Analysis | This NFL hiring cycle, the Commanders could be a hot ticket

Analysis | This NFL hiring cycle, the Commanders could be a hot ticket

طوبیٰ Tooba 55 years ago 0 0

Josh Harris has preached patience and warned that a rebuild of the Washington Commanders will take time.

But just five months into his ownership, Harris’s patience may be tested as he faces some franchise-altering decisions to jump-start the process. Washington is nearing the end of its seventh consecutive nonwinning season and may be due for a coaching change and complete overhaul of its front office.

With Ron Rivera as coach and head of football operations, the Commanders have gone 26-36-1 (a .421 winning percentage), adding to the franchise’s mediocre (if not worse) history. Washington has been to the playoffs once in the past eight years and hasn’t made it past the first round in 18 years. This season, the Commanders have fallen to 4-9 behind a defense that ranks at or near the bottom of the NFL in most major statistical categories.

For the first time in decades, though, the team may actually be a desired landing spot for prospective head coaches and executives.

“From an outside perspective, Washington is the best job now that Dan Snyder doesn’t own it,” said one agent who represents a number of NFL coaches and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss potential hiring decisions.

Harris is not Snyder, and that alone has made the Commanders an appealing destination. But Washington is also loaded with draft picks, including five in the first three rounds in 2024, and is projected to have a good deal of salary cap space. What’s more: It might have a quarterback.

“We want to have elite teams that consistently compete for championships,” Harris said last month. “You need a little luck to win championships a lot of times. But to get there, you need all the best people. That sort of approach, I think, allows us to get the best people.”

With four games left, what have we learned about the Commanders?

The impact of the Commanders’ ownership change was immediate. Six days after Harris closed on his purchase of the team, thousands flocked to training camp; a year earlier, fan turnout had been minimal. Washington has sold out all six of its home games this season after ranking last in average home attendance last season, and it signed 13 new sponsorship deals — including one with Anheuser-Busch, the beer company that severed ties with the team in 2022.

Harris’s track record of rebuilds includes the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and based on his history, it’s plausible the Commanders will look to hire a new general manager to oversee their football operations and a new head coach before shifting focus to the business operations.

Ideally, the GM hire would come first, and the new executive would have input in hiring a coach and be aligned with the team’s direction. But Harris has hired in the opposite order, too, as he did with the 76ers in 2020, when he brought in Coach Doc Rivers about a month before team president Daryl Morey.

Harris already has looked for ways to give Washington a competitive edge and an improved outlook. He made nearly $40 million in improvements to FedEx Field in the offseason, and more could be coming next year as Harris looks for a new stadium. He hired Eugene Shen as the Commanders’ senior vice president of football strategy to oversee all analytics and software development for football operations, and he probably will invest more in sports science, just as he did with his other franchises.

“You can’t outspend people [in the NFL],” Harris said. “… You’re competing against very smart people. They all want to win, too. So you have to develop all these edges. … Certainly sports science and analytics, and coaching staff and front office and being attractive to players and location and a new stadium. And I think all that stuff builds into a winning franchise and winning culture.”

Success on the field often dictates a team’s culture, and success in the NFL is often dictated by the performance at one position: quarterback. Washington has churned through 21 starting quarterbacks in the past 20 years. But there’s hope Sam Howell, a 2022 fifth-round pick, can develop into the long-term starter the Commanders have been seeking.

Howell’s first season as a starter has shown his youth and his potential: He has the arm, mobility and size that most covet at the position — and a tendency to make costly mistakes and poor decisions. Washington’s next decision-maker will have to separate Howell’s potential from the circumstances and personnel around him, and if he’s not the guy, the team is well positioned to find help in the draft.

Commanders to increase season ticket prices for 2024

Following the trades of pass rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, the Commanders are stocked with nine picks in April’s draft, and the second-rounder they received from the Chicago Bears could end up being a high pick. Washington’s own first-round selection is currently No. 4.

Based on Over the Cap’s $242 million salary cap projection for 2024, the Commanders will have about $64 million in effective cap space, which accounts for the team’s draft class and top 51 contracts. Only the Tennessee Titans are expected to have more.

While that may seem like plenty now, Washington has plenty of roster needs: at least a couple of pass rushers, help at linebacker and in the secondary, a reconfigured offensive line, perhaps a tight end (or two), additions to the running backs and wide receiving corps and at least a backup quarterback.

The to-do list is long, but should the Commanders indeed move on from Rivera and redo the front office, the next coach will have the resources to reshape the team — and an owner who seems inclined to invest.

“What we want to do is create a culture in Washington where players around the NFL say, ‘This is where we want to play,’ ” Harris said. “… We want to create a culture in Washington where the best and the brightest executives — business, coaches, front office, everyone, marketing people — they say, ‘We want to be at this place.’ ”

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