James Smith-Williams - Commanders DE
You could put any of the three young defensive ends scheduled for free agency into this slot. James Smith-Williams, along with Casey Toohill and Efe Obada, have been serviceable backups. That was all they were intended to be. The Washington Commanders had two young studs on the edge.
With the trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young, Smith-Williams and Toohill have been asked to step into starting roles. They have performed about as expected.
Toohill is a splashier player. He has better closing speed and can play special teams. But Smith-Williams is a steadier all-around presence. He played pretty well when Young was injured in 2021 and can be a reasonable part of a defensive end rotation.
Rookies K.J. Henry and Andre Jones Jr. should both assume larger roles next season. I expect the Commanders to take another edge rusher in the 2024 NFL Draft. I want Bralen Trice in the third round.
Henry, Jones, and Trice would all be better pass rushers than Smith-Williams. But he would provide a veteran presence that can play the run and can continue to be a solid backup.
The Commanders will also have to ask and answer questions regarding Antonio Gibson, Joey Slye, and Jeremy Reaves. All or none could be back as well. And, just for fun, let me sketch out another scenario that shows how difficult it can be to predict a team’s personnel moves when the entire coaching/scouting staff is in a presumed lame-duck situation.
Let’s assume that Josh Harris does clean house. A new general manager. A new head coach. Now, let’s assume that this new coach turns out to be Dan Quinn. Until last week's game, the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator was one of the hottest names out there. Last week’s debacle aside, he will still get serious consideration this offseason.
When Quinn was Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator about a decade ago, he elevated a young special teams assistant coach to a new role with the defense. That coach, John Glenn, rose through the coaching ranks to become linebackers coach in 2018. In that role, he helped develop Jordyn Brooks while having the privilege of also coaching Bobby Wagner.
Glenn also developed a largely unknown linebacker in 2022 to the point where he was able to land a decent free-agent deal last off-season. That player is Cody Barton.
He has been a disaster in Washington, but he is also being asked to play out of position. Now, just suppose Quinn comes on as the new coach, brings Glenn in from Seattle, and switches the defense to either a 3-4 or a traditional 4-3 - both of which would suit Barton’s skillset better.
Could Barton be back with the Commanders? It’s a long shot, sure. But under those circumstances, it could happen.
For the record, I am not predicting that.