Washington Commanders' NFL free-agent signings 2022: Andrew Norwell fills hole at guard

Guard Andrew Norwell played for Commanders coach Ron Rivera when both were in Carolina. Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.

Newly-acquired quarterback Carson Wentz will take $28 million in cap space, leaving the Washington Commanders with about $7 million to spend entering free agency according to Roster Management System. The Commanders want a middle linebacker to pair with Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis outside. It would help improve an inconsistent defense that ranked last in points and 31st in yards in the first six games last season, but ninth and fourth, respectively, in the next six. The Commanders also have needs at guard with free agent Brandon Scherff expected to depart, safety with Landon Collins expected to be released, and a proven No. 2 receiver alongside Terry McLaurin.

Here's a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Commanders, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Andrew Norwell, G

The Commanders announced they have signed Norwell, but terms have not been made available.

What it means: When Washington cut Ereck Flowers on Wednesday, it immediately turned to Norwell. Coach Ron Rivera coached him in Carolina from 2014 to 2017 -- as did Commanders' line coach John Matsko -- and admires how he turned himself into a solid player after going undrafted. Norwell has been a strong run blocker and he's in an offense that wants to run the ball. He adds another veteran to the group. Washington would like to add another interior linemen, though that could come through the draft, after losing Scherff in free agency.

What's the risk: The contract breakdown remains unknown, so that always plays a factor. It's believed that he will count a few million less on the cap this season than Flowers, at $10 million, would have. Flowers worked well with left tackle Charles Leno, so Norwell must duplicate that effort. Otherwise, the line takes a hit. But the familiarity of the staff with Norwell means they know exactly who he is and what he offers.

J.D. McKissic, RB

The pass-catching running back will return to Washington on a two-year deal worth up to $7 million, sources told ESPN.

What it means: The return of a key offensive player -- after they appeared to lose him. McKissic had originally agreed to a deal with Buffalo then changed his mind. His neck injury at the end of last season was a concern, but clearly has been checked out to the team's satisfaction. He's a valuable third-down back and offers some unique skills with his ability to run a greater variety of routes because of his days as a college wideout. He's also an infectious personality in the locker room and would have been a tough loss. Washington still needs more running back depth behind starter Antonio Gibson and McKissic.

What's the risk: Minimal. But the biggest one would be if his neck injury becomes an issue during the season. Otherwise, the risk was in not offering him a contract before he agreed to Buffalo. When he heard they would match he changed his mind. He would have been hard to replace.

Bobby McCain, S

McCain has agreed to a two-year deal worth $11 million to return to the Commanders.

What it means: Washington keeps a starting safety who played well in the second half of last season. The Commanders are going cut Collins, who was a hybrid safety/linebacker last season, and could not afford to lose another veteran from the secondary. McCain played much better alongside strong safety Kamren Curl, and part of his success stemmed from learning the defense more in his first year with Washington. He intercepted four passes last season, including two in the season finale, and communicated well with the other defensive backs. Washington still needs to add depth at safety, but it now has its starters returning.

What's the risk: It depends how the money breaks down, because $5.5 million per season is a hefty raise over the $1.48 million he made last season. But with this deal, the devil will be in the details. It's hard to devote a lot of cap space to McCain this year considering they don't have a lot left after the Wentz trade. But McCain knows the defense, finished strong and his signing prevents them from having to replace another starter. The bigger risk was letting him walk.

Cornelius Lucas, T

Lucas has agreed to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million.

What it means: Washington retains a solid backup along the offensive line. Because of injuries, Lucas has started a combined 15 games in two seasons with Washington -- at both tackle spots. He has become a solid swing tackle. Washington has Charles Leno Jr. on the left side and Sam Cosmi on the right side, but now with Lucas they know they have depth as well. Washington will look to add another line piece, likely in the draft, to keep building more depth. That's been a primary goal of Rivera.

What's the risk: Another low-level signing as Washington tries to rebuild depth. Once again, there's little risk in adding a player with a short-term deal.

Efe Obada, DE

Obada has agreed to a one-year contract with Washington.

What it means: Washington wants to build more depth at defensive end. It had hoped to see more development in last year's rookies Shaka Toney and Will Bradley-King. Obada provides depth and also has the ability to rush inside in some packages. He had 3.5 sacks in backup duty with Buffalo last season. He also has ties to Ron Rivera, who coached him for two seasons in Carolina. Obada's upbeat personality will help in a room trying to rebuild its chemistry.

What's the risk: Another low-level signing as Washington tries to rebuild depth. Once again, there's little risk in adding a player at a small deal.

Danny Johnson, CB

Johnson has agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Commanders.

What it means: Washington returns a depth piece at corner. Johnson played in 12 games last season, mostly used in the slot, and has appeared in 42 over the past four years. Last season was probably his best, largely because he was more consistent. In an ideal situation, Johnson would be Washington's fifth or sixth corner. He'll still have to fight for a roster spot, but he's been used to that situation and often finds his way onto the team.

What's the risk: None. Johnson provides depth and there's a chance Washington will add another corner through the draft. Their third corner for part of last season, Benjamin St-Juste, is coming off multiple concussions last season. They would be wise to add another piece here.

Cam Sims, WR

Sims returns to Washington, agreeing to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million.

What it means: Depth for the receiving corps. Sims has been a quality role player for the past two seasons, sometimes as a receiver but always as a special teams performer. Sims' size -- he's 6-foot-5 -- will pair well on some deeper throws down the middle with Wentz. Sims likely will be a fourth or fifth receiver for Washington, but in the past two years he's shown he can produce when needed. He's caught 29 passes for 688 yards and three touchdowns during that time.

What's the risk: None. Washington likely isn't done adding at receiver -- it's possible the Commanders could draft one. But Sims fills a specific role and fills it well (he's also an excellent blocker). The risk would be losing a guy who can help in a pinch and yet plays well on special teams.

Troy Apke, DB

Apke has agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Commanders.

What it means: Washington has agreed to bring Apke back because it loves what he does on special teams. The Commanders considers him an above average to elite player on those units. He is a gunner and has the kind of speed that makes him desirable. Last season, Washington moved him from safety to corner to see if he could help at another position. He was not a good safety and did not play from scrimmage last season.

What's the risk: None. He's a special-teamer, so it's not as if he's occupying a lot of cap space. They did like how he progressed at corner last year after switching in the offseason. If they try to play him meaningful snaps at that position, then this move becomes risky. Unless he proves he can play the spot. But as long as they view him for what he is -- a core special-teamer -- then it's not a big issue.

Tyler Larsen, C

Larsen has agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Commanders.

What it means: Depth. Larsen backed up center Chase Roullier and gave Washington steady play after Roullier was lost for the season with a broken left fibula. Larsen started three games for Roullier and Washington went 2-1, beating Tampa Bay and Carolina. Larsen plays with good strength inside. Considering Washington needed to start five centers last season, it needed to solidify depth, allowing it to devote money elsewhere.

What's the risk: Larsen is coming off a ruptured Achilles that ended his season on Dec. 12. He must show that he can still be an effective backup. Otherwise, it's a one-year deal so the risk is minimal. And the Commanders do have other potential backups on the roster, including Keith Ismael, who started five games last season.