The Washington Commanders have cycled through multiple centers over the last two seasons. Longtime starter Chase Roullier missed 24 of a possible 34 games over the previous two years, leading the Commanders to make the difficult decision to release him this offseason.
When Roullier went down, Tyler Larsen, Wes Schweitzer, Keith Ismael and Nick Martin were among those to take snaps for Washington. Schweitzer was better at guard but played center out of necessity. Larsen is a natural center, but he, too, has also battled injuries.
It’s why head coach Ron Rivera prioritized adding multiple centers this offseason. First, Washington signed former New York Giant Nick Gates on the first day of free agency. Gates, who has played guard and center, said he was signed to play center, which was his preference.
Then, Washington re-signed Larsen and selected Ricky Stromberg in the third round of the 2023 NFL draft.
All of this while Roullier remained on the roster. Of course, once Roullier passed a physical, the Commanders released him.
So, what is Washington getting in Gates?
Gates is beloved by New York fans but not so much by Pro Football Focus. PFF recently ranked the NFL’s top 32 centers and had Gates at No. 27, ahead of only two veterans and three rookies.
Gates started at center for the Giants back in 2020 and did pretty well for a player who was undrafted the year before, earning a 59.7 PFF grade. A horrible leg injury ended his 2021 season after just 74 snaps, but he was finally able to get back on the field in the second half of 2022. He earned a 69.0 PFF pass-blocking grade, seeing time at both center and guard, but struggled as a run blocker.
Should fans be concerned about Gates’ run blocking? There’s a belief that new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s scheme will be friendly to the offensive linemen.
If Gates doesn’t keep the starting job, he can play guard and provide valuable depth across the line. However, Washington clearly believes Gates is better at center and will help stabilize a unit that struggled in 2023. The Commanders also felt Gates would be the perfect veteran center for young quarterback Sam Howell.