J.D. McKissic's back-and-forth decision was one of the more fascinating storylines at the beginning of the NFL's new league year.
McKissic, who spent the past two seasons in Washington, originally agreed to a deal with the Buffalo Bills during the two-day negotiating period before the new league year began. But before the contract became official, the Commanders swooped in and offered McKissic the same deal as Buffalo in an attempt to keep him. The running back ultimately chose to stay with Washington.
McKissic's fellow backfield mate, rising third-year pro Antonio Gibson, is thrilled that No. 41 is back with the Burgundy and Gold.
"I love working with him. I was glad J.D. came back to the team," Gibson told Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network.
Over the past two seasons, Gibson has served as Washington's featured back but has also been spelled by McKissic somewhat often. Although Gibson has a receiver background -- he played wideout in college, after all -- it's been McKissic that's played the primary pass-catching role out of the backfield.
Only two running backs -- Pro Bowlers Alvin Kamara and Austin Ekeler -- have totaled more receptions than J.D. McKissic over the past two seasons. Had McKissic left for Buffalo, it would have been difficult for Gibson and the rest of the Commanders' running back room to replicate his production.
Improving as a pass-catcher is something Gibson specifically is working on. Having McKissic back in the mix -- someone Gibson can directly learn from -- is something Washington's top rusher is excited about.
“We’re a 1-2 punch combo,” Gibson told Wilson. “They rely on him a lot on third downs as far as catching passes. I’m very capable of doing that, too. ... [Having McKissic back] gives me more time to learn from him. I love learning from him. He’s been helping me out.”
Washington's Monday Night Football victory over Seattle last November is a perfect example of how Gibson and McKissic can both impact a game at the same time.
In that game, Gibson handled the majority of the workload, rushing 29 times for 111 yards while hauling in seven catches for 35 yards. McKissic touched the ball just 12 times (seven rushes, five catches) but finished with 56 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns before leaving early due to injury. The duo played a major role in Washington pulling off the victory.
"He was headed towards a hell of a game," Gibson said after the game. "He had two touchdowns before [the injury] happened. Just making plays when his name was called. That's what he does. When he gets in, he makes plays. That's the J.D. we all know. I think he would have had probably another touchdown if he was still in."
Off the field, the two running backs are close as well. During exit interviews following the 2020 season, McKissic said his bond with Gibson was "like brothers." With at least two more years as teammates, Gibson and McKissic will have the chance to grow even closer.
Washington Football Talk Podcast | Listen and Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
As a whole, the Commanders have received a lot of backlash nationally this offseason -- for reasons many in the organization, especially the players, have no control over. Congress has gotten involved as Commanders owner Dan Snyder has been accused of financial misconduct. This comes just a few months after Congress also pressed the NFL to release findings from the investigation of the team's workplace.
Gibson told Wilson he's "tired" of hearing all the negative things said about the club and is motivated to change that moving forward.
“We get a lot of backlash on the team,” Gibson said. “We’re tired of it. We just got to show ’em. We don’t get that talk if we’re winning games, we got to start winning games and people forget about all that. That’s what we plan on doing.”
The running back also feels that the organization, as a whole, is doing its best to make changes and establish a new identity.
“It’s a change with the team,” Gibson said. “I feel like we’re making a lot of changes. We’re building. We’re working to change our whole organization around. It’s a new start. We’re going to rock with it. I love the new uniforms and ready to get out here and show people what we got.”