In the locker room after the Washington Football Team’s playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, veteran tackle Morgan Moses told his linemate and good friend Brandon Scherff that he hoped the game wasn’t their last together.
It’s possible Scherff will be around for at least a seventh year.
According to people familiar with the situation, Washington could use a franchise tag on Scherff again, but the organization appears more interested in signing him to a long-term deal, with talks expected to start in the coming days.
Keeping Scherff on a long-term deal will be costly. Keeping him on a second franchise tag will be even costlier in 2021.
After playing last season on a $15.03 million tag, it’s widely believed that Scherff could reset the market for his position and fetch at least $15 million a year. Philadelphia’s Brandon Brooks leads all (non-franchise-tagged) guards with a $14.1 million average annual value.
“People are going to look at him as a high-end talent, and he’s probably going to be paid as the top guard that’s available,” said Jason Fitzgerald, the founder of salary cap website Over the Cap. “He’s one of those players where you put a bunch of per-game bonuses and stuff in there and try to protect yourself a little bit.”
The window to designate franchise players opens Tuesday and closes March 9, and even if Washington tags Scherff, it doesn’t necessarily mean he will play on the tag. The sides have until July 15 to hash out a long-term deal, and with a new contract, Washington can lower Scherff’s cap number with a prorated bonus and incentives.
If he’s tagged a second time, Scherff’s salary for 2021 will be $18.04 million, or 120 percent of his previous salary, which would put him in the pay range of the game’s top tackles and make him the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman.
“It doesn’t make sense, but they have the cap space to do it,” CBS Sports salary cap analyst and former agent Joel Corry said. “It ensures he doesn’t leave. But it also ensures that you better get [a deal] done now because you’re not going to tag him a third time.”
According to Over the Cap, Washington is expected to have around $38 million in salary cap space, the fifth-highest number in the NFL, based on a projected cap of $180.5 million. (The league informed teams last week that the cap minimum for 2021 will be $180 million. The final number has not been determined.)
Though the pay on a tag is significant, it offers no future guarantees in a sport riddled with serious injuries. Scherff missed three games last year because of a medial collateral ligament sprain he suffered in Week 2. He has landed on injured reserve in each of the past three years and hasn’t played a full season since 2016, his second year in the league.
But when healthy, he’s one of Washington’s most valuable offensive players. Last season, according to Stats LLC, he allowed only one sack and committed only one penalty (a false start). He was the first Washington player since punter Matt Turk in 1996 to be named a first-team all-pro, and he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl. Scherff was also voted by his teammates as Washington’s Ed Block Courage Award winner.
At season’s end, he said he “absolutely” wants to stay with Washington and praised Coach Ron Rivera and offensive line coach John Matsko.
“I’ve always said I want to stay where I got drafted,” he said. “And I’ve been here for six years, and I absolutely love it here. ... We are building something here to absolutely make a run for it in the future.”
Keeping Scherff also would keep the right side of Washington’s offensive line intact until at least 2023. Center Chase Roullier re-signed on a four-year deal in January, and Moses has two seasons remaining on his contract.
“Those are the leaders up front for us,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said last season. “They’ve done a great job, Brandon in particular. He brings it every day. He’s the same guy, the toughness, the blue-collar mentality. It helps, energizes and drives our team.”
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