Are the Washington Commanders better after a quick start to free agency? Not really.
The Commanders spent conservatively on mid-price veterans to address the offensive line and depth elsewhere. But, they lost two important players to free agency. Overall, the sum gain is slightly better, but not enough to move into deep playoff contention – yet.
The limited start wasn't surprising. Head coach Ron Rivera has never competed for top free agents over three years and outgoing owner Dan Snyder shouldn't spend crazy money that impacts his franchise’s value.
Instead, Washington chose the middle road by signing Kansas City right tackle Andrew Wylie and New York Giants guard/center Nick Gates to bolster an awful line. If Washington is to compete, it must protect quarterback Sam Howell, so the Commanders were right to make the line its top priority. Wylie improves right tackle while sliding Sam Cosmi to right guard where he's better suited. Look for Washington to run right quite often this season.
Gates should compete with Tyler Larsen for center after the former recovered from a devastating leg injury at FedEx Field in 2021. The last thing Washington needs is another injured center, but Gates returned last season to prove his mettle.
The rest is whatever. Claiming Minnesota cornerback Cam Dantzler, re-signing cornerback Danny Johnson and tendering cornerback Jeremy Reaves simply maintains depth.
Letting free agent linebacker Cole Holcomb (Pittsburgh) and quarterback Taylor Heinicke (Atlanta) depart may sting. That Washington signed Seattle linebacker Cody Barton as Holcomb's cheaper replacement is a gamble, but the Commanders understandably didn't want to pay Holcomb top dollar after a history of injuries. Heinicke signed for $4 million more than Washington's price, leaving the Commanders without one of their more popular players who was an invaluable reserve.
But, this is Eric Bieniemy's new offense so he gets to choose the pieces. Best to protect Howell and hope his early promise is a glimpse of good things ahead.
It's not that Washington has gaping holes and lacks talent. There are enough solid players on this roster to make the postseason. But, there aren't enough playmakers to advance to the Super Bowl. That's where Washington could have improved with free agents. The Commanders just chose not to do so. Given Snyder's pending sale, that was expected.
Ironically, Washington's draft may now shift to the defense despite being the better unit last season and re-signing tackle Daron Payne to a four-year deal. The first-rounder should now be a cornerback while a middle linebacker is chosen by the third round. Fortunately, there are a number of promising corners for Washington's 16th overall pick like Penn State's Joey Porter Jr.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.