Alongside roster reconstruction and the courtship to bring back Trent Williams, new coach Ron Rivera’s handling of the Scherff situation is one of his most important in-house tasks. Rivera wants to cement a core for the rebuild, and Scherff would provide value in protecting Dwayne Haskins, the team’s developing quarterback, and by opening holes in the running game. But a contract extension for Scherff probably will cost top-dollar. The 28-year-old is hitting free agency in his prime as one of the NFL’s best at a position the league increasingly values.
There are a few key questions that could help determine how this situation plays out:
How did it get to this point?
The team and Scherff have been locked in something of a staring contest since last summer, when Scherff rejected a multiyear offer with a reported average annual value of $13 million, which would have been the league’s fourth-highest figure among guards. That was before owner Daniel Snyder overhauled the team’s leadership, firing president Bruce Allen and hiring Rivera as the franchise’s top decision-maker.
Where the sides stand now is unclear.
Rivera hasn’t discussed Scherff publicly, and on Tuesday in Indianapolis, Redskins vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith wouldn’t comment on Scherff’s situation. Scherff has maintained he wants to stay with the franchise for the rest of his career.
What is the franchise tag and how does it work?
The franchise tag is a tool that each team has at its disposal to keep a player from hitting unrestricted free agency. The cost to keep the player from hitting the open market is significant — a one-year deal equal to the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position over the past five seasons or 120 percent of his previous season salary, whichever is greater — but it allows the team to keep the player under its control while continuing to negotiate a contract extension or trading him to another team.
Why would it make sense for the Redskins to use the tag?
Rivera has, in practical terms, four options: Commit to Scherff with an extension, use the franchise tag and continue negotiating an extension, use the franchise tag and trade him (which, by recent precedent, means he probably would sign an extension with the receiving team) or let him walk.
The Redskins are unlikely to let Scherff leave. Even if they decided they couldn’t meet Scherff’s demands on a long-term contract, they would net more in a trade than they would with a compensatory pick in next year’s draft (which would happen if he signed an expensive contract with another team in free agency).
And while it’s impossible to know how Rivera and the front office view Scherff’s value, he is widely considered to be in the top tier of NFL guards. Offensive line expert Brandon Thorn compared him to other standout right guards such as the Dallas Cowboys’ Zack Martin, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ David DeCastro and the Baltimore Ravens’ Marshal Yanda, citing his intelligence, athleticism and variance in technique. Thorn pointed out the only reason a team might be wary of signing Scherff to a big contract is that injuries have forced him to miss 13 games in the past two seasons.
“He’s an elite player all around,” Thorn said. “It’s just durability, really.”
Why might it not be a bad thing for Sherff to be tagged?
While players often express frustration over receiving the franchise tag because it can delay them from signing a coveted free agent contract for a year and leave them vulnerable to a serious injury that damages their long-term value, there are reasons Scherff wouldn’t mind it.
For starters, the one-year payday would be very lucrative, at $15.03 million — the highest one-year salary of any guard in the league, according to overthecap.com. Additionally, the worry over suffering a potentially significant injury could be outweighed by the prospect of being a free agent in 2021, when the new CBA kicks in. The potential increase in the value of free agent contracts when the new deal, which is still being negotiated, goes into effect could incentivize Scherff to forgo conventional wisdom and think in the short term.
“It will be a massive amount,” said Rick Burton, a Syracuse University sports management professor.
Scherff already may be in line for a bump in earnings over the past three elite guards who signed long-term contracts, and that would be more true in the event a new CBA is signed. The past two to get on the open market — Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Norwell — were 27 and cashed in with five-year, then-record-setting deals. The Cleveland Browns inked Zeitler for $60 million in 2017, and the Jacksonville Jaguars snagged Norwell for $66.5 million the following year. The cream of the crop, Martin, was 28 last offseason when the Cowboys signed him to a record six-year, $84 million extension.
What happens next?
If Scherff is tagged, what happens next is uncertain. The Redskins could meet Scherff’s demands on a contract extension, or they could offer him less than he wants and bank on him opting for financial security over the chance at striking gold. Scherff would have to choose whether to bet on himself to perform and remain healthy enough in 2020 to score the big deal. There is also the possibility that Washington could explore trade options for Scherff, who might welcome the opportunity to be sent to another team and sign a long-term extension there.