ASHBURN — At nearly every turn of this offseason, the Washington Commanders have downplayed concerns about their tight ends — a group that is arguably the biggest question mark on the team’s roster.
Coach Ron Rivera said he believed that starter Logan Thomas would be better another year removed from the torn ACL he suffered in 2021. General manager Martin Mayhew said he felt “very good” about the youth at the position. And so sure enough, Washington didn’t draft a tight end over the course of last month’s NFL draft.
The concerns, though, only grew louder this week.
During a team workout Tuesday, tight end Armani Rogers ruptured his Achilles — a season-ending injury that hurts Rogers and the Commanders in more ways than one. The ailment is undoubtedly a blow to Rogers, a former quarterback turned tight end who shined en route to making Washington’s roster as an undrafted rookie. But Rogers’ injury also impacts the Commanders, who counted Rogers among a young core that includes John Bates, Cole Turner and Curtis Hodges.
With Rogers done for the year, the Commanders only have four healthy tight ends on the roster at the moment. That’s thin, especially for a unit that was among the league’s least-productive in 2022.
“It hurt my heart,” Thomas said of Rogers’ injury. “We were standing right behind him and we obviously saw the whole thing. And heard the whole thing, which was even scarier. But I talked to him (Tuesday) and told him that there were going to be some dark days, and when those dark days come, my number’s available. Call me. It sucks, man.”
From a statistical standpoint, the Commanders are losing a player who caught five catches for 64 yards last year. That, of course, isn’t much. But consider: At that stat line, Rogers was still the team’s third-most productive tight end in 2022 — behind only Thomas (39 catches, 323 yards) and Bates (14 catches, 108 yards).
The mediocre numbers speak to how unproductive Washington’s tight ends, as a whole, were last season. The group combined for just 60 catches, 518 yards and two receiving touchdowns — making them the fourth-least productive tight end unit in the NFL. Only the Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins were worse.
And yet, Washington has kept the unit intact and instead focused on making changes on the coaching side that could help get more production from its tight ends. The team fired offensive coordinator Scott Turner and replaced him with Eric Bieniemy — who comes from the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, the team that had the best tight end production in 2022.
The Commanders obviously lack a player of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s caliber, but Bieniemy brings with him a West Coast-style offense that likely will get the tight ends more involved.
Elsewhere, Juan Castillo still holds the title of tight ends coach, though Castillo has since moved to work more with the offensive line while assistant tight ends coach Todd Storm now leads the room.
“It’s about us conforming to how he sees the offense,” Thomas said of Bieniemy. “If we can do that, then we can be special. But he also knows what we can do. He knows what our best talents are and will use in the right situations, as well.”
As for Thomas, it would be key for the Commanders if he can replicate the level of production he had before his knee injury. In 2020, the 31-year-old had 72 catches for 670 yards and six touchdowns — the best numbers for a Washington tight end since Jordan Reed’s 2016. Thomas said being healthy this offseason gives him a “leg up” from where he was a year ago.
The Commanders, however, could desperately use one of their young tight ends making a leap, as well. Turner — a fifth-round pick in 2022 — caught just two passes for 23 yards as a rookie. Bates, entering his third year, hasn’t topped more than 249 yards in a season.
Perhaps that could have been Rogers, but his non-contact injury will prevent that from happening.
“We’ve got some good young players that need to ascend now,” Rivera said.
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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