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Five players to watch during Washington's 2023 season finale


The Washington Commanders' game against the Dallas Cowboys won't mean much for them as they wrap up a disappointing season. Sure, they could spoil the Cowboys' chances at winning the division, which would at least make the sting of a potential 5-12 record less painful, but one way or the other, their season will end the moment the clock hits zero at FedExField.

That doesn't mean the fans lack reasons to watch the finale.

Based on how the Commanders have played in 16 games, it's clear that a rebuild is necessary for them to reach the playoffs and compete for championships. They'll have plenty of tools to accomplish that this offseason; depending on where you look, they'll have as much as $90 million in cap space for free agency, and they'll have nine picks -- their first-round pick being as high as No. 2 overall -- to usher in a new era for the franchise.

So, the roster is going to look drastically different by the time training camp rolls around in August. But part of the offseason evaluation process is determining which players already on the roster can be used to create a foundation. It's a guarantee that many of those possible pieces will be trying to make their best cases to be part of that on Sunday.

Here are five players to keep an eye on against the Cowboys.

Terry McLaurin

Why: McLaurin has been the one constant through all the changes that have occurred for the Commanders' offense over the last five seasons. Almost a dozen quarterbacks have come and gone since McLaurin was drafted in 2019, and yet he has found a way to be one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL. His numbers are down from his career-high 1,191 yards from the 2022 season, but he is still on the cusp of achieving unreached territory for a Washington player. He's 54 yards away from 1,000, which would make him the first receiver in franchise history to have four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Check out the best photos from Sam Howell's 2023 season. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

Sam Howell

Why: Howell's season has taken a negative turn over the last six games. It's hard to believe that he was leading the league in passing yards about a month ago, based on how he's struggled against more quality defenses than he did in the first 10 games. At the same time, for better or worse, Howell has added some stability to the position – a luxury the team has not had since 2017. Howell's future, whether he's the quarterback of the future or something else, is murkier than it was six weeks ago, but he has at least shown that he belongs in the NFL and could be a competent starter with more development. He's on pace to be the first quarterback since Kirk Cousins to have a 4,000-yard season, which would be one of the top five most successful single seasons in franchise history.

KJ Henry

Why: Henry had a quiet training camp, leaving many to believe that he needed more time to turn into a serviceable backup, never mind a decent starter. After being inactive from Weeks 2-8, Henry has shown more of what coaches hoped he would be with 18 tackles and two quarterback hits. He's been a solid run stopper with his 255-pound frame and impressed Ron Rivera with pass-rushing moves that make him look more like a veteran. He only had one tackle in the last game against the Cowboys, so Sunday should present an opportunity to redeem himself.

Andre Jones Jr.

Why: Jones was one of the top stories of training camp, especially after he was able to keep up with Lamar Jackson during the Commanders' joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens. Jones hasn't done much since then, recording four tackles with most of his snaps coming on special teams. His coaches are starting to see him flash more often in recent weeks, although Rivera considers him to be a raw player. He'll likely need a full NFL offseason to develop further, but a strong finish with the Cowboys could create some excitement for his future.

Emmanuel Forbes Jr.

Why: Things were rough for Forbes to start the year. We don't need to go over all the details again, but a lack of ability to stand up against some of the league's top receivers, which allowed several explosive plays that gashed the defense and led to him being benched in Week 6. Since then, Forbes has looked much better, allowing 181 yards from Weeks 8-17. Considering how much he allowed earlier in the year -- 401 yards on 26 catches -- that is a much-needed improvement. Forbes will face a tough test against the Cowboys in CeeDee Lamb, and he should have plenty of shots shutting the receiver down.

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