How will Chase Roullier's time with the Washington Commanders be remembered after the center became a salary-cap casualty this week?
Sometimes, despite all the Xs and Os, RPOs, and cover-2s, football can be absurdly simple. I’m reminded of that as we consider the sad denouement to Chase Roullier’s career as a Washington Commanders player. Consider this…
Last year, all five Philadelphia Eagles starting offensive linemen were in on more than 75 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Actually, the number is far more impressive – they all played at least 82% of the snaps, but I am using 75% as my benchmark for this particular analysis.
The Dallas Cowboys, despite losing left tackle Tyron Smith in the pre-season, still had four such players. The New York Giants, who have been in the multi-year process of rebuilding a very weak line, had three. And the Commanders had two – left tackle Charles Leno, Jr (who played every single offensive snap) and left guard Andrew Norwell.
That tracks exactly with the order of finish in the division, with the Eagles coming in first, the Cowboys second, the Giants third, and the Commanders fourth.
Now consider 2020 – the last time Washington won the division. The order of the finish was precisely inverted. And it also tracked 100% with the number of offensive linemen who played 75% of their team’s snaps.
The Eagles, who lost their prospective starter at left tackle, Andre Dillard, before the season even began, had just one lineman hit that benchmark – center Jason Kelce. The Cowboys, who were without both starting tackles for much of the season and who saw all-world guard Zach Martin come and go, had just two players make it to 75%. The Giants had four. And so did Washington.
Washington may well have had five if they hadn’t made the mistake of beginning the season with Geron Christian Jr. at left tackle. Once they realized he was not up to the task and subbed in for Cornelius Lucas, the line really came together. Over the second half of the season, all five linemen were reliably on the field.
Washington finished first. The Giants were second. Dallas was third. And the Eagles – who just two years later looked like the best team in all of football – were in last place with a 4-11-1 record. Obviously, there were other factors in their turnaround. Jalen Hurts comes to mind. A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith. The arrival of James Bradberry. The emergence of D.J. Edwards. But you can’t deny that the health of the offensive line is a major factor in a team’s success.
By the way – this pattern almost holds true for 2021, with a minor adjustment.
On that 2020 Commanders squad, Brandon Scherff played about 80 percent of the team’s snaps. Super-sub Wes Schweitzer played 90%, and Morgan Moses did yeoman’s work at right tackle, playing 98% of the snaps. But the leader – the leader was Roullier at the center spot, who played every single offensive snap of that division-championship season.
Commanders got more than they bargained for wth Chase Roullier
To some, it seemed that Roullier had come out of nowhere. But if you had been watching his career, it was not surprsing at all.
Roullier was selected in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He took over the starting center spot from Spencer Long midway through his rookie year and over the next three seasons, was on the field for more than 95% of the team’s offensive plays. Twice, in 2018 and 2020, he played every down.
For fans of Pro Football Focus, his grade kept climbing the longer he played. By 2020, he was rated as one of the six best centers in the entire NFL. He was so good, and so reliable, that Washington rewarded him with a contract extension.
They may have wanted to resign his fellow lineman and perennial Pro Bowler Scherff instead, but he proved unwilling. By 2020, Roullier made a lot more sense.
He was a huge success story for a franchise that had struggled mightily to develop homegrown offensive line talent. Their best players – Scherff and Trent Williams – grew so disenchanted with Washington that they bolted as soon as they could. The Commanders willingly walked away from their other successful draft pick, Morgan Moses, despite his strong bounce-back year in 2020. Everyone else who became a key part of the line had been brought in as a veteran free agent.
Roullier showed that the Commanders could choose a guy and develop him into a solid starter. That is something that almost every successful team has to do. And the center position may rival left tackle as the most crucial spot to have stability.
Get a group of offensive linemen together and they will all tell you that their position is the most important on the field. Get a few drinks in them, and they’ll all start to admit that the center is the guy they usually rely on to keep things on schedule. Get a few more drinks in them and… we’ll save that for another time.
Chase Roullier became a major asset to the Commanders
Roullier was a good athlete, but he was an even better intellect. He had been recruited out of high school by Princeton before deciding to play for the University of Wyoming. He graduated on time with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was a perennial academic All-Mountain West and was elected captain in his final two seasons.
Though Roullier had been a very good guard for most of his time in Laramie, for his senior year he switched to center, where he snapped the ball to a big tall kid named Josh Allen.
In Washington, it may have taken him a little while to adjust to the physicality of the game, but he mastered the mental part quickly. When Roullier was on the field, the line was organized. And as he steadily improved from season to season, the line’s play got better and better.
That all came crashing down in Denver on Halloween, 2021. On a third-and-six with about six minutes to go in the second quarter, Taylor Heinicke dropped back to pass but was sacked by Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones. On his way to the quarterback, Harris rolled up on Roullier’s left leg and the center’s fibula snapped down near his ankle.
There was major ligament damage. After Roullier was carted off the field, Chris Blewitt had his one moment of NFL glory, nailing a 52-yard field goal and temporarily tying the game.
Roullier missed the rest of the season. He needed major surgery to repair the ligament damage and couldn’t even work out for several months. But he fought his way back into the lineup at the beginning of the 2022 season only to go down with a torn MCL in the second week of the campaign.
It’s impossible to know whether the ankle led to the knee, or whether it was simply a case of bad luck for a player who had rarely been injured before. It was the left ankle and right knee, but that fibula fracture was severe enough to possibly change the way Roullier’s body moved.
I suppose that no longer matters to the Commanders. It only matters to Roullier, and to whatever other teams are considering signing him. Within an hour of his release, a site covering the Arizona Cardinals was calling for them to snap him up.
I think in today’s NFL, the Commanders made the right move here. Their salary cap position is not very good and this will help some. Two new centers -- Ricky Stromberg and Nick Gates – are on the roster now. But it is a sad reminder of how fleeting NFL glory can be.
Though he may have still been light years away from catching up to Len Hauss and Jeff Bostic as the franchise’s greatest all-time center, Roullier was making a legit run at the third spot. Now that his career in Washington appears finished, I think he slots in around five, behind Al DeMao and Cory Raymer.
But to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it enough to write that in ink. I guess I just hoped there’d be a lot more time to consider it.