Washington Football Team Offseason Previewby Mike Fanelli February 14, 2021 2 comments
Entering the 2020 season, the Washington Football Team had undergone massive changes from the coaching staff to the team name. Many expected them to struggle and end up with a top-five draft pick. However, thanks to an awful division and a dangerous young defense, Washington won the NFC East with a 7-9 record. While they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round, the fans should consider the season a successful one as the team used four quarterbacks during the year. After a successful season, expect Washington to be aggressive in the offseason.
Pending Free Agents
According to Over the Cap, Washington has the fifth-most cap space entering the offseason. With their almost $40 million in cap space, Washington will be aggressive in free agency to upgrade both sides of the ball. Their top priority will be to bring back All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff. He played last season on the franchise tag but both sides are reportedly optimistic a long-term deal can be worked out before free agency starts. In total, Washington has 20 free agents. Last week, Washington knocked one off the list by re-signing restricted free-agent quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a two-year deal worth $8.75 million. Even after re-signing Heinicke, Washington will be aggressive in adding a quarterback this offseason.
Brandon Scherff, Guard
Scherff is Washington’s top priority this offseason. Both sides are hopeful a long-term deal can be worked out after he played last season on the franchise tag. While Scherff has missed at least two games in each of the past four seasons, he’s been the best offensive linemen when on the field. Given their cap situation, expect Scherff back in Washington next season with either a new long term deal or on the franchise tag.
Ronald Darby, Cornerback
After struggling with injuries in his career, Darby signed a one-year deal with Washington. He played a career-high 16 games and had 16 passes defended and 55 total tackles this season. He played a critical role in Washington’s defense this season. The team would like him back but given his injury history, expect contract talks to be slow. However, if the price is right, Darby should be back in Washington next season.
Ryan Kerrigan, Defensive End
Back in 2011, Washington spent their first-round pick on Kerrigan, and he has been the most consistent member of the team since. He is the franchise leader with 95.5 sacks, recording 7.5 or more in eight of his 10 seasons. However, his snaps have decreased over the last two seasons as Chase Young and Montez Sweat have taken over as the starting defensive ends. Kerrigan is still a starting-caliber player, and as much as Washington fans love him, he will sign with a new team next month.
Kyle Allen, Quarterback (ERFA)
As an exclusive rights free agent, Allen will be back with Washington next season. He is a favorite of Ron Rivera‘s and was the starter after the team released Dwayne Haskins. Re-signing Heinicke won’t have an impact on Allen, as neither is likely to be the Week 1 starter given how aggressive Washington will be adding a quarterback.
Cam Sims, Wide Receiver (RFA)
Other than Terry McLaurin, Washington lacked a consistent threat at wide receiver this season. However, to close out the year, Sims stepped up into a starter. Over the final six games of the season, Sims averaged 4.3 catches on 7.7 targets per game. Furthermore, he had a career-high seven catches in the playoff game against the Buccaneers. While Washington will be aggressive to add a wide receiver in free agency, the team values Sims. He will be back with the team in 2021.
Potential Cap Casualties
Given Washington’s cap situation, fans shouldn’t expect to see many cap casualties this offseason. Most of the players on the roster are worth the money on their contract. The one exception is Landon Collins, as he is coming off a torn Achilles injury. However, it would cost Washington more to release Collins than keep him on the roster. Given that, Collins will be back next season.
Alex Smith, QB ($14.7 Million Saved)
Unlike Collins, Smith’s future is very much in question. While his comeback is a great story, Smith never returned to his pre-injury form. Washington is aggressively trying to upgrade the quarterback position this offseason. With the addition of a veteran via trade, expect Smith to be released.
Peyton Barber, RB ($1.3 Million Saved)
In the offseason last year, Washington signed Barber despite having Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice on the roster. Even after both got released in the preseason, Barber didn’t have a consistent role this season. He had 17 rushing attempts in Week 1, then had double-digit rushing attempts in only four other games. While the $1.3 million isn’t critical given the cap situation, expect Washington to move on from Barber.
Bryce Love, RB ($591,417 Saved)
Love was a fourth-round pick in 2019 under the previous coaching staff, and because of knee injuries, he hasn’t played in an NFL game. Moving on from Love won’t open up much cap space for Washington, but given the history with his knee, his time in Washington may already be over. Since the team doesn’t need the cap space right now, Love likely won’t be released till the preseason.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Last season the defense was one of the best in the league, while the offense struggled to put up points at times. With that in mind, Washington’s two biggest priorities in the offseason will be upgrading at quarterback and wide receiver. However, expect the team to add a few players on defense as well.
Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
This time last year, Washington aggressively pursued Amari Cooper in free agency. Ultimately, he decided to stay in Dallas, but Washington knows they need to add a weapon opposite of McLaurin. Rumors are out there that Washington will be very aggressive to sign Robinson next month. Another name to keep an eye on is Curtis Samuel. He has ties to both Rivera and the front office and is coming off a career-year. While it’s not likely, don’t be surprised if Washington signs both Robinson and Samuel.
Andy Dalton, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Fans might not like this, but if Washington strikes out on the trade market for a quarterback, Dalton is a solid backup plan. He has starting experience and played well as the starter in Dallas last season. Ideally, Dalton would sign to a two-year deal, and Washington would select a quarterback in the first round of the draft. This way, he would provide a veteran option but viewed as only the bridge gap option.
Alejandro Villanueva, OT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington used a few different left tackles last season, but the one with the most success was Cornelius Lucas. While he is under contract for next season, he has been a backup most of his career, and the team should look to upgrade the left tackle spot if possible in free agency. The Steelers are in a tough spot salary cap wise and might not be able to retain Villanueva. If he hits the open market, Washington should aggressively pursue him.
Michael Davis, CB, Los Angeles Chargers
Washington used a few different left tackles last season, and the one with the most success was Cornelius Lucas. While he is under contract for next season, he has been a backup most of his career, and the team should look to upgrade the left tackle spot if possible in free agency. The Steelers are in a tough spot salary cap wise and might not be able to retain Villanueva. If he hits the open market, Washington should aggressively pursue him.
Neville Hewitt, LB, New York Jets
Cole Holcomb had a productive 2020 season despite missing five games because of injury. He had his first career interception and a career-high 2.5 sacks this season. While he is under contract for two more years, Washington has five linebackers scheduled to hit free agency next month. Most of them won’t be back as Washington needs to upgrade the position. In his first season as the full-time starter, Hewitt had a career-high 134 tackles while giving up only one touchdown despite being targeted 78 times. With the return of C.J. Mosley, the Jets could decide to let Hewitt walk.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
While running back isn’t a critical need for Washington, don’t be surprised if they sign a veteran. Antonio Gibson is a star in the making, while J.D. McKissic is a mismatch weapon in the passing game. However, Washington lacks experience in the backfield. Coming off a torn Achilles, Mack will likely sign a one-year prove-it deal, and Washington might give him his best chance to improve on his value for 2022.
Previewing the Draft
How things turn out in free agency will have a massive impact on how Washington attacks the draft. They don’t have many holes, but the ones they have are massive. Thanks to a draft day deal last year, Washington owns the San Francisco 49ers’ third-round pick (74th overall) as part of the Trent Williams trade. Last year, Washington was aggressive in making draft day trades, and fans should expect a similar strategy this year.
Round 1, Pick 19: Quarterback
If Washington remains at pick 19, they could draft former Alabama star, Mac Jones. However, with several quarterback-needy teams picking ahead of them and a few right behind them, Washington will have to trade up to get their future face of the franchise. The latest rumors suggest Washington could entertain trading up for either Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
Round 2, Pick 51: Offensive Tackle
Assuming Washington doesn’t address this in free agency, they will need to use one of their first two picks on an offensive tackle. While Lucas played well last season, he is a career backup and will be a free agent after the 2021 season. Whether Washington trades for a quarterback or selects one in the first round, they must find their franchise left tackle this offseason.
Round 3, Pick 74: Cornerback
With both Darby and Moreau heading towards free agency, Washington will need to add at least one cornerback in the draft. While the class only has one or two elite cornerbacks, it is very deep at the position. Even in the third round, Washington should have no trouble finding a day one impact player at cornerback.
Round 3, Pick 82: Linebacker
There are five linebackers on the team scheduled to hit the open market next month. Even if Washington adds a linebacker in free agency or trades for Shaq Thompson, they need to add depth and athleticism at the position. Given all the talented running backs in the division, Washington needs to have better linebacker play next year.
Early 2021 Expectations
Washington won the NFC East this season with a 7-9 record thanks to awful competition. With a first-place schedule next season, Washington won’t repeat as division winners without a strong offseason. However, if they can find their franchise quarterback, Washington has a chance to repeat as NFC East champions.