The Washington Commanders’ offseason rebuild makes them a team to watch in 2024

The Washington Commanders were an intriguing enigma entering the 2024 NFL season. They haven’t won more than eight games since 2015, and haven’t won more than 10 games since Madonna’s “Justify My Love” was the No. 1 song in America in 1991. (Not coincidentally, they won the Super Bowl that year.)

Now entering the 2024 season, the Commanders find themselves in an unfortunately familiar spot – transitioning to a new head coach and quarterback.

They poached Dan Quinn away from the division-rival Dallas Cowboys after firing head coach Ron Rivera, and they drafted Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels out of LSU with the second overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Regardless of how you feel about Daniels’ potential as a pro (more on that in a minute), the moves Washington has made could lead to them surprising many in Year One of the Quinn regime.

Commanders’ free agency additions

The Commanders weren’t afraid to spend money this offseason, dishing out over $167 million in total money to free agents. Several of those players followed Quinn from Dallas to Washington; defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene will all play roles in strengthening a Commanders defense that allowed the most yards in the NFL in 2023. Armstrong and Fowler, in particular, will give the Commanders a massive boost in pressure off the edge, as Washington had the lowest pressure percentage of any team. The two combined for 11.5 sacks in 2023 as rotational pass rushers in Dallas, and have earned larger roles this year in Washington.

It was clear that the goal for the Commanders was to add several respected veterans on both sides of the ball. I love the addition of Frankie Luvu at linebacker. He’s one of my favorite players in the league, and has consistently but quietly been one of the best off-ball ‘backers in football. He had 5.5 sacks a season ago from the middle of the field, and 12.5 over the last two years. Not only that, but he is one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL and has a tremendous nose for the ball. Bobby Wagner joins Luvu to create a very good tandem of linebackers in the middle of the field. Despite his age, he still led the NFL in tackles in 2023. Signing Jeremy Chinn to pair with Darrick Forrest gives them two very solid safeties on the back end, as well. Overall, this is a unit that has a low bar to clear from a season ago, and should be much improved, even after losing Kendall Fuller.

The more important note for the Commanders’ defense is that this isn’t going to be a Jack Del Rio unit. Quinn is going to do more man-coverage stuff and be aggressive with how many rushers he sends. That style of defense will benefit 2023 first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes, who struggled under Del Rio.

Offensively, Washington finished the year with the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL. A lot of that had to do with how poor their offensive line was. They added another former Cowboy, Tyler Biadasz, to be the anchor in the middle at center, as well as Michael Deiter from the Texans to play on the inside. The big-name addition, though, was running back Austin Ekeler, who is coming off his third straight season of 1,000 yards from scrimmage and will be looked upon as a veteran leader for this young offense. And while all these additions are noteworthy, the fate of Washington’s season will come down to how good their rookie quarterback plays.

Commanders’ 2024 NFL Draft picks

Quarterback Jayden Daniels enters the NFL with several red flags. While he’s 6-foot-4, he weighs just 210 pounds and plays like he is filming the newest Jackass movie. His slim frame combined with a reckless style of play is a movie Washington fans have already seen with Robert Griffin III. Plus, I’m also skeptical of Kliff Kingsbury running the offense — we saw how that went in Arizona. Terry McLaurin is a tremendous receiver, and arguably the most underrated receiver in football, but I’ll need to see it to believe it with the offense.

Defensively, though, Washington hit several home runs. Getting Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton and Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil in the second round give them two Day One starters. Newton was arguably the best interior lineman in the draft, and Sainristill was the draft’s top nickel corner. I also love taking the best tight end in the draft in Ben Sinnott, and getting a slot receiver in Luke McCaffrey out of Rice to close out Day Two.

Washington Commanders’ ownership change

A big reason why the Commanders were willing to spend so much money is because of the new brass up top. Josh Harris and the Commanders’ new ownership group recognize that this is a de facto rebuild, and seem to have the patience combined with the willingness to spend money in order to do that rebuild the right way.

It’s a much different approach than former owner Daniel Snyder. He spent money, but often funneled it to one player time and time again, which constantly blew up in his face. Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, Jeremiah Trotter, Albert Haynesworth and countless other examples of Snyder dishing out big money, the latter of which was over $100 million. With Harris, he isn’t taking many huge swings that could result in a massive strikeout. Rather, the Commanders are going for singles and doubles with nice role players and reliable veterans.

Roster-wise, the Commanders are much better than they were 12 months ago, and you can say the same about their coaching staff. They had massive holes all over their defense and along their offensive line that they addressed, and added someone who they hope will be their franchise quarterback in Daniels. At minimum, they will be better than they were in 2023 when they went 4-13. At maximum, when you scope around the NFC, can they be a Wild Card contender, and perhaps even sneak in? Perhaps.

Realistically, this feels like a team that can win between six to eight games and use this season as a springboard for 2025 to continue growing. But a lot of that growth and potential will hinge on how good their rookie quarterback can be, and if he is the long-term answer.

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