Washington is faced with several major questions — Who is the quarterback of the future? Who will be the general manager? — along with several important ones on the periphery, including which wide receivers will complement Terry McLaurin and how the team will use its wealth of salary cap space.
Who is the long-term answer at quarterback?
Washington does not appear to have a long-term answer at football’s most position. Even if some combination of Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen returns next season, the team must settle on a long-term option to pair with a young and improving core. Rivera said the future of the position would come up during his team-wide review with coaches Monday, as well as in his meeting with owner Daniel Snyder.
There’s no clear path to a new starting quarterback, and Washington’s options are limited. Anyone available via trade or free agency will have flaws or cost a lot (or both) — and Washington, with the 19th pick, is unlikely to be in position to draft a first-tier quarterback.
In a trade, the likeliest options seem to be Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford. The New York Jets haven’t decided whether they’ll move on from Darnold, but Wentz is expected to request a trade in the offseason, according to multiple reports that surfaced before the Philadelphia Eagles cut ties with coach Doug Pederson on Monday. Yet Wentz’s contract — $31 million-plus for the next four seasons — makes the logistics difficult. The Detroit Lions could move on from Stafford if their new regime decides to overhaul the roster, and he is a proven veteran who, at 32, could be appealing to Washington.
The free agency pool is thin. Dak Prescott could hit the open market, but it’s possible the Dallas Cowboys retain him — either with the franchise tag for a second time or a contract extension. If Prescott hits free agency, he is likely to command in the mid-$30 million range per season, even though he’s coming off a severe ankle injury. Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are two other starter-level options.
In the draft, Washington is likely to be out of position for the top four quarterback prospects: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. But it could trade up for one of them or target the second tier, which includes Florida’s Kyle Trask and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
What is the future for Alex Smith?
The 36-year-old’s inspiring story took an unfortunate turn Saturday night when he was inactive because of a calf strain in his surgically repaired right leg. The lingering injury over the past four weeks casts additional doubt on whether Smith will be back as Washington’s starter next season. When asked whether he thought Smith could be the team’s future starter, Rivera was blunt.
“Well, that obviously is really — in terms of his health — really the only person that can tell you that is going to be Alex,” he said.
The quarterback now faces three possible futures. He could return to Washington, but it’s likely he would have to restructure his contract; he is owed $48.6 million over the next two years. Washington could release him without any substantial financial penalty, or he could retire. This last option seems likelier now than it did when Smith was rolling toward the end of the year, leading Washington to a 5-1 record in his starts.
Smith said Sunday that he plans to “take a few weeks” to decide whether he wants to continue playing. He acknowledged he had “so much fun this year” and that losing himself in football is “one of the greatest feelings in the world” and irreplaceable outside the locker room. But he acknowledged he felt an obligation to his family.
“My wife has been through a lot, and my family, certainly I’m going to take their input,” he said. “But that’s something that right now I’m still just living in the moment and not getting ahead of myself. That is for another time and place.”
Will the team hire a general manager?
One of the most important decisions Rivera will make this offseason is whether he will hire a general manager. It’s unclear what the role would look like alongside Rivera, whom Snyder once called “the one voice” of the organization as its leader of football operations. On Sunday, Rivera deflected when asked if he would like to hire a GM.
“Okay, so what’s going to happen is, again, at some point today or tomorrow, I will sit down and talk to the owner and we’ll talk about what my intent is going forward,” he said. “From that point, I’ll have clarity as to what I’ll do, and then I’ll go from there.”
Some names have already been speculated as potential candidates because of their connection to Rivera and/or the team. They include Kyle Smith, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel; former Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney; and San Francisco 49ers vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew. Washington had not requested interviews with anyone to fill its GM opening as of Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Will Washington spend big in free agency?
It will enter this offseason with about $42 million in salary cap space, the fifth most in the league, according to overthecap.com. Washington could create more by restructuring large contracts — perhaps those of Smith or safety Landon Collins.
But even if those contracts remain the same, there are several ways to use $42 million. The team could devote most of it to a quarterback, such as Prescott, or target a top wide receiver to upgrade the offense. If there are quality cornerbacks or linebackers available for the right price, as cornerback Kendall Fuller was last year, it would make sense to solidify those positions. Washington also could use some of it to give new contracts to current players, such as defensive lineman Jonathan Allen.
How will Washington use its first-round pick?
The answer to this question is likely to depend on free agency. If Washington misses on a quarterback or wide receiver, it could target one at No. 19.
Can the team build a solid offense to complement its defense?
There are many questions under this umbrella, even after Washington settles on a quarterback plan. Does the team re-sign right guard Brandon Scherff? Can it find a wide receiver to pair with McLaurin? Who is the solution at left tackle?
Start with the receivers. It’s possible Cam Sims can be a complement, but as the last few weeks of the season showed, Washington’s offense needs another top option. JuJu Smith-Schuster is not expected to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Chicago Bears’ Allen Robinson and Detroit’s Marvin Jones Jr. are expected to be near the top of the market. The draft is also an option.
Next is Scherff. It seems likely the sides will work something out because the fifth pick of the 2015 draft has maintained all along he wants to stay, and free agency is as uncertain as ever with the salary cap projected to decrease. But Scherff could be expensive. In the past few weeks, he has been named a first-team all-pro, a Pro Bowl pick and the team’s Ed Block Courage Award winner. The league’s highest-paid right guards, Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks and Dallas’s Zack Martin, each earn about $14 million per year.
The last question on the offensive line is left tackle. Washington could have an internal competition next summer between Geron Christian, this season’s starter; Cornelius Lucas, who played well after Christian suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6; and Saahdiq Charles, the fourth-rounder drafted as the hopeful left tackle of the future in April.
Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske contributed to this report.