Commanders recap: Adam Peters lays down free-agent marker for better days

It was a frantic start to Washington's offseason recruitment.

Dorance Armstrong
Dorance Armstrong / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Commanders general manager Adam Peters wasted no time in laying down a free-agent marker to signal better days ahead.

Tyler Larsen, Andrew Norwell, and Trai Turner.  Those were three of the 15 players Ron Rivera coached for the Carolina Panthers whom he signed during his tenure with the Washington Commanders. Two lasted a single season. Larsen was an average backup center who had trouble staying healthy.

David Mayo, Jared Norris, and Jordan Kunaszyk. Three former Panthers linebackers Rivera also scooped up. Two were special teamers. One was a perennial backup who struggled with starting reps.

Adam Peters wasted no time in changing the ethos, signing Tyler Biadasz to be Washington’s new starting center. The new general manager has also reached a deal with defensive end Dorance Armstrong. He also figures to be one of the Commanders' starters in 2024.

Commanders filled key needs on team-friendly deals

It would appear from the outside that new coach Dan Quinn has discussed with Peters the players he knows from his recent time coaching the Dallas Cowboys. The Commanders seem to have targeted several young veterans, and the front-office leader jumped on them early.

Here’s the first thing that should encourage Commanders fans about these signings. The Panthers squad that Rivera was plundering had gone 5-11 in 2019, the season before he came to DC. The Cowboys team at which Peters and Quinn shopped finished 12-5 in 2023 and won the NFC East.

More importantly - except for Curtis Samuel - both former Cowboys who may be starting for Washington in 2024 are better players than anyone they picked up from Carolina.

Biadasz started 53 games for the Cowboys over the past four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2022. Even given the league-sanctioned reputational boost to anybody wearing a Dallas uniform, the interior force constitutes a serious upgrade over anyone who has played center for the Commanders since Chase Roullier’s career was forestalled by injury.

The new arrival is just 26 years old and should be entering his prime. In college at Wisconsin, Biadasz blocked for Jonathan Taylor and won the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center in his final season. His signing would seem to make 2023 draftee Ricky Stromberg’s move to guard permanent. It also gives the Commanders a reliable presence in the middle of a rebuilt offensive line.

Armstrong was a rotational player along the Cowboys defensive front who figures to take on larger responsibilities in Washington. He was overshadowed by DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons but always produced when on the field, registering 18.5 sacks in 31 games over the past three years.

He arrives in Washington as arguably their best defensive end, having been more consistently productive against both the pass and the run than any of the young developmental edge players the Commanders have under contract. Nobody would be surprised to see Peters select another in the middle of the upcoming draft, and then to see that rookie and Armstrong anchor the defensive end rotation.

Commanders got a steal with Frankie Luvu

Frankie Luvu is a major addition to the Commanders' linebacking corps.
Frankie Luvu / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Washington also reportedly reached agreements with two other players who project to be major contributors in 2024. One, oddly enough, comes from the Panthers, though not from the Rivera era. That player is Frankie Luvu, and he might turn out to be the biggest steal.

The under-the-radar linebacker has had a career trajectory similar to Kevin Pierre-Louis, the free agent Rivera signed away from the Chicago Bears back in 2020. He played one very good season as a weakside linebacker for Washington during their last playoff run.

Like Pierre-Louis, Luvu began his career as a special teamer. After several seasons with the New York Jets, he came to Carolina in 2021 and moved into the starting lineup in 2022. The former Washington State star immediately began putting up respectable numbers.

Luvu did a bit of everything for the Panthers. Over the last two seasons, he recorded 236 tackles and 12.5 sacks. Most impressively, he had 29 tackles for loss. During that same stretch, the Commanders' best linebacker - Jamin Davis - had 193 tackles. six sacks, and 17 tackles for loss in 29 games.

We don't know exactly how new defensive coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. intends to use Luvu, but putting him in the middle of the field might permit Davis to use his unique athleticism to play more freely. Whichever way they use him. Luvu is versatile, productive, and provides a lot of help in a major position of need.

But Peters wasn't done.

Commanders got a dynamic playmaker in Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler adds experience and red-zone threat to the Commanders running back room.
Austin Ekeler / Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Commanders reached an agreement with Austin Ekeler, the running back who accounted for more than 3,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 38 touchdowns in 2021 and 2022 for the Los Angeles Chargers. He was rumored to be on Washington's radar last offseason, but no deal could be worked out.

His numbers fell off some in 2023, and Los Angeles did not attempt to re-sign him. He is coming to Washington on a relatively low-cost, two-year deal.

Ekeler will turn 29 years old this summer. He is three years older than Antonio Gibson, the back Washington lost to the New England Patriots. But the Pro Bowler has proven to be a far more effective all-purpose back throughout his career.

He backed up Melvin Gordon for a few seasons before assuming the lead-back role in 2021. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, the heavy usage throughout 2021 and 2022 may have worn Ekeler down. In Washington, he should form a very effective platoon with Brian Robinson Jr. and Chris Rodriguez Jr., allowing those bigger backs to do a lot of the inside running on early downs. With a reduced workload, he could be a very valuable pass catcher and occasional runner for the Commanders.

The Commanders worked out deals with two more free agents. Veteran kicker Brandon McManus will replace Joey Slye. This was largely well-received by the fanbase on social media.

McManus spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos before kicking for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. Some people wondered how he would fare away from the thin air at Mile High Stadium. He seemed to do just fine, converting more than 80 percent of his field goals and all of his extra points.

That said, his long-range accuracy did seem off. McManus has been a very good kicker from distances throughout his career but made only five of his ten attempts from over 50 yards last year.

Peters added a second offensive lineman when they agreed to terms with Nick Allegretti of the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The 27-year-old has been a backup guard for most of his career but made headlines in January when he took over for an injured Joe Thuney, starting in both the AFC championship game and Super Bowl.

He played well in both, despite sustaining an injury that would be later diagnosed as a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his shoulder. Allegretti could compete for a starting spot at left guard or provide quality veteran depth on the interior.

Peters and Quinn made several strategic moves to address glaring roster holes without tying themselves into any over-the-top contracts. There is still a lot more work to be done, but this is a promising start.