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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Opponent Preview: Washington Commanders, Week 1

The Bucs will likely be facing rookie QB Jayden Daniels when the Commanders come to Tampa for the season opener, and they'll also encounter a roster that was bolstered significantly in free agency


As we near the end of most team's offseason programs, it's time to take a look ahead at when the action will start up again. As such, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2024 regular season. From how those teams fared last year, to what they've done with the roster since, to some as-yet-unanswered questions – we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. We start with Tampa Bay's Week One foe at home, a Washington Commanders team that that may have made the NFL's most extensive roster overhaul since the end of last season.

2023 Results

The season started out well enough for the Commanders, who came out of the gate with wins against Arizona and at Denver. Unproven starting quarterback Sam Howell had a reasonably encouraging beginning, particularly in a 299-yard, two-touchdown, no-pick performance against the Broncos. Unfortunately for the Commanders, and ultimately Head Coach Ron Rivera, they won only two more contests the rest of the way, finished on an eight-game losing streak and never recorded a victory over a team that finished above .500.

A lopsided 37-3 loss at home against the Bills in Week Three started the slide, and Howell was picked off four times in that contest. Washington also lost by 20 to the Bears, by 35 to the Cowboys and by 30 to the Dolphins along the way. Howell did hold onto his job for the entire season and ended up with 3,946 passing yards, but he threw as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns and led the Commanders to rankings of 24th in yards and 25th in scoring. Howell was also sacked 65 times

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin was the top producer on offense, as he caught 79 passes for 1,002 yards, giving him his fourth straight 1,000-yard season. Brian Robinson was the Commanders leading rusher for the second time in as many seasons but still did not surpass 800 yards on the ground.

Statistically, Washington's defense struggled even more than its offense. That unit ranked third in the NFL at the end of the 2022 season but fell all the way to last in 2023 and gave up a league-high 262.2 passing yards per game. Montez Sweat led the team with 6.5 sacks and Jonathan Allen was next with 5.5 but a once-promising Washington defensive front was just 25th in the league in sack rate. Safety Kamren Curl filled up the stat line with 115 tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss, three QB hits, five passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Of course, the most significant development for the Washington franchise during 2023 was the finalization of its purchase by Josh Harris on July 20. That ended Dan Snyder's 24-year run as the franchise owner.

2024 Arrivals

What didn't the Commanders do to their roster over the last six months? Howell's time as the starter is over; he was traded to Seattle in March, about six weeks before the team used the second-overall pick on LSU's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jayden Daniels. Washington also is likely to have newcomers in starting roles at running back, tight end, center, left guard, slot receiver, slot corner, both defensive end spots, two of the three off-ball linebacker positions and one of the two outside cornerback spots.

Much of the Commanders haul in free agency involved well-established veterans, including linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Austin Ekeler. Washington also seemed determined to plunder their cap-strapped division rival, the Cowboys, signing former Dallas players center Tyler Biadasz and defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler.

In addition to Wagner, the Commanders are likely to start former Panther Frankie Luvu at linebacker alongside holdover Jamin Davis. Former Chargers cornerback will have a good shot at starting on the outside while popular second-round draft pick Mike Sainristil will probably nab the slot corner job. Up front, the Commanders have very good depth on the defensive interior, with second-round pick Jer'Zhan Newton added to the excellent starting duo of Allen and Daron Payne. The edges were reloaded with Armstrong, Fowler and former 49er Clelin Ferrell, two of whom will likely start.

The Washington offensive line will have at least three new starters. Biadasz brings a strong track record to the center position and he got a high-dollar three-year deal in free agency. Nick Allegretti also landed a three-year pact and should grab the left guard spot. With Charles Leno no longer around, left tackle should be a battle between 10-year veteran Cornelius Lucas and third-round rookie Brandon Coleman.

While the Commanders are set with their outside receiving duo of McLaurin and Jahan Dotson, the slot job could be secured by third-round rookie Luke McCaffrey. Ekeler, the long-time dual threat back for the Chargers, joins Robinson in the backfield and former Eagles star Zach Ertz could be the new starting tight end, the Commanders also used a second-round pick on the position in Ben Sinnott. Washington also has a new number-two quarterback in the well-traveled Marcus Mariota.

All in all, Washington signed the most new free agents of any NFL team this offseason, which isn't surprising given that they entered the offseason with the most available cap space. Even after all those additions, the Commanders have plenty of space available and are well set-up financially for 2025.

2024 Departures

Of course, with all of those additions there had to be plenty of players going through the door in the other direction. That includes a handful of veteran free agents who so far have not signed with Washington or any other teams, including Leno, tight end Logan Thomas and center Tyler Larsen.

As noted, Howell was traded around the start of free agency, and backup Jacoby Brissett left as well to join the Patriots. Running back Antonio Gibson also signed with the Patriots, and running back Curtis Samuel will join him in the AFC East after landing in Buffalo.

On defense, two starters in the secondary found new NFL homes, with Curl heading to the Rams and cornerback Kendall Fuller moving to Miami. Linebacker Cody Barton, who led the Commanders in tackles last season, was squeezed out by the veteran free agency additions and is now with the Broncos. Last year's kicker, Joey Slye, signed with the Jaguars, though he was later cut.

None of this includes the two trades the Commanders made in the middle of the 2023 season that set a defensive overhaul in motion, as edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat were sent to the 49ers and Bears, respectively.

Other Noteworthy Developments

The change of ownership happened last year, but that monumental shift plus the Commanders' tough 2023 campaign led to more expected upheaval in the team's leadership. Head Coach Ron Rivera was fired after a four-year run at the helm and replaced by Dan Quinn, who had most recently been the Cowboys' defensive coordinator from 2021-23. This is Quinn's second shot at the corner office, having spent six years as the Falcons head coach, a span that included a trip to the Super Bowl in 2015.

Quinn filled his coordinator spots with former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury on offense and Joe Whitt on defense. Whitt had previously worked with Quinn in both Atlanta and Dallas. Quinn's staff also includes former Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn as the run game coordinator and former Raiders and Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. running the linebackers.

In the front office, Adam Peters left the 49ers organization, where he had high-ranking positions in the personnel department for the past seven years, to take over as Washington's new general manager. The previous general manager, Martin Mayhew, remained with the team as a senior personnel executive. Peters, as described above, has overseen an extremely busy offseason as much of the Commanders' roster has been overhauled.

Pressing Questions

Can Jayden Daniels be a start quarterback at the pro level, and if so how long will it take him to get there?

This is not the first time the Washington franchise has used the second-overall pick on a quarterback that could do as much damage on the ground as through the air. After it used that choice on Baylor's Robert Griffin III in 2012, RG3 went on to take the Offensive Rookie of the Year award on the strength of 3,200 passing yards, a 20-15 TD-INT ratio and another 815 yards and seven touchdowns as a runner. His career was derailed by injuries not long after that, but he was definitely an overnight sensation.

With Mariota and Jeff Driskel behind him, Daniels is likely to be a Week One starter, and as noted above the Commanders have tried to put him a comfortable situation by beefing up the offensive line and adding weapons at all the skill-position spots. If Daniels can get close to replicating what Griffin did in 2012, Washington could quickly develop into playoff contenders.

The key may be what Daniels does when he takes off on the run. At LSU, where he ran for 1,134 yards last season, Daniels generally abandoned any idea of passing once he left the spot, and for good reason. That strategy paid off again and again. However, he could be even more dangerous at the NFL level if his movement skills buy time for him to make big plays in the passing game, particularly given his touch on deep passes. In addition, Daniels took a lot of hits at LSU and his long-term viability could rest on him minimizing the punishment he receives while trying to make plays with his legs.

Can a depth chart heavily reconstructed through veteran additions pull the Commanders out of the defensive basement?

As mentioned, new G.M. Adam Peters inherited a giant amount of cap space, and he put it to work, focusing more on quantity, in terms of hitting roster needs, than blockbuster deals. None of the new Commanders got more than three years or an $11 million per-year average. Washington did not hand out any of the top 20 free agency contracts in terms of total value, and the Commanders remain in excellent cap position to continue reloading in 2025.

The question is, particularly on defense, can a unit that is largely built through free agency come together quickly and coherently enough to show significant improvement in 2024? Most team architects profess a desire to build through the draft, and there are multiple examples of teams that "won" free agency through voluminous activity not getting the expected results. (Washington saw it in its own division with the Eagles' 2011 "Dream Team.")

Armstrong, Ferrell (or Fowler), Wagner, Luvu and Davis all project as new starters for the Commanders' defense in 2024. Wagner is one of the greatest linebackers of his generation but he's almost 34 and is switching teams for the third year in a row. Ferrell has just 13.5 sacks in five years after being selected fourth overall by the Raiders in 2019. Each of Peters' signings on defense – plus the well-received choice of Sainristil in the second round in April – looks like a good move on paper. Can it all come together on the field?

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