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Commanders depth chart and salary cap update after 3 veteran offensive players released

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By: Bill-in-Bangkok

Only 49 players currently on the offseason roster

Three veterans released

With Adam Peters busy at the Combine in Indianapolis, the first shots were fired in the re-shaping of the Ron Rivera roster with the release of three offensive players, two of whom were multi-season players under the former head coach/football czar.

Tight end Logan Thomas had been with the team since Rivera’s 2020 inaugural season in Washington. Left tackle Charles Leno joined the team a season later (2021) after being cut by the Bears, who anticipated that newly-drafted rookie Tevin Jenkins would replace him. That actually worked out better for the Washington Football Team than it did for the Bears when Jenkins went down early with a season-ending injury. Thomas and Leno had some good seasons with Washington; in fact, Logan Thomas had the best season of his career in 2020 when he caught 72 passes for 670 yards and 6 touchdowns. The same cannot be said for Center Nick Gates, who was brought in as a veteran free agent last year in an effort to backfill the void left by the loss of Washington’s long-time center, Chase Roullier. Gates’ play was abysmal.

Thomas and Leno also had sub-optimal seasons in 2023, and both were slated to take up big chunks of the salary cap in 2024. The release of both players can be seen as a response to both performance and salary cap concerns. Both, if healthy, are still capable of playing in the NFL, but neither could justify the cap hits that they were due to earn this season. Leno is reportedly about to have surgery and it has been reported that Logan Thomas failed his exit physical. The release of Leno and Thomas will immediately reduce Washington’s 2024 cap hit by a reported $13.8m, though, as reported in the article below, there will be some subsequent charges for both players that will affect the cap in 2024 and 2025.

From Over the Cap:

Leno had one of the greatest careers for a player selected in the 7th round of the NFL draft. Leno began his career with the Bears in 2014 and became their starting tackle in 2015. He earned a $9.25 million per year extension with the Bears back in 2017, completing all but one year of that contract when he was released in 2021. Leno latched on with the Commanders where he held the starting job for three seasons and was rewarded with a $12.5 million per year contract extension in 2022.

Leno was set to count for $15.53 million on the Commanders salary cap. He will leave the team with $8.25 million in dead money for now and that number should grow slightly by the start of the season. Leno was injured towards the end of the season and should qualify for the injury protection benefit in 2024 and 2025. That amount will be $2.05 million in 2024 with $1.23 million counting on the salary cap. In 2025 it should be around $600,000.

Thomas had just completed his 10th year in the NFL in 2023 and his fourth with the Commanders. Thomas bounced around the NFL for years with pit stops in Arizona, Miami, Detroit, Buffalo, and New York before finding his place with Washington. The Commanders signed Thomas to a two year, $6.14 million contract as a free agent in 2020 and he responded with a great year where he had 670 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Washington quickly signed him to a three year extension worth slightly more than $8 million a season but Thomas was already 30 and had trouble staying healthy and recapturing that impact from that 2020 season.

Thomas was set to count for $8.29 million on the salary cap and will cost just $1.75 million in dead money, a savings of $6.54 million. Thomas may also be injury protection eligible as he failed his exit physical when released. If so he would have the same added cap charges as Leno. The Commanders are fifth in the NFL with $21.9M in dead money in 2024.

The release of Gates is purely reflective of his poor play. The team saves $333,000 by cutting him. Per Adam Schefter, the Commanders informed Gates, who signed a three-year deal with the team one year ago, that they will release him at the start of the new league year in mid-March. Although Gates has not yet been released, for practical purposes, I have removed him from the depth chart already.

The current depth chart

The numbers that appear beside some players’ names are 2024 cap hits per Over the Cap.

Please note that assigned positions and color coding are my own personal opinions. They do not necessarily represent the thinking of Washington’s coaches or front office, nor are they necessarily consistent with fan consensus. This chart represents my personal interpretation, and may not reflect the thoughts of other writers on Hogs Haven. Finally, when it comes to backup players, I don’t put much effort into making sure that they are on the right or left or behind the specific player that they backup. I mostly just try to fit everyone on the chart efficiently.

What is immediately obvious from a glance at the depth chart as it stands today is that the roster has been stripped down to its bare bones. It’s basically a chassis and a damaged engine waiting to be turned into a 10-second car.

There are 49 players on the roster, but on a quick count, I see 14 guys who have proven nothing in the NFL and only about 8 proven starting-quality players. This looks more like a roster of 30-35 NFL players in need of a lot of help.

Washington can add 9 guys in the draft with their current slate of picks, with maybe 6 of them having potential to have an impact on the ‘24 roster, but Washington will likely need to sign as many as a dozen veteran free agents to build a roster that can be competitive in 2024.

I started to insert a section here titled “The biggest areas of need”, but I quickly realized that I was going to include nearly every position on the team. The only position group on the team that has more than one proven NFL starter is the interior defensive line with Payne and Allen. Every other position needs to be bolstered through a combination of veteran free agency and the draft.

Salary cap update, the draft class & the rule of 51

As mentioned above, Over the Cap estimates that the Commanders now have $91.5m in available 2024 cap space, 2nd most in the league behind the Patriots.

That does not mean that the Commanders front office can spend $91.5m in free agency this month.

The rule of 51

From the roster cutdown deadline following the end of preseason to the final game of week 18 (and into post season as well), teams are required to stay within the annual salary cap with their 53-man roster.

But during the off-season, with expanded rosters, this simply isn’t feasible.

Because of this, the CBA establishes the “Rule of 51” that applies to every NFL offseason roster. The rule is very simple:

Throughout the off-season, only the players with the 51 largest cap hits for the season will be counted toward the salary cap.

This is significant because, when a player is signed to a contract we also have to account for the cap hit of the player he pushes out of the top 51.

Let’s look at the bottom of the Washington roster as it stands today (March 3, 2024). Information is courtesy of OverTheCap

Since the Commanders have only 49 players (following the Gates release), the cap hits for the next two guys they sign will simply be added to those of the current rostered players.

Once the roster reaches 51 players, however, the cap space impact isn’t as straightforward. Each new player signed is either:

  • at or below the current 51-man cut off (at the moment, that would be $795,000)


  • above the current 51-man cut off (at the moment, $795,000)

If the player is at or below the cutoff, his signing has no impact whatsoever on the 2024 cap space.

If the player is above the cutoff, then the team needs to account for both the cap hit of the player signed and that of the player he displaces on the roster (that would be the guy at the bottom of the list).

Hypothetical example:

Imagine for a moment that the Commanders sign two more practice squad-quality players similar to the last three guys they signed (Allen, Brooks and Whiteside), and, to keep the math simple, let’s imagine they pay the two new guys $800,000 each. The Commanders’ available 2024 cap space would drop by $1.6m (2 x $800k) to $89.9m ($91.5m – $1.6m).

Allen, Brooks and Whiteside would still be the last three guys on the 51-man list.

Next, assume that the Commanders sign a veteran free agent to a one-year, $3m contract. The available cap space will not fall by $3m. Instead, it will fall by $2.205m. The cap spent increases by $3m for the new player signed, but it also decreases by $795,000 as Nick Whiteside is pushed off the list of the 51 largest cap hits. The net change is $2.205m.

With our hypothetical roster now at 53 players, the available cap, following the rule of 51, will be $87.7m ($89.9m – $2.205m).

Rookie Pool estimates

One thing that every team needs to account for is the money needed to sign drafted players that will be joining the team at the end of April.

With the current CBA and its “slotting” of draft picks, teams can project with a great deal of accuracy the cost of each draft pick.

Absent any trades, even as fans, it’s easy for us to know how much the Commanders are going to need for their draft class before the draft even starts.

Again, though, the Rule of 51 makes the calculation less straighforward than it seems.

Step One of the calculation is simply to identify the team’s draft picks, and the expected contract value of each of those picks. Fortunately, the people at OverTheCap do all that work every season for us, and it’s as simple as clicking the link to the Rookie Pool page at OverTheCap.

Because of this handy tool, we can see at a glance that the 9 contracts for the incoming draft class are projected to total $17.37m.

But that’s not the end of the calculation!

Remember that the Rule of 51 means that we’re only counting the 51 highest cap hits for 2024.

To run the example, I’m going to assume that the Commander will sign 12 veteran free agents between now and the draft, pushing 10 players off of the top 51. So, let’s revisit the bottom of that list:

In my hypothetical situation, Adam Peters has signed a dozen free agents before the draft, taking the roster up to 61 players; that has resulted in 10 players being pushed off the top-51 list.

In this hypothetical situation, Kyu Blu Kelly is now the lowest paid player on the top-51 list.

Let’s look at the expected 2024 cap hits for the 9 drafted rookies that the Commanders expect to sign (taken from the Over the Cap screenshot above):

  • Rd 1 $7.793m
  • Rd 2 $1.924m
  • Rd 2 $1.824m
  • Rd 3 $1.148m
  • Rd 3 $1.051m
  • Rd 4 $1.041m
  • Rd 5 $902,034
  • Rd 6 $857,428
  • Rd 7 $829,942

The Round 1 pick will have a cap hit of $7.793m, but he will push Kyu Blu Kelly and his $915,000 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for Rd 1 pick = $6,878,245

The #36 Round 2 pick will have a cap hit of $1.924m, but he will push Keandre Jones and his $915,000 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for #36 pick = $1,009,289

The #40 Round 2 pick will have a cap hit of $1.824m, but he will push Benning Potoa’e and his $915,000 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for #40 pick = $909,816

The #67 Round 3 pick will have a cap hit of $1.148m, but he will push Mitchell Tinsley and his $920,000 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for #57 pick = $228,479

The #101 Round 3 pick will have a cap hit of $1.051m, but he will push Andre Jones Jr. and his $940,068 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for #101 pick = $111,555

The Round 4 pick will have a cap hit of $1.041m, but he will push Chris Rodriguez Jr. and his $959,423 cap hit off the list. Net cap hit for Rd 1 pick = $82,047

Now the pattern breaks.

The lowest remaining salary on the top-51 is $983,613 (Braeden Daniels). The final 3 draft picks from Rounds 5, 6 & 7 all are projected to have a cap hit of less than $983,000 in 2024, so these final three draft picks are not counted in the top 51, and have no impact at all on the off-season salary cap.

This means that the actual amount of available cap space that the Commanders need to reserve (in this example) is $9,219,431 (The net cap impact of the first six draft picks: $6,878,245 + $1,009,289 + $909,816 + $2228,479 + $111,555 + $82,047).

The Commanders will need $9.2m to sign their 9 draft picks.

Of course, any trades (up or down) will affect these numbers, but absent a big move in the first round, there will be very little change in the expected $9.2m Washington will need to reserve for the rookie pool.

So, what’s available for free agency?

Over the Cap currently projects available cap space of $91.542m for the Commanders. The front office needs to reserve about $9.2m for the draft class. Also, no team can enter the season with zero available cap space; a ‘contingency’ fund is needed for in-season replacements as injuries occur. With rising player salaries, it seems like $6+ million needs to be available. There is also the injury benefit for Leno and Thomas (referenced in the excerpt from Over the Cap near the top of the article) of $4.1m.

So, let’s do the calculation:

  • Currently estimated available ‘24 cap space (49 players) $91.5m
  • less: injury benefit due to Leno & Thomas $4.1m
  • less: money needed to sign drafted players $9.2m
  • less: contingency for in-season injuries $6m

That leaves about $72.2m in cap space available for veteran free agency, which begins in less than two weeks.

Some 2023 Commanders who could be re-signed by the team this month (not a comprehensive list):

  • Kamren Curl
  • Jeremy Reaves
  • Kendall Fuller
  • Khaleke Hudson
  • James Smith-Williams
  • Casey Toohill
  • Efe Obada
  • Cornelius Lucas
  • Saahdiq Charles
  • Curtis Samuel
  • Jamison Crowder
  • Antonio Gibson

Originally posted on Hogs Haven