Chris Paul

NFC East Notes: Commanders, Kearse, Giants

Battling a turf toe issue sustained Monday night, Terry McLaurin will not need surgery. But an extended rest period is underway. This hiatus has the top Commanders skill-position talent uncertain to be ready by Week 1, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeremy Fowler (Twitter links). McLaurin has not missed a game due to injury since 2020. The Commanders have made some big investments at wide receiver since starting McLaurin’s tenure off with little around him. Curtis Samuel is going into the final season of his three-year, $34.5MM contract, and the team has first-rounder Jahan Dotson going into his second season. But McLaurin has been one of the NFL’s best receivers, totaling his third straight 1,000-yard season months after signing a three-year, $69.6MM extension.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

Latest On Commanders’ OL Situation

The Commanders’ 2022 offensive line was one of the league’s most beleaguered position groups last year. The team dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season, handicapping a group that already was lacking in star talent. A good amount of turnover is expected from last year’s lineup, but is it nearly enough to not be a hindrance to quarterback Sam Howell‘s first season as a Day 1 starter?

In terms of turnover, Trai Turner, who started 12 games at guard last season, has departed as a free agent. Wes Schweitzer, who started six games at guard, is now on the Jets. Nick Martin and Chase Roullier have also made their way to free agency, and Andrew Norwell is soon set to join them. It was announced a little over a month ago that the team was waiting to release Norwell until he could pass a physical, but he’s still currently on the roster today.

In terms of new blood, the Commanders signed former Chiefs tackle Andrew Wylie, who followed new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy from Kansas City. The team also added former Giants interior lineman Nick Gates with the intent to play him at center. Washington did re-sign Tyler Larsen, who started eight games at center for the team last year. The loser of the starting battle between Gates and Larsen will become an experienced depth piece on the interior line. Additionally, the team used both a third- and a fourth-round draft pick to address the offensive line, bringing in rookie center Ricky Stromberg from Arkansas and rookie tackle Braeden Daniels from Utah. While both could project as long-term starters for the future, neither rookie seems to be a contender to make an impact this season.

With the offseason moves, we’re starting to see the line take shape. Left tackle Charles Leno is the only sure thing on the line. He’s a definitive starter and should produce at a consistent level. The Commanders spent too much money on Wylie for him not to start. It’s been a couple years since his best performances (he allowed nine sacks last year), but his starting experience for a Super Bowl-winning team is likely enough to cement him at right tackle.

Gates likewise is being paid at a starters’ rate, so he’s the odds-on favorite to take the starting job at center. In that case, it ends up being a smart move to have retained Larsen, since over the past two years, Gates has only appeared in 12 games. If Gates continues to struggle to stay on the field, Washington knows Larsen can step up. With the addition of Stromberg in the draft, the Commanders are certainly attempting to feel secure after a season that decimated their centers room.

Samuel Cosmi is an interesting piece in the line. He was drafted out of Texas in the second round two years ago as a top tackle prospect, and while he’s gotten some run there in Washington, he’s also filled in a bit at guard. With Wylie and Leno likely securing starting roles on the outside, Cosmi can either become a strong depth piece at tackle or continue working as a starter at guard.

The other guard spot seems fairly open. Saahdiq Charles is currently one of the top candidates for the starting role. In three years with the team, Charles has started eight games, but he’s not really expected to excel as a starting guard. His main competition for the position seems to be last year’s seventh-round pick Chris Paul. Paul only made his NFL debut when he started the season finale for the Commanders last year, but Rivera has heaped praise on the progress and abilities of the young man. If he continues to impress, he could push Charles for the starting spot opposite Cosmi.

So, did the Commanders piece together a line that their second-year passer can be confident behind? It’s almost certainly too soon to tell. There’s an argument to be made that they were able to increase the talent of their two-deep, but the biggest thing they could improve on to better their chances of success this year is just health.

Commanders HC Ron Rivera On LG Competition

Last March, the Commanders signed Andrew Norwell to a two-year, $10MM contract and installed him as their starting left guard. Aside from the last game of the season, Norwell played every offensive snap for Washington in 2022, but his roster spot could be in jeopardy.

When recently asked about his club’s LG competition, head coach Ron Rivera said he expects a real battle between fourth-year pro Saahdiq Charles and second-year blocker Chris Paul (Twitter link via JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington). As for Norwell, Rivera simply said, “he’s going to be there.”

That is hardly a strong vote of confidence for a player who was brought in as a worthy replacement for Brandon Scherff, who defected to the Jaguars in free agency last year after a brilliant seven-year tenure with Washington that included five Pro Bowl bids and one First Team All-Pro designation. Unfortunately for Norwell, his performance in his first year with the Commanders was not especially compelling.

After earning First Team All-Pro acclaim himself in 2017, his final season with the Panthers, Norwell secured a then-record contract with Jacksonville, and his play in Duval County, while generally solid, did not necessarily match the club’s financial commitment. In 2022, Norwell received a 59.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the lowest mark of his nine-year career and which positioned him as the 47th-best guard out of 76 qualifiers. He was charged with five penalties and 29 total pressures allowed, including four sacks.

Still, his 127 career starts are unrivaled by Charles, who has taken all of 61 snaps at left guard in his three-year career, and Paul, a 2022 seventh-rounder whose only action of his rookie campaign came in the Week 18 contest that Norwell sat out. So it stands to reason that Washington would keep Norwell around at least long enough to see if the Charles-Paul battle yields promising results, or if running it back with Norwell is a better solution for a team that could be deploying a largely inexperienced Sam Howell at quarterback.

However, if Charles and/or Paul should prove themselves capable of a starting role in spring workouts and training camp, Norwell’s contract could work against him. Due to the void years that were tacked onto the end of his deal, releasing Norwell prior to June 1 would create $2.8MM in dead money versus a savings of only $2.3MM. A post-June 1 release, though, would create savings of $4.4MM on the 2023 ledger against just $700K in dead money.

If Rivera’s comments are any indication, Norwell may find himself a cap casualty this summer.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/6/22

Here are the latest draft pick signings:

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears 

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

  • DB Tariq Woolen (fifth round, Texas-San Antonio)
  • LB Tyreke Smith (fifth round, Ohio State)
  • WR Bo Melton (seventh round, Rutgers)
  • WR Dareke Young (seventh round, Lenoir-Rhyne)

Washington Commanders