After the preseason finale Saturday, Coach Ron Rivera said there were “probably six or seven” depth roster spots left to be decided. He said special teams would be a big factor for reserves. Washington’s executives face difficult choices on the roster’s margins, including whether to prioritize a more polished receiver and less explosive returner (Dax Milne) or a less polished receiver and more explosive returner (Kazmeir Allen).
If recent history holds, the Commanders are unlikely to cut any 2023 draft picks, and many cut players are likely to end up on the practice squad. During the coronavirus epidemic, the NFL expanded practice squads from 10 players to 16 (up to six can be veterans with two or more accrued seasons).
Here’s our projection for the Commanders initial 53-man roster:
In: Sam Howell, Jacoby Brissett
No surprises. Howell will be the starter, Brissett will be the backup and Fromm is likely to end up on the practice squad.
One argument for keeping Fromm: The NFL passed a rule this year that allows teams with three quarterbacks on the active roster to have the third active on game days without counting against the 46-player limit.
In: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Byron Pringle, Dax Milne
Out: Kazmeir Allen, Marcus Kemp, Mitchell Tinsley, Brycen Tremayne, Kyric McGowan, Zion Bowens
With a clear top four, the battle for the final two spots included two former Chiefs (Pringle and Kemp), two slighter slots (Milne and Allen) and one undrafted rookie upstart (Tinsley). Washington could use the fifth spot on the best receiver (Pringle) and must spend the sixth on the punt/kickoff returner.
Allen, though explosive, has been inconsistent. He muffed a punt at the Commanders’ 10-yard line Saturday because he took his eye off the ball too soon, which highlighted the challenge for coaches to rely on a young, volatile player.
Milne, while not as explosive, has been reliable. He fielded 40 punts and 15 kickoffs last season and muffed only one (which he recovered). But his longest punt return was 19 yards and his longest kickoff 33.
If the Commanders want steadiness and security, and if they want to help the new-look offense the most, they might pick Milne and hope to stash Allen on the practice squad as he develops.
Tinsley impressed in the preseason — six catches, 129 yards, one touchdown, three of four special teams phases — but narrowly missed our roster. He may have played well enough for Washington to worry about exposing him to waivers and therefore make a hard cut elsewhere.
In: Charles Leno Jr., Andrew Wylie, Sam Cosmi, Saahdiq Charles, Nick Gates, Chris Paul, Tyler Larsen, Ricky Stromberg, Cornelius Lucas, Braeden Daniels
Out: Trent Scott, Alex Akingbulu, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Mason Brooks, Aaron Monteiro, Nolan Laufenberg
Locks: the starting five, the two draft picks (Stromberg and Daniels) and the loser of the left guard battle (Charles or Paul). Washington will probably keep Larsen as a backup center, though Stromberg could also fill the role, as well as one swing tackle. Lucas seems to have the edge on Scott.
Rivera said Thursday it’s critical to keep extra linemen in case of injury. Brooks, Laufenberg and Jones-Smith are strong candidates for the practice squad.
In: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner, Alex Armah
Out: Curtis Hodges, Brandon Dillon, Kaden Smith
The one spot up for grabs went to Armah, who also plays fullback, because he’s versatile and an excellent blocker, two traits offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy values in his tight ends. Hodges, the other serious competitor, ran decent routes but struggled with drops.
Washington could also gamble: Keep three tight ends, cut Armah and use the extra spot to keep a young player it’s worried about losing as rosters shake out. It’d be a bet that Armah won’t receive a better free agent deal than Washington is willing to offer.
In: Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez Jr.
Out: Jonathan Williams, Derrick Gore, Jaret Patterson
It seems unlikely the team would make a hard cut elsewhere to keep a fourth running back. But if it did, it’d be for Williams, a savvy veteran who plays special teams, or Gore, who played well for Bieniemy in 2021. If cut, both are strong candidates for the practice squad.
In: Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Phidarian Mathis, John Ridgeway, Efe Obada, Andre Jones Jr., K.J. Henry, Casey Toohill, James Smith-Williams
Out: Abdullah Anderson, Benning Potoa’e, Joshua Pryor, Will Bradley-King, Isaiah Mack
The Commanders’ strongest position is also one of the hardest to forecast. There are five strong candidates for backup edge rusher (Obada, Jones, Henry, Toohill, Smith-Williams) and three for backup tackle (Mathis, Ridgeway, Anderson). The team kept only nine defensive linemen on the initial 53 in 2021 and 2022.
This year, the team drafted two defensive linemen (Henry and Jones) and can keep two more because of cuts at linebacker and other spots.
It’s possible the Commanders get through cuts, place Mathis (calf) on injured reserve and re-sign another tackle, such as Anderson.
In: Cody Barton, Jamin Davis, David Mayo, Khaleke Hudson
Out: De’Jon Harris, Ferrod Gardner, Milo Eifler
Washington, like many teams, continues to devalue this position. It will probably only keep four because it rarely uses the base 4-3 defense with three linebackers.
The Commanders will also probably prioritize stashing a linebacker or two on the practice squad. Two days after final cuts, Davis has a hearing related to a reckless driving conviction. He faces a minimum of four and a maximum of eight days in jail.
In: Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Forbes, Benjamin St-Juste, Quan Martin, Christian Holmes, Danny Johnson
Out: Rachad Wildgoose, Tariq Castro-Fields, Nick Whiteside, D.J. Stirgus, Jace Whittaker, DaMarcus Fields
For the final two spots, Johnson and Holmes make sense over Wildgoose and Castro-Fields because of position flex (Johnson can play inside and out) and special teams (Holmes plays all four phases). But Washington’s pro personnel staff clearly likes Wildgoose and Castro-Fields. The team claimed both on waivers after cut day 2022. If exposed, another team might claim Castro-Fields because of his size (6-1, 197) and speed (4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash).
In: Kam Curl, Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler, Jeremy Reaves
Out: Terrell Burgess, Kendall Smith, Joshua Kalu
Despite his feel-good story and special-teams all-pro award, Reaves is on the bubble. The team heavily invested in the defensive backfield and has young, versatile safeties ahead of him. But ultimately, Reaves’s special-teams prowess is likely to earn him a spot.
In: punter/holder Tress Way, kicker Joey Slye, long snapper Camaron Cheeseman
Washington decided its kicking competition last week when it cut Michael Badgley and kept Slye. The biggest concern is Cheeseman, a 2021 sixth-round pick, who has at times struggled with errant snaps in the preseason. Way blamed the inconsistency on the long snapper trying an experimental new grip.
POST AUTHOR: Sam Fortier and Nicki Jhabvala