NFL offseason power rankings: No. 29 Washington Commanders could come along fast in a new era

Preview focus: With a new, exciting QB in place, the vibes are much better in Washington

There's no such thing as a 10-year plan in the NFL. There's no five-year plan either.

You can completely rebuild a franchise in two years unless you have given away a ton of draft picks or wrecked your salary cap with dead money. (The Denver Broncos have unfortunately checked both of those boxes). In the winter of 2023, the Houston Texans were a laughingstock of the NFL. Less than a year and a half later, after a division title, they're a fringe Super Bowl contender.

It may seem strange for Washington Commanders fans to think their team could be just a year or two away from relevance, given the more than two decades of futility they have suffered. The Commanders have the longest drought among NFL teams since their last conference championship game appearance, which came back to the 1991 season. They also haven't had an 11-win season since 1991, a drought that is 16 years longer than any other team.

The Commanders, finally freed of an owner who was actively wrecking the franchise from within, were suddenly an attractive destination this offseason. The Commanders had it all: draft picks, oodles of salary-cap space and an entirely fresh start to offer. Also, they offered a fan base dying for any success.

The three most important positions in the NFL are quarterback, head coach and general manager, in some order. The Commanders made coveted additions at all three spots. That speaks to how positively the Washington situation was viewed around the league.

Dan Quinn had chances to get a head coaching job the past few offseasons, but always resisted to stay on as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator. He said he wasn't taking a job unless it was the perfect fit. Washington was it.

"It was the one that was like a flashing light to me that said, 'This is the moment. This is the one,'" Quinn said, via the team's site.

When Adam Peters was assistant general manager with the San Francisco 49ers, he was well respected. One coach told Yahoo Sports this offseason that Peters "could have had any GM job he's wanted for years now." He took Washington's general manager job.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels will have a lot on his shoulders as the No. 2 overall draft pick for a Commanders team trying to turn things around. (Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)
Quarterback Jayden Daniels will have a lot on his shoulders as the No. 2 overall draft pick for a Commanders team trying to turn things around. (Amy Monks/Yahoo Sports)

Jayden Daniels was one of the greatest playmaking quarterbacks in college football history. He won the Heisman Trophy with LSU last season after accounting for 50 total touchdowns. He was the first player in FBS history to have 12,000 career passing yards and 3,000 career rushing yards. He has some risk, and perhaps we'll look back at Washington drafting Daniels over the other four quarterbacks that went in the top 12 as a mistake. But he has tremendous athleticism and was a highly productive passer in college. He has superstar potential and made perfect sense for Washington with the second pick of the NFL Draft.

Grabbing a coach who was in demand, a GM everyone wanted and a quarterback who practically everyone ranked second in the draft class is a good offseason. That's the type of nucleus that can turn around a franchise very fast.

The problem with using the Texans as an example of a quick turnaround is they hit an unprecedented amount of green lights. They hired a great head coach in DeMeco Ryans who probably would not have looked their way if he was drafted by another team way back when. They didn't have the first pick of the draft but C.J. Stroud fell to them at No. 2 and ended up being perhaps the greatest rookie quarterback in NFL history. Many young players broke out at the same time. It's hard to replicate all of that.

But the Commanders could be a team that comes close to that path. Why not? Ownership doesn't seem to be meddling with personnel decisions anymore. The Commanders have a GM who already has respect around the league, a head coach deserving of a second chance and a quarterback who might not be Stroud but could have a massive impact right away. The Commanders already had some good players and then added plenty of talent in free agency. They added more than 20 veteran free agents this offseason. The Commanders had the most roster turnover in the league, and that's not a bad thing after a 4-13 season.

Even if it doesn't turn around right away for the Commanders, the future looks a lot better. Finally, Washington can start operating and acting like a real NFL franchise again.

The Commanders had a strong offseason. They had four top-53 draft picks (six in the top 100) and the most salary-cap space in the NFL as the league year started. They got good reviews for their work in the draft and in free agency. The draft started with quarterback Jayden Daniels at No. 2 overall. In the second round the Commanders took defensive tackle Jer'Zhan Newton, a pick that everyone seemed to love. The draft continued with intriguing selections like cornerback Mike Sainristil and tight end Ben Sinnott. The consensus grade for Washington's draft among analysts was the fourth-best in the NFL. The Commanders also added plenty of immediate starters in free agency without overspending on anyone. Among the top additions: defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong, linebacker Frankie Luvu, center Tyler Biadasz, guard Nick Allegretti, running back Austin Ekeler, linebacker Bobby Wagner, pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and safety Jeremy Chinn.

Washington lost some players, like receiver Curtis Samuel, cornerback Kendall Fuller, running back Antonio Gibson and safety Kamren Curl. It also cut left tackle Charles Leno Jr. without finding an obvious replacement. The offensive line might end up being Washington's biggest problem. But new GM Adam Peters wanted to reshape the roster to his own liking and did so.

Grade: A

You'll hear that the quarterback class for the 2025 NFL Draft isn't very good. But when you do, keep Jayden Daniels' rise over the past year in mind.

Daniels was "almost universally seen as a Day 3 draft prospect" to start last season, according to Yahoo Sports' Nate Tice, but a Heisman Trophy season vaulted him all the way up to No. 2 in this year's NFL Draft. He had a remarkably productive season with numerous big plays. There are concerns about Daniels. He looks to run too often, needs to avoid hits or he won't last long at 210 pounds and probably needs to speed up his reads in the passing game. However, there's a reason he went second overall. He is an exciting prospect.

Peters said the team knew Daniels would be its pick "for a while."

"I honestly couldn't believe how good he was and saw him on TV, saw him on highlights and everything," Peters said. "But when you really study him as a quarterback, just as a quarterback, he's really, really good."

Daniels has some solid receivers, like Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson (who needs to rebound from a very quiet 2023) and rookie Luke McCaffrey. There are questions about the offensive line in front of Daniels, and many didn't love the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury to be Washington's new offensive coordinator. However, Daniels could elevate the entire offense. He has the talent to be a star right away.

There isn't a lot of confidence in the Commanders. Their win total at BetMGM is 6.5, one of the lowest in the NFL. They have +275 odds (bet $100 to win $275) to make the playoffs. They're +900 to win the NFC East, just ahead of the Giants for the longest odds in the division. On the bright side, Jayden Daniels' odds of +600 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year trails only Caleb Williams.

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Jahan Dotson was a flop in his second year, averaging just 30.5 yards per game and managing a skimpy 6.2 yards per target. But like success, failure has many parents — and perhaps that lost season was more a comment on departed QB Sam Howell and OC Eric Bieniemy, who didn't know how to best utilize Dotson. While the estimable Terry McLaurin will be drafted as a WR3 in most leagues, Dotson slots as an afterthought bench piece — if he's drafted at all. Given that Dotson and McLaurin had similar production at the tail end of the 2022 season, I'm not going to forget Dotson as a possible late-round dart throw. Perhaps the retooled Washington offense will be good for him."

The Commanders had the worst turnover ratio in the NFL last season at -14. No other team was worse than -12. Turnover ratio is generally a reflection of offense and defense, so there was plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Sam Howell kept pressing and fell apart under a deluge of turnovers. His 31 turnover-worthy plays, as charted by Pro Football Focus, were five more than any other NFL quarterback. He's replaced by Daniels, who had just seven interceptions in 715 pass attempts at LSU. On the other side, Quinn overseeing the defense should lead to more takeaways. In Quinn's three seasons as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Dallas led the NFL with 93 takeaways, via ESPN. Daniels will throw more than one interception every 100 passes and the Commanders are unlikely to suddenly lead the NFL in takeaways — spoiler alert: Washington doesn't have the same defensive talent as Dallas — but it seems unlikely the Commanders will be anywhere near -14 in turnover margin again. That's another reason a rapid improvement is possible.

The Commanders' head-coaching search was messy. They talked to Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Johnson decided to stay in Detroit (Washington's brass reportedly found that out on its flight for a meeting with Johnson) and Macdonald chose Seattle's head coaching job. Despite Washington looking elsewhere, Quinn was a good hire.

Quinn has led some tremendous defenses and should add value right away on that side of the ball. The Commanders need help. They allowed a 105.7 passer rating last season, the worst mark in the NFL. While Quinn doesn't have a Micah Parsons to work with on the Commanders' defense, there is talent that starts with Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne at defensive tackle.

"Man was I impressed with the inside of the defense, with the defensive tackles and knowing it starts up front on both sides," Quinn said after he was hired, according to the team's site.

Quinn will have to work around some holes on the depth chart. The Commanders need to find an edge rusher after trading away Montez Sweat and Chase Young last season. Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr., a 2023 first-round draft pick, had a quiet rookie season and needs to improve in Year 2. Many veterans will have to figure out their roles. But Quinn will get the most out of the talent on hand.

It's not that uncommon for teams to go from worst to first in their division. It has happened in each of the past four seasons: Commanders in 2020, Bengals in 2021, Jaguars in 2022 and Texans in 2023. The latter three teams all had young quarterbacks drafted in the top two. It's hard to make an argument that the Commanders can finish ahead of the Eagles or Cowboys in the NFC East, but we often don't see those types of leaps coming. And the Commanders added a lot in the offseason, including Daniels. Practically, it's a brand new team. Washington could make a big jump if Quinn fixes the defense and Daniels is a special rookie quarterback. Don't go buying playoff tickets yet, but maybe a playoff berth is not quite as far-fetched as we all think. Even if a postseason trip doesn't happen this season, the rebuild could come along fast.

Washington fans are used to disappointment. The franchise's last special season was 1991. That was Peyton Manning's sophomore high school season at Isidore Newman. That Washington team got a pick-6 off Brett Favre ... when he was a rookie for the Falcons. Decades of poor play harden any fan base. But it would feel worse than usual if the Commanders were a debacle this season. This is the dawn of a new era from the top down and as the season nears it seems like the black cloud is finally leaving Washington. But just because the Commanders made strong hires at GM and head coach, and drafted an exciting quarterback, that doesn't mean it will work, especially right away. The offensive line might be a liability, the Commanders lack a difference making edge rusher and the secondary is also questionable. Washington was a really bad team last season — 31st in DVOA, 31st in net yards per play differential, among two telling advanced stats — and even a big improvement might not get it to .500. If the Commanders struggle badly and that includes a poor season from Daniels, Commanders fans will feel like they might never escape NFL purgatory.

Back in 2012 Washington drafted Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, a dynamic dual threat, with the second overall pick and shocked the NFL world by winning the NFC East. That situation sounds familiar, doesn't it? Washington has all the ingredients to be much better than expected. A lot of that depends on Daniels, the No. 2 overall pick after winning a Heisman Trophy, but he has the tools to succeed right away. Maybe there are too many deficiencies for Washington to make the playoffs. But a huge improvement is possible. Regardless of their final record, the Commanders will finish the season feeling like they're in their best place since the early 1990s.