Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Washington organization, Washington fans around the world and those who were just starting to love the "Football Team" moniker:
It's time for the Washington Commanders. New name. New quarterback. And raised expectations for a coach who, entering his third year on the job, has yet to log a winning season with the ball club. Even though he has delivered one playoff appearance. It's all very complicated.
Before we get going, an important note: Washington's workplace environment has been in the headlines in recent years. A 2020 investigation of alleged sexual harassment and other improper conduct led to a $10 million fine from the NFL in 2021, with owner Daniel Snyder stepping away from the day-to-day running of the team. More recently, Congress invited NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Snyder to appear at a hearing as part of its own efforts to look into allegations of misconduct , as well as Washington's finances.
These issues are serious and will no doubt impact the franchise. But it's not possible to discuss them properly in this article, which is meant to focus primarily on football matters.
One high from last season: A midseason win streak. The Commanders limped into their Week 9 bye with a 2-6 record. Not a lot was going right for them. But then, they started a four-game winning streak that commenced with a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Week 10.
One low from last season: Pretty much everything after that four-game winning streak. I mean, the injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who recently announced his retirement after 17 NFL seasons, threw off the team's plan at quarterback one week into the year and should get some mention here. As well as losing Chase Young (ACL) during the middle of the season. We will get to him in a moment.
Head coach: Ron Rivera. Find me a person who doesn't like Ron Rivera. Great coach. Great guy. Easy to root for. He was brought to Washington to bring some stability to an organization that can certainly use it. And, well, he's won seven games in each of the past two seasons. The upshot is, seven wins was good enough for Washington to take the NFC East title two years ago. Not so much last year.
So you have to wonder how much time Riverboat Ron is going to be given to turn this franchise around. This feels like a pivotal year for him. That said, looking over his coaching career, it does seem like every time he's counted out -- in life and in football -- he finds a way to overcome.
Quarterback: Carson Wentz. There are two things that will live rent-free in my mind when it comes to Washington's new quarterback (and it's not how cool he was when I met him at the Rookie Premiere back in the day):
1) His 2017 season was magical. Especially with Nick Foles revealing himself to be a short-term success story, it's clear the Eagles never get that first Super Bowl without Wentz. Torrey Smith talked about that on Good Morning Football recently, and it really hit me. Until a torn ACL in December opened the door for Foles' eventual Super Bowl heroics, dude was going to be the MVP. You can't take that away from him.
2) He's tough. While his season ended horribly last year with the Colts, it's easy to forget Wentz had foot surgery in August. There was a chance he'd be out until October. But Wentz played every game last season. Every. Single. One. And he also dealt with sprains in both ankles.
I'm going to be honest with you. I'm rooting for him.
Projected 2022 MVP: Jonathan Allen, defensive tackle. There were a lot of disappointments for the Football Team last year. Not Allen. It's like when a band has a disappointing album, but there's that one track that keeps you coming back -- like Some Kind of Monster on Metallica's otherwise-dreadful St. Anger. Allen set a career high in sacks last year and was the one member of that defense who was consistently doing work.
New face to know: Andrew Norwell, guard. I mean, it's hard to top trading for Wentz. (Did I mention that? Yeah, the Commanders traded for Wentz.) But the next biggest acquisition was Norwell, who is an improvement on Ereck Flowers and will be especially key after losing Brandon Scherff in free agency.
2022 breakout star: Sam Cosmi, tackle. While I just highlighted some shuffling at the guard position, the Commanders could see a huge breakout from Cosmi, who played well last year during his rookie season but was limited to just nine games because of injuries and illness.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. Nothing is ever given in the NFL. But the Commanders open with two winnable games against the teams that had the top two picks in the draft this year (the Jags and Lions) -- which means they could start 2-0. Conversely, starting 0-2 would be a sign of trouble.
- Week 8 at Indianapolis Colts. Carson Wentz REVENGE GAME.
- Week 15 vs. New York Giants. The Commanders have that coveted Week 14 bye. (Why, yes, I am being facetious!) I'm expecting a better Giants team this season. And this game is going to be huge if the Commanders are in the playoff hunt.
Will the Commanders be able to …
... field a pretty great receiving corps? We love Terry McLaurin. (I, at least, can't wait for him to be a member of the Chicago Bears next year, after his rookie contract runs out.) McLaurin had 77 receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns last season. (Yes, the five touchdowns are a bit light. You would want a bit more. But that might fall on the quarterback position.) The Commanders will pair Terry with first-round pick Jahan Dotson. I think Dotson is an excellent player, even if he's not a big and physical guy; there is room for him, especially if Cam Sims steps up as the target with more size. Don't forget Curtis Samuel is coming back. And, oh yeah, my guy Dyami Brown can be an exciting player. I kind of like the way they set up this receiver room.
... get the old Chase Young back? Young tore his ACL on Nov. 14, so whether he can return to form is going to be one of the biggest questions looming over the Commanders this season. 2020's No. 2 overall pick was dominant in Year 1, capturing Defensive Rookie of the Years honors. But he's not going to need to do it all on his own. You know about Jonathan Allen. But the Commanders also have Montez Sweat on the outside. He could help take some of the pressure off Young.
One storyline ...
... people shouldn't overthink: The running back situation. I mean, fantasy enthusiasts will ignore that advice no matter what. But in terms of on-field effectiveness, Washington's got a strong complement of ball-carriers. Antonio Gibson has been pretty good since the Commanders took him in the third round in 2020; he's topped 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his two seasons, logging 1,331 and 10 total touchdowns (both team highs) last season, when he also topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. Then there's J.D. McKissic, who has taken on a bigger role in the passing game than Gibson over the past two seasons, which is a bit of a shock, considering AG was a receiver in college. (That note is getting dangerously close to Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard levels of ubiquity.) For a hot minute, it looked like McKissic was headed to the Bills as a free agent. But before I could even move Gibson up in my fantasy ranks, McKissic decided to return to Washington instead. To make matters worse (for me in fantasy, though better for the real team), the Commanders used a third-round pick on Brian Robinson, a bruising back from Alabama who is going to end up taking touchdowns away from Gibby. Which is kind of uncool for my fantasy team. But it should help keep AG healthier.
... people shouldn't overlook: Wentz's importance to Rivera's continued employment. First, real quick, was the Taylor Heinicke experience really SO bad that it was worth giving up draft capital for a quarterback who is now on his third team in as many years? While Wentz appears to be on his last ride, if he fails this year, he could still get another chance somewhere else -- it is the NFL, after all. And the Commanders would draft another quarterback next year, barring a push this year from rookie Sam Howell. But I'm not sure Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner would be back. Not that it's fair. But it's easy to see the franchise wanting to make a coaching change if there is a re-start under center.
For 2022 to be a success, the Commanders MUST:
- Finish with more victories than losses. I mean, I keep making this point, but Washington really needs to get into winning football. I'm not going to diminish the 2020 playoff berth -- the team earned that. But it's important to move forward. Trading for Wentz shows that it's time to win now. If that doesn't happen, it feels like there will be repercussions.