- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Washington Commanders made a couple of surprise cost-cutting moves Wednesday before pulling out the checkbook to re-sign, according to a team source, veteran running back J.D. McKissic to a two-year, $7 million contract — basically, the same deal he had agreed to with the Buffalo Bills a day earlier.

McKissic’s turnaround came shortly after the Commanders parted ways with guard Ereck Flowers and defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis to clear roughly $17 million in salary-cap space. The moves will free up some money, but the cuts were unexpected, considering the holes left behind on units that were touted as the team’s strength. 

The Commanders also parted with safeties Landon Collins and Deshazor Everett, the latter of whom faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with a fatal car accident in December in which his girlfriend was killed.  Everett’s release will save the team $2 million, while Collins was designated as a post-June 1 release — clearing another $11.9 million that won’t come off the books until June.

Washington now has some wiggle room after looking at a salary cap crunch due to the addition of quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz’s $28.3 million salary ate into the majority of the team’s salary cap space — causing the Commanders to take action.

The cuts, however, didn’t sit well with everyone. Ioannidis’ agent, Alan Herman, told The Associated Press that Commanders executive Rob Rogers lied during a meeting earlier this month in which Ioannidis’ camp was told the team had no plans to cut Ioannidis. 

“We don’t particularly care to be lied to our face,” Herman said. “That’s not the way you conduct business in the National Football League.”

The meeting occurred at the NFL scouting combine — before the team took on Wentz’s hefty contract. 

By cutting Flowers and Ioannidis, Washington loses depth along the offensive and defensive lines. Flowers started in all but one game for the team this past season — and with All-Pro Brandon Scherff leaving for Jacksonville, Washington now has vacancies at both starting guard spots. 

Ioannidis, on the other hand, was a key rotational piece for the Commanders, playing nearly 55% of the team’s defensive snaps this past season.  

Just last year, Washington‘s defensive line depth was seen as among the best in the NFL. But all of a sudden, the Commanders will have to replace Ioannidis and backup Tim Settle. Settle agreed this week to a two-year, $9 million contract with the Buffalo Bills, a team that should provide more of an opportunity for the former fifth-rounder to take the field. 

Likewise, the offensive line was also highly praised. Pro Football Focus ranked the unit as the sixth-best offensive line this past season — a ranking that coach Ron Rivera cited repeatedly as a selling point in the team’s pursuit of a new quarterback.  If Washington doesn’t make any additions at guard, veteran Wes Schweitzer and third-year lineman Saahdiq Charles could be internal options to fill both spots.

Still, for whatever shock that came with Wednesday’s cuts, McKissic’s reversal was just as unexpected. He becomes the second free agent this cycle to renege on a verbal agreement, joining pass-rusher Randy Gregory who spurned the Dallas Cowboys to sign with the Denver Broncos. 

According to multiple reports, McKissic went back on the deal with Buffalo once he found out Washington was willing to match it. The 28-year-old still had room to do so because the agreement came during the NFL’s legal tampering window — a period when teams can negotiate with players set to hit the market but are unable to officially sign contracts because it occurs before the league’s new year. 

McKissic’s decision is sure to delight Washington’s coaching staff, who were strong supporters of the dynamic back. Since arriving to Washington in 2020, McKissic emerged as a prominent playmaker and a potent pass-catching running back. During his first year, McKissic led all running backs in targets with 110 and finished with a career-high 954 yards (589 receiving, 365 rushing) from scrimmage.  

Last year, McKissic was still productive despite missing the last six games because of injuries. He served as a complement to starter Antonio Gibson, who handled the bulk of the team’s workload on the ground.

McKissic, too, has proven to be one of the team’s best signings under Rivera. The former wide receiver turned back initially signed on a two-year, $3.26 million deal in 2020, quickly thriving in a bigger role than he had with Detroit and Seattle (his last two stops).

“They really trust me and gave me a chance to show what I can really do, that’s catching the ball out of the backfield, that’s running the ball, getting handoffs and catches,” McKissic said after the season. “So you got to show respect to your organization first and the team that believed in you.”

McKissic joins safety Bobby McCain as notable players to re-sign with Washington over the past few days. The Commanders agreed to sign McCain to a two-year, $11 million contract on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday, Washington issued a restricted free agent tender to restricted kicker Joey Slye. Slye went 12-of-12 on field goals last season before suffering a hamstring injury. If Slye signs the deal worth $2 million, he’s likely to compete in training camp with kicker Brian Johnson. The Commanders also reportedly came to terms with wideout Cam Sims (one-year, $3 million), keeping him in the fold.

The Commanders have yet to sign an outside free agent this year, joining a handful of remaining teams to not do so.  

With the new league year officially underway, the team also announced the trade for Wentz. The Commanders will hold a press conference for their new quarterback Thursday. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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