Analysis | These players could define the start of Josh Harris’s Commanders tenure

In the front row of the news conference Friday afternoon sat two pillars of the franchise Josh Harris had just purchased. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen wore sharp suits and big smiles. In the next year, a lot will change for the Washington Commanders, and if Harris makes changes at general manager and/or head coach, broad swaths of the roster may turn over, too. But the contracts and stature of McLaurin and Allen effectively ensure they will remain.

The joy of sale week will soon give way to the sweaty reality of training camp, and those days of evaluation will raise this question: Which other Commanders will remain to form the foundation of the Harris era?

The answer is tricky. It’s not enough to be under contract for Harris’s first season (2023) or the first full season in which his people will make the decisions (2024). Foundational means players the Harris regime will build around. Foundational means skill, youth and longevity.

For example, Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Kam Curl are young enough and talented enough to be considered foundational players. But none is under contract beyond this season. Every player in this year’s rookie class is under contract through at least 2026. But none of them — not even first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes Jr. — have proved their skills in the NFL.

For now, the long-term futures of many players are uncertain. Coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday in a news conference that his time with members of the new ownership group has been “limited” and that their discussions have focused mostly on Harris’s philosophy.

“There will be a time when we will sit down, we’ll talk about … roster planning in terms of the future [contracts],” Rivera said. “But until then, everything is on hold.”

Let’s evaluate the roster in terms of which players are or could be considered foundational.

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WR Terry McLaurin, DT Jonathan Allen, DT Daron Payne, WR Jahan Dotson

Washington has four players who fit the description right now. They’re highly skilled, 28 or younger and signed through at least 2025. McLaurin and Allen are among the franchise’s most visible faces publicly and its emotional leaders privately.

Last summer, Rivera said McLaurin’s contributions on and off the field impacted football and business, and retaining the receiver signaled to corporate partners that “we want young men of this magnitude out there representing our organization, our community, thus representing your brand.”

QB Sam Howell, DE Chase Young, DE Montez Sweat, S Kam Curl, LB Jamin Davis, P Tress Way, 2023 rookies

For future success, nothing would be more valuable to new ownership than Howell proving he can be a franchise quarterback. It would give the group a foundational player at the game’s most important position on a rookie contract through 2025. But Howell remains an unknown whose success is far from guaranteed.

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If the new regime signs Young, Sweat and/or Curl for the long term, they would become foundational.

Despite his rocky start, Davis could cement a long-term place with the Commanders. The front office will have to decide whether to pick up his fifth-year option after this season, and if it does, Davis would be in Washington through at least 2025 as well.

It’s hard to imagine anyone punting for Washington other than Way. The affable Okie is entering his 10th season in Washington and is by far the team’s longest-tenured player. But even though Way continues to play well, punting seems to be trending toward youth. This year, only two punters are expected to be more than a year older than Way, who’s 33, and his contract is up after 2024.

Any member of the 2023 rookie class could become foundational. A good illustration is former center Chase Roullier. Before injuries derailed his career, he was a remarkable success story, a 2017 sixth-round pick from Wyoming who became a starter and, despite a regime change, earned a four-year deal in 2020, which at the time seemed to cement him as a foundational player of the team under Rivera.

WR Curtis Samuel, CB Kendall Fuller, LT Charles Leno Jr., TE Logan Thomas, RB Antonio Gibson, RB Brian Robinson Jr., S Darrick Forrest, CB Benjamin St-Juste

Washington has eight players who have shown enough talent to be considered foundational but because of other factors seem like long shots to stick around for the long term. Leno and Thomas will be 32 this season. Samuel (26) and Fuller (28) have produced, but they’re on expiring contracts and may not be re-signed because of other players at their positions.

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Despite their talent and youth, Robinson (24) and Gibson (25) face uphill battles because teams are increasingly unwilling to commit significant resources to running backs. Forrest (24) has impressed, but he plays a non-premium position at which there are other options, such as Curl and Percy Butler. St-Juste (25) has a long injury history.

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