How the Commanders have fared so far in free agency: What’s still on the agenda?

We don’t know what we don’t know.

That colloquialism came to mind minutes after news broke that the Commanders agreed to terms with linebacker Bobby Wagner, one of 15 external free agents who decided to join Washington during the first week of free agency.

Two days earlier, an agreement with another linebacker, Frankie Luvu, led to conversations about his role. Versatility is a frequent buzzword when explaining the 235-pounder’s potential. Luvu is coming off back-to-back 100-plus-tackle seasons and signaled plays for the Carolina Panthers’ defense while registering 12.5 sacks over that stretch.

If holdover Jamin Davis remained the other linebacker, Luvu would have man-in-the-middle vibes in a projected 4-2-5 base formation and the ability to pressure the pocket. Since the non-Davis rotation pieces from last year were free agents, more additions were required. Still, and perhaps with memories of quieter free-agency periods with the previous staff, Luvu seemed like the one bold lineback acquisition.



Commanders free-agency tracker: Sam Howell to Seahawks, Bobby Wagner signs 1-year deal

Enter Wagner, a six-time first-team All-Pro and one of the league’s more respected players. This isn’t some farewell tour gambit for a player entering his 13th season or an in-case-of-emergency signing. He led the league in tackles last season while earning a ninth Pro Bowl nod and played 98 percent of Seattle’s defensive snaps.

We don’t know exactly how first-time general manager Adam Peters, head coach Dan Quinn and assistant GM Lance Newmark envision fixing the roster with the 2024 season and beyond in mind. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and run-game coordinator Anthony Lynn, both former head coaches, won’t be timid about weighing in. The group might not always have the whole picture, but alternate paths exist depending on who comes aboard and who doesn’t.

Numerous roster questions and acquisitions remain before next month’s NFL Draft. Of course, we’re curious about how Washington will address its one gaping hole, left tackle, and there are concerns at cornerback and overall depth. The debate and speculation will continue normally, but please realize the organization is keeping a lid on its plans. Luvu said he had no idea the Commanders were considering Wagner when he agreed to terms. Like the head-coaching search, we’re somewhat left in the dark until Peters and others start shedding some light.

Commanders focused on immediate results

This fan base hasn’t witnessed a winning record since 2016. They last celebrated a playoff victory in 2005. That’s not even factoring in all the organizational chaos and drama under previous ownership. Therefore, don’t expect the team leaders to talk much about fans having patience with the fixer-upper situation. Their actions are saying enough.

Of Washington’s 18 contractual agreements, including three re-signings, 14 are for primarily offensive or defensive players. From that 14, only five signed multiyear deals: Three years for Luvu, center Tyler Biadasz, defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong and guard Nick Allegretti, with running back Austin Ekeler for two.

The one-year deal faction contains expected starters (Wagner and safety Jeremy Chinn), high-rotation pieces (D-lineman Clelin Ferrell) and useable depth (quarterback Marcus Mariota). Credible options exist at both defensive end spots, left guard and safety. That wasn’t the case before free agency began, thus allowing Peters to target other areas or take the best player available regardless of position. Washington has roughly $52 million in available salary-cap space, per Over The Cap.

Following the Sam Howell trade with Seattle, Washington has nine picks, including Nos. 2, 36 and 40, and six in the top 100. That’s a good place to start the injection of youth.

If the rookie quarterback arrives ready, Ekeler and Chinn rediscover their past glory, and Washington’s past Pro Bowlers return to that level, maybe the team will have a winning record in 2024. If so, it won’t erratically increase spending on future salaries to get there.



Commanders move on from Sam Howell as new regime builds roster to fit its vision

How will Luvu be used?

Some NFL thinkers immediately pictured Luvu in the Micah Parsons where-is-Waldo chess-piece role he played in Dallas under Quinn.

That seems like the plan since Wagner will wear the green dot as the signal caller. The Cowboys played nickel or dime coverage on 94.5 percent of the defensive snaps, meaning two linebackers were mainly on the field. Last season, TruMedia assigned Dallas 31 snaps in 4-3 looks.

Perhaps Luvu plays at least 99 snaps at five spots, as Parsons did in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus, with the most at left defensive end and left outside linebacker. Based on sack production, the 245-pound Parsons seemed to wear down as the season progressed. Of his 28.5 sacks the past two seasons (37 games, including three playoff matchups), only four came in December and January.

If Quinn has a new view of sending an undersized linebacker into the fray against 300-pound linemen with the same regularity as Parsons, then finding reps elsewhere for Luvu, 27, is on the agenda. Maybe Washington’s staff will dial back Wagner’s snap count in his age-34 season. This would expand Luvu’s schematic potential, create more linebacker reps for Davis and allow room for six defensive backs.

Dallas tied for fifth in dime packages (21.4 percent) in 2023. Chinn, the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up to Chase Young, has linebacker traits and often played in the box with Carolina. Neither Wagner nor Luvu excels in coverage, which is another reason to consider using extra defensive backs in obvious passing situations.

Bringing in familiar faces

It helps to have connections when it comes to a job search. Of the 15 external free agents, only Allegretti arrived without a direct or recent relationship with a high-ranking staff member. Quinn’s ties with former Cowboys and Seahawks players are apparent. Ekeler, a two-time NFL touchdowns leader with the Chargers, began his career with Lynn as his head coach. Defensive passing game coordinator Jason Simmons had Luvu and Chinn in Carolina, and so on.

There’s no issue with signing several familiar faces, especially when starting a new gig, and the players come from winning teams such as the Cowboys, 49ers and Lions. However, we’ll raise eyebrows if future signings primarily come from those same teams.

In the second week of free agency, Washington has roughly four to five starting spots open.

The plan at No. 2 still a question mark

Several folks assumed the signing of Mariota, a tall and mobile passer, signaled the Commanders at No. 2 would select another tall and mobile quarterback, LSU’s Jayden Daniels.

That Daniels-Mariota logic train is rough, seeing as:

  • Drake Maye, the other prominent QB mentioned at No. 2, is also tall and mobile
  • Washington could only choose from the available options rather than create a customized passer
  • The Commanders tried retaining the 2023 reserve (and non-RPO threat) Jacoby Brissett
  • They pushed for signing Sam Darnold, whose primary comparison with Daniels is they would be clustered together for an alphabetical roll call

Like Brissett, Mariota is a capable starter if needed. They fall into the spot-starter/high-end backup level of passers with minimal upside. Seattle’s Geno Smith indeed went from that group to an expected starter, but that’s a rare bump (and possibly a short-term one following the trade for Howell).

As for what the Commanders might do at No. 2, recent conversations with pro evaluators and other league sources led to no consensus between Daniels, Maye and J.J. McCarthy. Daniels and Maye have backers and doubters, of course, but they lack momentum in either direction. And McCarthy’s incremental rise in first-round projections continues. Expect that to reflect in the mock draft world, with the Minnesota Vikings potentially moving from 11 into the top five.



What would a potential trade-down from No. 2 look like for Commanders?

Out with the old, in with the new

We can discern something confidently: Peters did not like this inherited roster. Washington has only re-signed three of its 20-plus free agents. Two of them, safety Jeremy Reaves and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, primarily played on special teams last season. The third, rotational defensive lineman Efe Obada, is recovering from a significant leg injury.

Here’s what’s uncertain. To what degree do Peters and Quinn see the remaining players improving with the new coaching staff? Knowing new owners tend to want their hires in critical spots, Washington faced a lame-duck situation. In hindsight, that reality hung over the scene from the jump.

Add in Eric Bieniemy running the offense like someone who wanted to execute his vision to the detriment at times of Howell, and overall cohesion and the defensive backs sliding dramatically following the departure of position coach Chris Harris and, well, let’s say the players needed more help. That includes Washington’s recent first-round picks. Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr. labored throughout his rookie year, but his aggressive mindset might make him a better fit with the new staff.

Wide receiver Jahan Dotson went from seven touchdown receptions as a 2022 rookie to being an afterthought in the red zone. As the new staff has discussed, using Davis more in pass-rushing scenarios will better utilize his athletic gifts while hiding flaws in downfield coverage. Another draft selection, 2021 third-round receiver Dyami Brown, fell out of favor with the coaches to the degree that, according to several league sources, the speed threat was made available at the 2023 trade deadline.

While the 2020 staff used a similar low-key approach in free agency and added helpful players like tight end Logan Thomas and running J.D McKissic, they were supplementing several rising building blocks in wide receiver Terry McLaurin and three defensive linemen selected in consecutive first rounds from 2017 to 2019. Peters didn’t inherit such hope with this roster.

While Washington took a significant swing at linebacker in free agency, it hasn’t signed a wide receiver and only added a depth corner (Noah Igbinoghene) despite losing starters Curtis Samuel and Kendall Fuller in free agency. The Commanders were in the running for free-agent corners Isaac Yiadom and Isaiah Oliver, as well as defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who re-signed with the Colts. They’ve continued checking on guards.

Expect those holes, along with the offensive tackle, to get some love with Washington’s five Day 2 picks. Be patient until we see the whole plan.

(Photo of Frankie Luvu: Bob Donnan / USA Today)

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