For a team that has owner issues, a dilapidated stadium and trademark issues with their new nickname, the Washington Commanders aren't doing so bad. This team has been in disarray for a while now, in search of a new identity in more ways than one. Their risks go well beyond their moves in free agency this offseason. But nonetheless, the Commanders' riskiest free agency move in the 2023 NFL offseason is one crucial to their offense, which will be having second-year quarterback Sam Howell behind center. The question is, who will that center be when the 2023 season starts? That's where the risk lies, which is why the Commanders had to sign former New York Giant Nick Gates.
Commanders' riskiest free agency move
The Commanders made several moves in the 2023 NFL offseason to address their team needs, but none riskier than the signing of Nick Gates. As the Commanders focused on improving their offensive line, they took a gamble on Gates, a player with a history of significant injuries and limited experience at his current position.
Gates' journey has been marred by adversity. In 2021, while then playing against the Commanders for the Giants, he suffered a devastating leg injury that required multiple surgeries and a long road to recovery. Despite much effort and resilience, Gates was only able to start eight games for the Giants in 2022. That sort of injury history alone should raise concerns about his durability and ability to stay on the field consistently.
Before his injury, Gates had shown promise as the leader of the Giants' offensive line. Starting all 16 games in 2020, he didn't allow a single sack, earning him accolades and the admiration of fans. However, it's important to note that Gates had never played center, his current position, in college or the pros before 2020. While he performed well in that role for the Giants, there are doubts about whether he can maintain the same level of success moving forward. But with the Commanders need at this position, he may have no other choice.
The Commanders signed Gates to a three-year, $16.5 million deal with $8 million guaranteed. This investment is significant considering his injury history and the uncertainty surrounding his ability to excel as a center in the long term. While Gates' versatility as a guard/center provides some flexibility, there are no guarantees that he will be able to consistently perform at a high level or even remain healthy. For the Commanders, they could be playing this balancing act between risk and reward all season.
One can argue that the Giants, who lost Gates and center Jon Feliciano in the offseason, allowed Gates to walk because they deemed his asking price too high for his level of play. This raises questions about whether the Commanders overpaid for a player who might not have commanded such a substantial contract on the open market.
Gates' signing puts additional pressure on the Commanders' rookie center, Ricky Stromberg. Gates may have to start initially while Stromberg adjusts to the NFL game. This places an even greater burden on Gates to perform at a high level and provide stability to the offensive line.
While Nick Gates has shown potential and resilience, his injury history, limited experience at center, and the substantial investment made by the Commanders make him the riskiest free agent signing for the team entering the 2023 season. For a team that doesn’t have the means to take great gambles, the Commanders have taken one with Gates. Only time will tell if this gamble pays off, but the risk involved cannot be ignored.