Yeah, so the Washington Commanders did not make the NFL playoffs this year, but if you watched the opening round this past weekend, you know what you could have seen? There was Trent Williams starting at left tackle for the San Francisco 49ers. Brandon Scherff was playing right guard for the Jacksonville Jaguars. And Morgan Moses manned the right tackle spot for the Baltimore Ravens.
Three quarters of a decent offensive line. And they were all drafted by the Commanders.
You need some depth? Miami had Geron Christian on its bench. San Francisco had Keith Ismael on its practice squad. A couple more Commanders draft picks. Hell, if you looked close, you could even spot Kyle Fuller on the sidelines for the Seahawks. Not a draftee, but he did a brief stint in Washington back about five years ago.
The fact is, the crumbling Commander 0-line has had its share of quality players, mostly acquired via the draft. Washington has simply been too inept to maintain them.
And so, we are left with aging vets, some of whom have been pretty good players over the years, but who are now getting older and more injury-prone with each passing year. Apart from quarterback, this is this the team’s biggest question mark going forward. With the promising flicker of Sam Howell in all of our minds, it may be a bigger immediate need than quarterback.
Four of Washington’s 2023 Day 1 starters may already be on the team, but that’s unlikely. Sam Cosmi needs to be playing right tackle or right guard, but Cosmi has not been able to stay healthy throughout his first two seasons. Chris Paul may be playing left guard, but Paul, in his one start during his rookie season, showed he still needs a lot of work. He is an athletic active player, but he plays far too upright and was often beaten in one-on-one matches.
Charles Leno, Jr will probably be playing tackle, and he is serviceable. But he is also trending downward as he enters his 10th season. Andrew Norwell will be playing right guard if Cosmi isn’t. He is in the exact same position as Leno.
I have no clue who the center on this team will be.
That’s a lot of “ifs” and “maybes.” None of those players, with the possible exception of Cosmi, looks like an above-average player right now.
Washington desperately needs to find several players in the draft. One of them should be a Day 1 starter and one or two others should challenge for starting roles by the end of the 2023 season. They will certainly look again to free agency to plug some gaps, but that is a short-sighted strategy.
And it doesn’t really work. At least not recently. Ereck Flowers played well for the Commanders for a season or two, but they kept thinking they could do better. Chris Chester and Randy Thomas are the only two solid, 5-year linemen I can remember who have come via free agency in the past twenty years. Maybe there are others, but the percentages are not good.
Look at what the New York Giants have done in the past few years. The Giants, who have been worse than the Commanders in the recent past, knew they had a train wreck along the offensive line. Departed GM Dave Gettleman tried to address it and failed (which accounts for the “departed” in his title.) But he did leave them with a couple of pieces, acquired through the draft, that have helped New York rebuild. They got their left tackle – an early 1st-rounder – who has developed into the anchor of the line. This past year, they got their right tackle, also an early 1st-rounder, who has struggled a bit. But Washington would gladly swap both their starting tackles for him. They also drafted another tackle and a guard – currently depth pieces – in the top 100 of recent drafts.
The Giants’ line, which by most metrics, does not perform any better than Washington’s, just helped their team win a playoff game. That’s something the Commanders haven’t done since the Gibbs 2 era. And since that line has been built on recent draft picks, they will probably get better and better in the next few years.
You want more? On Philadelphia and Dallas, or if you need a reminder, on the 14-win Eagles and the 12-win Cowboys – EVERY SINGLE STARTING OFFENSIVE LINEMAN WAS ACQUIRED THROUGH THE DRAFT. All ten of them. Mostly blue-chip 1st-rounders. But a couple of mid-round guys. And, on Philadelphia two studs acquired in the final two rounds.
Let me repeat this, because I think the folks running things for the Commanders need to hear it. On the Commanders three division rivals, all of whom made the playoffs in 2022, twelve out of fifteen starting offensive linemen were acquired through the draft.
Of course, if Washington still had Williams, Scherff and Moses, you might be able to include the Commanders in that group. But as we all know, they don’t still have those guys. They had better find some new ones just like them beginning in the 2023 draft.