NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year has begun, which means free-agent signings can be made official. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Washington Commanders reached an agreement with defensive tackle Daron Payne on a four-year, $90 million deal that includes $60 million guaranteed, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday. Payne had received the franchise tag from the Commanders before reaching agreement on his new deal.
The Commanders later focused on the offensive line and backup quarterback, agreeing to deals with former Kansas City Chiefs OT Andrew Wylie, ex-Giants C/OL Nick Gates before bringing back center Tyler Larsen and signing ex-Browns backup QB Jacoby Brissett. They've also added ex-Seattle linebacker Cody Barton, and backup CB Danny Johnson.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free-agent, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Jacoby Brissett, quarterback
What it means: Washington gets a high-end backup who can push Sam Howell for the starting job. After losing Taylor Heinicke to the Atlanta Falcons, the Commanders turned to the next player on their list. Brissett is coming off a strong season with Cleveland while the Browns waited for Deshaun Watson to return from an 11-game suspension for sexual assault, as defined by the NFL, on multiple massage therapists. Brissett is considered good in the locker room and a mentor, which is what Howell needs. Brissett can start for an extended time if necessary as well.
What's the risk: That lies more with the starting job than with Brissett. If Howell falters, it doesn't matter who the backup is, Washington would be in a bad spot. Otherwise, Washington gets a player with 48 career starts and 76 games played. He's thrown 48 touchdown passes to only 23 picks. So if he has to play, and can play smart by limiting turnovers, it helps a team that should have a strong defense.
Andrew Wylie, offensive tackle
Washington agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with former Chief Wylie.
What it means: Wylie can play both guard and tackle and Washington needs a starter at both spots. It does appear that he'll end up playing right tackle. If that indeed is the case then Sam Cosmi would move to guard. Regardless, signing Wylie solidifies their right side. He's also someone new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy knows well, having coached him in Kansas City. He knows what Washington is getting. Wylie had one of his best games in the Super Bowl against Eagles pass rusher Hassan Reddick.
What's the risk: Minimal. Wylie will cost them $8 million per year so he's not ultra expensive and he is versatile. That always limits risk. The only risk comes if they aren't sure where Wylie and Cosmi fit best. They'll need to stick them both in a spot and let them go. But, again, it appears Wylie will play right tackle. The risk also comes if Cosmi can't play right guard and is best suited for tackle. However, he's an excellent run blocker and should do well inside.
Nick Gates, offensive line
Former Giants OL Gates is signing with the Commanders, per a source.
What it means: Competition for starting center. Chase Roullier, their long-time starter, has missed most of the past two seasons with injuries and has a $12.42 million cap hit; he'd save them $4.3 million against the cap if released. Gates has the reputation as being a tough, physical blocker -- that is exactly what they want inside, especially in their run game.
What's the risk: Health. Gates returned from a gruesome 2021 leg injury. He broke the fibula and tibia in his left leg that sidelined him nearly 14 months. It required seven surgeries. Washington has had a lot of health issues at center the past two seasons and can't afford more.
Trent Scott, offensive tackle
What it means: Depth, at most. The Commanders wanted to increase the quality of their depth this offseason and land an experienced backup. Scott has played in 61 games, starting 20. His versatility will be welcomed as he has played both tackle spots plus guard. The Commanders needed a backup linemen who could play guard or tackle.
What's the risk: It's a low-level signing so there is no risk. But the Commanders must continue to seek more quality for the starting line, or find players in the draft who can develop into that within a year or so. The risk for Washington will be thinking the line is now complete. It's not.
Danny Johnson, cornerback
Johnson has agreed to a two-year deal to return to Washington, per a source.
What it means: Johnson has done a nice job as a backup corner the past two years. Though he was cut before the 2022 season, he ended up appearing in 11 games. He provides depth. Washington wants to continue adding corners as the Commanders lacked depth in 2022 especially to open the season. Johnson can play inside or outside. With $2.75 million in guaranteed money it suggests Washington values him because of that versatility.
What's the risk: As a backup, Johnson needs to provide more help on special teams, an area he has not carved out a consistent role. So if he's not going to start, it's hard to often keep him active. That's why the Commanders will have to continue bolstering the position with more depth and perhaps another quality starter. There's no real risk; Johnson provides insurance if there are injuries to their top three corners.
Cody Barton, linebacker
Washington is signing Barton to a one-year deal, a source has confirmed.
What it means: Washington had wanted to re-sign Cole Holcomb, but sources say they were far enough apart in their negotiations that the Commanders looked elsewhere. It's still possible Holcomb returns, but now they have another option with Barton as a middle linebacker. He's a converted safety who had a strong second half for Seattle last season. In Washington, he'll play behind a line that will protect him more than the Seahawks' front, allowing him to make more plays in the run game.
What's the risk: It's only a one-year deal, so the risk isn't high. But he was inconsistent in Seattle while developing as a player. Will he be more consistent this season? Washington needs consistency at the position and it's possible the Commanders are getting him at the right time in his development. A big key for the Commanders will also be the growth of fellow linebacker Jamin Davis.
Tyler Larsen, center
What it means: Washington wants to build more depth inside and have stronger options if it has more health issues at center. The last two years they've been ravaged at that position with both Larsen and Roullier suffering two season-ending injuries. Larsen adds a solid, powerful run-blocking backup option. The Commanders also landed C/G Gates in free agency to add more depth inside.
What's the risk: Washington needs durability and consistency up front and injuries have been an issue. But Larsen is close to fully recovered from his dislocated right kneecap suffered in December. The Commanders just need to make sure the position is solidified and they have played well with Larsen. As long as he stays healthy he helps.
Efe Obada, defensive end
Obada is returning on a one-year deal, ESPN has confirmed.
What it means: Depth. Obada plays end, but also can shift inside to tackle in various packages. He recorded four sacks as a backup last season, tying a career high with 24 tackles. He has good length at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. Washington likes his versatility, giving the team depth at two spots.
What's the risk: None. He's a backup depth signing. Washington still could use some young pass rushers. At 30, Obada does not fit that description. But the Commanders can draft one next month and they're fine. Washington does have good depth along its defensive line.