Roullier, there was the wasteland of Geron Christian, Wes Martin, and Ross Pierschbacher – three mid-round picks – none of whom proved to be of starting caliber. Martin, after bouncing around the league for a while, was recently recalled to add depth to an injury-depleted unit. Aside from Roullier, he is the only offensive line draft pick from before 2020 still with the team.

Then the Ron Rivera regime drafted two players in 2020 – Saahdiq Charles in the fourth round and Keith Ismael in the sixth. Ismael is gone. Charles has failed to impress when given the chance.

In 2022, Chris Paul arrived in the seventh round. He has not gotten the chance to show anything yet. Hopes are high, as they always are for a young player who has yet to be tested. Maybe he will turn out to be a stud. Maybe he will suffer the fate of most seventh-rounders, which is to hang on for a few years as a backup before giving way to some newer, shinier prospect. Time will tell.

In between Charles and Paul, the Commanders spent a second round draft pick on Sam Cosmi. He came in with much fanfare. A highly athletic big man, he might eventually be the answer at left tackle. Or maybe at right tackle. No, perhaps at guard. The reality is that despite showing flashes of the talent that made him a second-rounder, Cosmi has done very little thus far.

Injuries have been a major problem. Cosmi entered the league without a serious injury history, but so far, he has played fewer than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps in each of his first two years. This, despite being handed the starting right tackle job in 2021. Both Cornelius Lucas (at tackle) and Trai Turner (at guard) are ahead of him on the depth chart. First and foremost, Cosmi has to remain healthy in order to show whether he is indeed a potential anchor player.

And he needs to do more than that. The Commanders do not have that anchor player on the line. It is worth noting that two linemen drafted on either side of Cosmi in the second round of 2021 have already developed into stalwarts for their teams.

Creed Humphrey, chosen by Kansas City toward the end of Round 2, may well be the best center in the league. And division rival Philadelphia, drafting early in the round, nabbed guard Landon Dickerson, who will probably be manning a spot on the Eagles line for the next decade.

In fact, the murkiness of Washington’s offensive line future is most noticeable when looking around at the other NFC East teams. Each of the four teams has drafted seven offensive lineman since 2018 (the Giants, who had the worst line situation, have actually drafted eight.) In addition to Dickerson, the Eagles added starter Jordan Mailata and decent backup pieces Andre Dillard and Jack Driscoll in that time.

The Cowboys still have anchor piece Zack Martin (from the 2014 draft, one year before Washington took the now-departed Scherff), and added potential stud tackle Tyler Smith in 2022. Smith has taken his lumps in his rookie season after injury forced him to immediately step into the starting left tackle spot, but I guarantee you there are 31 other teams that would love to have him on their roster right now. Dallas also got two other starting linemen via the draft in the last five years.

After a rough rookie campaign, the Giants’ Andrew Thomas is looking like the real deal at left tackle, and New York is hoping that 2022 right tackle selection Evan Neal follows suit. With two bookend tackles, the Giants will be able to address the mediocre middle of their line far more easily.

Washington has none of that. They do not have a player like Dickerson or Smith or Thomas – young linemen who have already shown flashes of being dominant. The other three NFC East teams, in addition to those high profile players, all have other young draftees who have shown more potential than anyone currently on the Commanders roster.

Unless Cosmi develops. I don’t care whether it’s at tackle or guard. He just needs to stay healthy and begin showing why he was a second-round draft pick. If he does, Washington can get by for another year with its ragtag collection of free agents. If Roullier also makes a recovery, the picture isn’t nearly as dire. They can squeeze another year or two out of the likes of Leno and Lucas, Turner and Norwell and Schweitzer.

But all these players are showing signs of decline. And truth be told, none was ever dominant to begin with (with the possible exception of Turner.)

Over the past five years, Washington has chosen to move on from reliable vets like Morgan Moses and Ereck Flowers. They could not find a way to hold onto Brendan Scherff. And they mangled their relationship with future first ballot Hall of Famer Trent Williams to such a degree that they gave him away for virtually nothing. That is a cardinal sin in the NFL. Players like Trent Williams aren’t walking through the door every day.

So far, they have been getting by with some tough-minded journeymen and the voodoo that Matsko has performed with vets. But they had better start developing a core of young talent to take over soon.

And there is no better place to start than with Sam Cosmi.